In the exciting world of college football there are good players, bad players and better player. Minnesota Vikings’ third round draft pick Jerick McKinnon falls into the “better” category for a couple reasons.
A) He is one of the better triple-option threats in the country rushing for 2817 yards in his junior and senior seasons combined at Georgia Southern. McKinnon can play quarterback, running back and also has two career interception as a defensive back. Factor in his 18.5 yard average on 4 kickoff returns and you will be hard pressed to find a better Jack of all trades than McKinnon. And no, Jack of all trades doesn’t always mean master of none.
B) With better coaching and a better offensive system, it stands to reason that McKinnon should naturally become an even better player, right?
Well, that’s my thought process now even though I didn’t have the same vision before the Vikings selected him with the 96th pick.
I must admit, the first time I contemplated Jerick McKinnon as a possible backup running back for the Vikings a few weeks ago, I just blew it off. Maybe a triple-option back like McKinnon would fit a Darrell Bevel offense, but certainly not a Norv Turner system. One look was all I gave him before I closed the door on this quarterback turned running back from Georgia Southern.
His 3899 career rushing yards with a 6.3 yard per rush average certainly peaked my curiosity enough to watch him play. The game I went back to check out was the Georgia Southern Eagles vs the Florida Gators in late November of 2013.
Yes, it was enjoyable to watch the Eagles’ option attack challenge Florida’s defense. Jerick McKinnon had a big day rushing and a late touchdown as major underdog Georgia Southern stunned Florida 26-20, pulling off the upset without completing a single pass.
McKinnon played running back in the game and ran the ball 9 times for 125 yards. His 13.9 yard per carry average was impressive to say the least, but… I just wasn’t convinced he was a good fit in a Norv Turner vertical passing system. I guess I thought I saw too much “quarterback” in his style of running.
McKinnon only had 10 career receptions at Georgia Southern inpart because they didn’t throw the ball often, and also because he played quarterback most of the time. Last season McKinnon started five games at quarterback and four at the running back position.
When the Vikings selected Jerick McKinnon in the third round with the 96th overall pick, I was scratching my head a bit. I knew the Vikings were in the market for a backup running back, and I kind of had a feeling the third or forth round was the sweet spot for this class of backs. Nevertheless, shame on me for not perceiving McKinnon as a legitimate target for the Vikings.
Was McKinnon the Vikings top target? I’m not sure because Bishop Sankey, Jereme Hill, Carlos Hyde and my favorite Charles Sims were all already off the boards when the Vikings were on the clock with pick 72. Pick 72 was too early to select Terrance West, and by pick 96 he was gone as well.
The Vikings had a few options other than McKinnon with the 96th pick. RB Ka’Deem Carey (red flags), RB Dri Archer (too small), RB Devonta Freeman (lacks breakaway speed) and RB Andre Williams (bad hands and too slow) were all still on the board along with a few big corners like Keith McGill, Pierre Desire and Walt Aikens.
The Vikings passed on McGill and Desire with pick 72, so Zimmer obviously wasn’t overly crazy about any of the tall mid round cornerbacks. As for the other available running backs, McKinnon has the tools and potential to be even better than those more experienced backs.
Sure McKinnon has incredible burst and speed, but have you seen his guns? At the combine McKinnon bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times. He also holds the honor of being named the strongest guy on Georgia Southern’s team, squat lifting over 600 pounds.
Unfortunately at this point in his career, his strength and power doesn’t always translate into breaking tackles and running over defenders. Most quarterbacks simply don’t have the same leg drive and determination as running backs possess when it comes to getting hit and taking on tacklers. McKinnon is no exception, and he will need to somehow find away to display more of his natural power and strength on the field in the NFL. Vikings running backs coach Kirby Wilson will earn his meal ticket helping McKinnon look less like a quarterback and more like a tailback when the ball is in his hands.
McKinnon’s lack of pass catching production may not be a problem. He shows soft hands and dependablity when handling the pitch on outside sweeps and options… his 16.5 yards per catch average on his 10 career receptions is just sick. That average would ranks him as one of the better pass catcher in the country. Words is from the senior bowl, pro day, combine, and rookie mini camp is McKinnon is a natural hands catcher.
Learning to be effective in pass protection will be the biggest challenge in McKinnon’s NFL development. But that can also be said for most of the college backs transitioning to the NFL. McKinnon will also need to prove he can read blocks and consistenty pickup yards between the tackles.
Turner and Wilson will try to shape McKinnon into a dynamic 3rd down and change of pass back to spell Arian Peterson as much as possible. A younger version of Darren Sproles would be the ideal longterm blueprint, however worst case scenario is he contributes immediately on special teams and steals a few snaps in the slot as a poor man’s version of Percy Harvin.
You might even see him take a direct snap or two (out with the Blazer Package in with the Jet Pack). Just don’t hold your breath to see him throw the ball.