It is very difficult to get much notice in a backfield that is inhabited by Adrian Peterson, but that is exactly what Minnesota Vikings second-year running back Jerick McKinnon has been able to do two weeks in a row. A week ago, he was able to record four receptions for 76 yards and his first career touchdown, and he followed it up this week with seven rushes for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
Peterson still outgained the young running back with 104 yards and a touchdown, but McKinnon’s 12.7 yards per carry was the highest of the game and his 68-yard touchdown run was the longest of the game.
McKinnon isn’t a player that is beginning to threaten taking snaps away from Peterson, but the veteran running back has nothing but respect for him. He sees how hard McKinnon works in practice, so Peterson is excited to see him finally finding success late in the season and help the team win.
“I said here last weekend in front of you guys that he’s probably one of the most talented players on the team, if not the most talented,” Peterson said. “I have a lot of respect for him; he’s eager to learn and he’s always asking questions. He’s impressive. So when he’s out there I feel comfortable with knowing that he can get the job done.”
Peterson is not the only Vikings player to be excited about McKinnon’s success, though. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could be seen running down the sideline and jumping up and down after McKinnon scored his second touchdown.
Bridgewater had already been taken out of the game at that point because of the Vikings’ big lead late in the game, but he still may have been more excited about the score than McKinnon was.
“Jerick, he’s my roommate whenever we travel and whenever we stay at the hotel and we just talk all night: ‘Man, hopefully you can get in the end zone, what do you want to do, what celebration are you going to do?’ We try to keep the celebrations down to a minimum though – that guy can get out of control,” Bridgewater said. “I was very excited for him. He’s a guy last year, I recall, every time we got down to the red zone, the goal line, we would take him out. He didn’t get any rushing touchdowns last year, so to see him get in the end zone this year, I was just really excited for him.”
With Peterson forced to miss 15 games last season, McKinnon got plenty of opportunities to learn how to play running back at the professional level. He played quarterback in a triple-option offense at Georgia Southern, so it was a little bit of a transition.
McKinnon was able to rush for over 100 yards on multiple occasions in 2014, but he was never able to get into the end zone. That has all changed these past two weeks, as he has now scored three times and got in a fourth time but the play was negated because of a false start by left tackle Matt Kalil.
“I was hoping it was on the defense,” McKinnon said when asked what he thought when he saw the flag. “But I mean we still got points out of that drive, just have to move on and when I got another opportunity just make the most of it. Bittersweet, but it’s all good that we got points and that’s the most important thing, sustaining those drives as an offense and coming away with points.”
The young running back has matured both on and off the field a lot this season and a big part of that could be because he has had the opportunity to learn behind one of the best running backs in the history of the NFL. It is not something that every young back gets to do and you can see a more mature player when he is on the field.
One example is on his 68-yard touchdown run. Initially, the New York Giants had him stopped in the backfield, but McKinnon trusted his blockers and showed great patience. He saw a hole open up on the back side and used his speed from there.
“They had a lot of guys down in the box, and the offensive line did a great job of pushing the back side to try to keep the front side,” he said. “I kind of felt my way through it and saw the daylight on the back side. I just hit it and got some space, and just tried to run as fast as I can to the touchdown.”
Since McKinnon did not play a big role early on in the season, he still has very fresh legs. That could give him an advantage heading into the final week of the regular season and into the playoffs, as most of the defenders he has been going up against have been fighting through the rigors of an entire season.
It is not yet clear how big of a role he will have going forward, but Peterson will undoubtedly be getting the bulk of the carries. Still, with the way McKinnon has played the past two weeks he has definitely put himself in consideration for an increased role.