McKinnon played heavily in 2014 when Adrian Peterson was dealing with child abuse allegations, but his time decreased significantly in 2015 when Peterson returned, playing in less than 20 percent of the offensive snaps.
In 2016, McKinnon’s role ramped back up.
With Peterson sidelined for all but three games, McKinnon played in nearly 50 percent of the offensive snaps, despite a three-game stretch in the middle of the season in which an ankle injury limited his availability and added to his list of maladies (foot, toe, lower leg and ankle).
“It’s a grind, man. Just keep fighting,” McKinnon said of his increased role. “Like Norv (Turner, former offensive coordinator) said when he was here – he said throughout the season there are going to be times when you’re hurt, there are going to be times when things don’t go your way, but you’ve just got to find a way to keep pounding and stuff and the way to produce and that’s what I tried to do.”
McKinnon averaged only 3.4 yards per carry, but that was still better than any other running back on the roster carrying behind a struggling offensive line. As a team, the Vikings averaged 3.2 yards per carry. Matt Asiata averaged 3.3 and Peterson averaged only 1.9.
McKinnon’s 89-yard rushing performance in the regular-season finale was the most by any Viking this season, capping a frustrating season for the running backs with a positive note.
“It was good. It was good just to go out with a win,” McKinnon said. “Those guys up front did a good job (in the finale) and we’ve been challenged all year.”
The injuries that decimated the offensive line have been well-documented, but McKinnon finished by averaging 4.5 yards per carry on Christmas Eve and 5.6 yards per carry on New Year’s Day as he got double-digit carries in each of those final two games.
But with Peterson unlikely to see his scheduled $18 million cap hit in 2017 and Asiata a free agent, it could be a very different look in the Vikings backfield next year.
“I think that will be weird for everybody, but that’s between Adrian and the guys upstairs. … I don’t really have too much to say about that that’s not in my control or I don’t have anything over that,” McKinnon said.
“… As far as I know he’s still on the team. I’m training with him this offseason, so I know he’s going to push me hard and I know we’re going to get good work. That’s why I’m really looking there. Take this time off, let my body heal and then when I head down (to Houston) give it my all and get ready for next season.”
Much is unknown about the Vikings’ backfield in 2017.
McKinnon might be the only regular returning with potential additions in free agency and the draft. But, no matter what happens, he says he has learned a lot in his three years as Peterson’s backup and often-used fill-in.
“Being young, coming into this league, not really playing running back ever before, I would just say the main thing I learned from Adrian is just being a pro, from offseason training to practice every day to taking care of your body, all those things combined,” McKinnon said. “So I’d probably just say being a pro at the game and just staying consistent, staying humble, staying hungry.”