Vikings’ 25 and under top 10: Jerick McKinnon

Jerick McKinnon proved as a rookie he can be productive, but one aspect of his game will have to improve to find a significant role with Adrian Peterson’s return.

Last year the Minnesota Vikings drafted Jerick McKinnon in the third round and he became one of the biggest surprises for the team. McKinnon played quarterback in a triple-option offense in college and there was a lot of question about how he would translate into the NFL. He was a very athletic player, but other than that not much was known about how he would adapt – some experts even went as far as saying he would start out his career as a practice squad guy.

With Adrian Peterson on the roster, the Vikings’ other running backs likely weren’t going to get many touches. The original plan seemed to be to use the rookie as a change of pace to Peterson, the way that Darren Sproles was to LaDainian Tomlinson when Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner was in San Diego coaching the Chargers.

The plan quickly changed when Peterson was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list and later suspended. Missing a total of 15 regular season games. McKinnon was then forced to split time with Matt Asiata after Asiata was named the starter. But once the Vikings realized that McKinnon had a lot more potential and had the ability to create a big play, he was named the starter and his role slowly increased.

McKinnon played in 11 games during his rookie season before being put on injured reserve with a lower back injury. He recorded 538 rushing yards on 113 attempts, averaging 4.8 yards a carry. He also recorded 135 receiving yards on 27 receptions, averaging 5.0 yards a reception.

The 2015 season could see his amount of carries and rushing yards decrease with the return of Peterson to the backfield. But his production in his rookie season might also be reason to use him more in third-and-long situations because he is a better pass catcher than Peterson. If that is how the Vikings plan to use him, though, he will need to improve his pass blocking.

At 5-foot-9, 209 pounds, McKinnon is a little undersized and could be overwhelmed by a 6-2, 280-pound linebacker who is rushing in on a blitz. The second-year running back will need to work on using proper leverage in order to stop these blitzing players. If he can’t do that, he likely will see his role decrease from what it other wise would have been.

If that becomes the case, or McKinnon gets injured again, the Vikings may have to change up their game plan from what it would have been because McKinnon offers a skill set that not many other backs on their roster give them. He is faster and more athletic than Asiata and can catch better than Peterson. It is possible that Joe Banyard could fill into the role that McKinnon plays, but he struggled with his pass blocking a year ago.

McKinnon has the opportunity to play an important role in the Vikings offense and he appears to be happy with where he is. He is going to get touches, the only question is how many the coaching staff is willing to take away from Peterson and give to him. But if he continues to play well and produce you have to assume the coaching staff will search for ways to get him involved.

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