When Mike Zimmer first took over as the Minnesota Vikings head coach in 2014 the team had no need to address the running back position through the draft because they already had one of the best running backs in the game, Adrian Peterson, manning their backfield.
Still, an opportunity presented itself during the 2014 draft that Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and the rest of the front office felt was too good to pass up. When the Vikings were on the clock for the second time in the third round, running back Jerick McKinnon was still on the board and they felt he would be a good complement to the future Hall of Famer.
McKinnon is thought of as being a quick, athletic running back that works well out of the shotgun and can really contribute in the passing game. When the Vikings drafted McKinnon, it was not thought that he was going to be the heir apparent to Peterson because he is a little bit of a smaller back and most did not think he would be able to handle the punishment an every-down back takes in the NFL.
His durability got put to the test when Peterson had to miss all but one game during the 2014 season dealing with child abuse allegations, which meant it was up to McKinnon and Matt Asiata to carry the load. Asiata started out as the primary workhorse for the team, but it didn’t take long for McKinnon to take the reins and become the featured back in the offense.
He didn’t get the chance to finish the season, though, as he suffered a lower back injury toward the end of the season that landed him on injured reserve. He finished his rookie season with 538 rushing yards on 113 attempts and recorded 27 receptions for 135 yards.
The Vikings clearly felt comfortable with what they had in the backfield last season and didn’t bring in any running backs via the draft. They did sign fullback Blake Renaud as an undrafted free agent, but he spent the entire season on the practice squad, not counting the short time period he was released by the team.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1671417-take-me-down-to-tailgate-... With Peterson returning for the 2015 season, McKinnon saw his role in the offense change. He was no longer the bell cow, but instead he was used more as a change-of-pace back. He only recorded 52 rushing attempts, but still had 271 yards (5.2 yards per attempt). He also scored two touchdowns on the ground, which he was excited about after not scoring a touchdown during his rookie season.
Toward the end of the season, you could really sense McKinnon find a niche in the offense – working with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater out of the shotgun. A lot of those plays ended up being passing plays where McKinnon recorded 21 receptions on 29 targets for 173 yards and one touchdown.
The Vikings once again declined to draft any running backs this offseason, but they did sign three undrafted free agents to contracts. C.J. Ham, Jhurell Pressley and Brandon Ross are all going to have a chance to make an impact this offseason and try to earn a spot on the Vikings 53-man roster or practice squad following training camp and the preseason.
It’s hard to say what the Vikings thought process was exactly when they signed three running backs following the draft, but it is possible that they might be starting to prepare for a life after Peterson and/or Asiata.