The Vikings have visited Green Bay Packers free-agent running back Eddie Lacy. But in a draft filled with what nearly every analyst believes are quality running backs throughout, the Vikings will almost surely look to supplement a free-agent running back with a rookie to go along with Jerick McKinnon and some younger options hoping to break through on the roster (see: C.J. Ham and Bishop Sankey).
In addition to the top-end guys like Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey – all likely first-round selections – the draft appears to be dripping with many flavors once the Vikings start picking in the middle of the second round.
There are additional bigger backs behind Fournette, including Joe Mixon, whose draft status is clouded after video was released last year of him punching a woman in the face in 2014.
“Mixon is a 230-pound guy that’s a first-round talent and that’s a whole different conversation,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said, referring to Mixon’s assault caused the NFL to keep him out of the Scouting Combine action. “[Samaje] Perine I like. I’m not as high on [D'Onta Foreman] from Texas as some people are. He was listed at 249. He weighed in in the 230s, but he’s a solid player. Corey Clement does a lot of things very well and I think he’s going to be kind of a fourth- or fifth-round bigger back at 222. But there’s a whole group of these guys out there.”
Asked about the issues surrounding Mixon at the Combine, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman declined to comment, saying he would defer that character question to an NFL official.
Whether the list includes Mixon or not, Spielman already had some players red-dotted on his draft, meaning he wouldn’t choose them no matter how far they fall. But one question the Vikings will have to ask is how ready any rookie running back would be as a frontline contributor.
“I think over the history as you look at rookie running backs that do come in, they seem to have a pretty good success rate early compared to some other positions. The reason why is with the ball in their hand that they can rely on their athletic ability and their ability to make plays. That comes natural to them,” Spielman said. “I think where there’s development is in the pass protection, understanding not only the schemes and the protections being called, but the technique involved.
“I know when you look at the running backs coming out in the draft over the years, a lot of them are in the spread offenses that aren’t asked to do a lot of blocking. There are the technical aspects of the game that have to be coached and refined, but they seem to have success pretty early just because they can rely on their natural instincts and athletic ability.”
Ezekiel Elliott proved that last year, coming in as a rookie and leading the NFL in rushing yards. But he was a first-round pick that nearly everyone figured would have great success, especially behind the Dallas Cowboys’ elite offensive line.
The Vikings won’t get such a shot at a first-round running back, leaving them to likely select one in the third round or later. If that’s the case, Mayock has some he likes.
“Depending on what you’re looking for, Perine is underrated. He didn’t run well [at the Combine] but I didn’t expect him to – 230-pound back that is really solid,” the draft analyst said. “I like Jamaal Williams from BYU and Kareem Hunt from Toledo. I think they both offer three-down versatility if you want it. Wayne Gallman I thought looked pretty good from Clemson. I love [Donnell] Pumphrey, but as a third-down, change-of-pace guy. You kind of go through this list, [Jeremy] [Jeremy] McNichols from Boise and you just have to pick your flavor. Some are third-down, change-of-pace guys, some are more power, big guys. But when you get into that third-, fourth-round area I think you’re going to start seeing those names that I just gave you come off the board.”
And it would surprise no one if the Vikings were the team selecting one of them in that area, no matter what happens in free agency before then.