Jerick McKinnon got his shot to prove himself with the Minnesota Vikings as more of a full-time back in 2014 when Adrian Peterson was in the middle of a legal battle and played in only the regular-season opener.
But with Peterson back as the NFL’s leading rusher in 2015, McKinnon’s role was once again reduced to mostly a third-down back and he was focusing his offseason on getting better in pass protection.
“You can never be too good at pass protection. That’s my main focus,” he said last month.
Although McKinnon is generally considered better in pass protection that Peterson, neither of them received high marks from Pro Football Focus in that category last year. McKinnon was given a grade of 55.1 in pass protections while Peterson got a 40.2 in that area. Both of them were well past 50th place among NFL running backs in PFF’s pass-protection grades.
Unlike Peterson, who played about 56 percent of his snaps on running downs, McKinnon played 61 percent of his snaps on passing downs.
McKinnon said he needs to work on his patience, getting a “little antsy” at times. He’s also looking to become a better route-runner.
Although that isn’t considered a strength of Peterson’s, McKinnon said he tries to gather advice on route-running wherever he can.
“He’s given me tips before on route running, just stemming guys, getting body leverage and all those things,” McKinnon said. “I don’t think anything against Adrian and his route running – I think he runs pretty good routes. I learn every day, not just from him, other guys, Coach (Kevin) Stefanski. Every day is a learning process for me to come out here and get better.”
While there is no doubt the Vikings’ running game runs through Peterson, McKinnon proved he is a capable backup in 2014, even if he wasn’t among the top 70 ranked running backs (according to PFF’s overall grades) in 2015.
McKinnon knows Peterson is the Vikings’ bread and butter in the running game, but the backup continues to work on improvement to be ready if needed.
“Just keep working on our craft and the things that are not my strong points or that I would consider not my strong points but I’m definitely getting better in,” he said. “Just keep working on those things and sharpening my tools every day.”