The signing of Murray may be the only one made by Minnesota in the free-agent market, but with only Murray and Jerick McKinnon having much NFL experience on the roster, the draft could provide another option.
The Vikings met with several rookie backs at the NFL Scouting Combine and attended the Oklahoma pro day on March 8 with General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu all there. That got more attention because of controversial running back Joe Mixon being there and not being invited to the Combine.
But Samaje Perine might actually be the Sooners runner they are more likely to draft because of the reliability and draft position (he is expected to be a mid-round pick).
As a freshman, Perine rushed for 427 yards in one game and by the end of his junior year he had passed Billy Sims for the career rushing mark at Oklahoma before deciding to declare for the NFL draft, along with Mixon, a combination that Perine described as complementary.
“We both had a little bit of everything – speed, power, whatever you needed, we had it,” Perine said.
“I just felt like I’d accomplished everything that I could at OU. I had a great career and just wanted to end it on a high note.”
The Vikings took note and were among the many teams that met with Perine at the Combine.
Perine forged a successful career at Oklahoma, finishing with 4,122 yards – including 1,713 yards as a freshman – 49 rushing touchdowns and a 6-yard average.
“With all the great backs there, you don’t ever think that you’re going in as a freshman and going to be the top dog by the end,” he said. “It’s still surreal and I haven’t really wrapped my head around it yet, but sooner or later that’ll sink in and I’ll just sit back in amazement. It just speaks volumes about my offensive line through the years.”
With 1,060 yards as a junior in 2016, it turned out to be the least productive for Perine, but it still held a couple of highlights.
“Losing is my worst memory. My best memory is just this past year, rushing for 200-plus yards on them,” he said, referring to 214 yards gained against Texas and 239 yards against Oklahoma State.
Weighing in at 233 pounds at the Combine, Perine said Marshawn Lynch and his “very physical” style is the NFL player he looked up to most.
“My greatest [asset] is definitely my power. I probably said that when I was heavier. I couldn’t get away from everyone, but now that I’ve slimmed down a little, I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” he said.
Now down to 233 pounds and a self-reported 8 percent body fat, Perine believes he is ready for the NFL and can be a three-down back.
“Absolutely, just because I’ve done it,” he said. “When Coach [Lincoln] Riley came in, he told us we were going to spread the ball out and create open space, and I think I’ve done a good job showing I have the power and the speed to break away if I have to.”