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Jerick “Jet” McKinnon: A triple-option back just might work after all

 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.



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Carl Knowles

Carl Knowles (Contributor) is a former member of the Professional Bowler Association and an avid lifelong Vikings fan. When he is not bowling you can find him on websites and forum pages sharing his creative insight and enthusiasm for the Minnesota Vikings any chance he gets. Carl was a Phoenix Institute of Technology and Purdue University standout who currently enjoys the challenge of being a graphic director in the printing business. You can follow him on twitter @carlknowles_vt.

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  1. Freds? c.cart? Fran? Tomb? bjohnny? charlie? wtf? Norse? Ole?

    Guess it’s over, huh guys? Miss y’all – we did have us some fun, tho. Take care.

    Go Vikes!

  2. One concern I do have with the Vikings’ draft this year is the (apparent) systemic deviation from (for lack of a better way to put it) ‘technique’ guys to ‘projection’ guys, although even typing that it seems like I can already pick it apart.

    Let me try again. It seems to me like Spielman had a very predictable pattern in drafting guys – they put it on tape, and thus one could reasonable assume that they would be able to do it in the NFL. Patterson, Rhodes and Floyd had nothing left to prove in college. Patterson had shown amazing talent, enough to strongly suggest that he’d be able to do something if you just got him the ball in space. Then guys like Mauti or Hodges last year, or other guys like Rudolph, or Loadholt, or Kalil – you kind of knew exactly what you were getting. And while examples escape me off the top of my head right now, it always seemed like the depth guys he would draft would always be proficient at something. Maybe they’re not athletically great, but they aren’t going to kill you by being boneheads.

    This draft, by comparison, seems heavy on guys with project ability, McKinnon being the prime example. Sure, a lot of people will say Barr, but even as he is right now as a pass rusher he can be slotted into a clear role in Zimmer’s D. But then again, how is he going to handle the TEs in our division in coverage? What good is a sack against Rodgers if you give up a TD elsewhere in the game? McKinnon – could be great, could also be an overmatched project.

    I guess it just seems like this team is placing an awful lot of trust in our coaches. I believe in Zimmer and Turner, and I am so very happy with the direction Zimmer is taking this team. He is the absolute right guy at this time for the Vikings. But what about our RB coach? What about our LB coach, the HC’s son? What about Norv’s son? There seems to be a tendency in articles I’ve been reading to kind of spread Zimmer’s proven ability to coach up guys to every other coach on the Vikings’ staff, and they haven’t shown they can do that yet, you get what I’m saying? I hope all these guys work out, but I guess I keep coming back to Gerald Hodges when I think of this draft:
    Teddy B? He’s going to be great IMO.
    Barr? Clear role, and Zimmer will get him coached up.
    Crichton? see Barr.
    McKinnon? Our panacea of late round DBs? There’s a lot there that could be good, or could be bad, which brings me to Gerald Hodges. Remember him? Of the great measureables? A terrific coverage LB? Wouldn’t it be great if the Vikings had one of those? Now maybe he was a victim of the previous regime’s ineptitude, along with Robinson and others. Or maybe they simply had too much confidence in their ability to coach them up?

    And that’s my main point, I guess. There’s a long ways to go with all these players, and it’ll be arguably one of the biggest story lines of this team: how good are they at coaching guys up? I hope McKinnon is put in a position to just grip it and rip it, as his burst and agility is amaze balls. Just let him do what he do, and pick up the blitz. 🙂

    1. This is the premise of a post I’ve been throwing around in my head for a while now. It’s a very stark strategy this year, embracing risk.

  3. Hey Coach! We (Tomb and a couple others) were wondering where you had gotten off to.
    Most of us are still here, except maybe Freds. Haven’t heard from him for a while.
    A bunch of new personalities here since Arif took over.
    Arif seems to attract some pretty serious types but also some good commenters.

    Hang in there Coach! We missed your wit and wisdom.

    1. I don’t think that’s Coach, Fran. Coach wrote in a pretty regimented manner, with proper spelling and grammar at almost all times.

      “Guess it’s over, huh guys? Miss y’all – we did have us some fun, tho. Take care.”

      That is so NOT Coach’s writing style.

    2. …besides, if it WERE Coach, you know he would have prattled on ad nauseam about linemen. He can’t help himself.

      1. Well, its good to see one thing hasn’t changed here, as you are again wrong, Tomb. Yes, it’s me. I may have missed your analysis… is Teddy Reach II? After all they traded UP to get him! Haven’t heard the name Teddy here since our running back of the ’80’s left town.

    3. Thanks Fran, good to hear. Things at work hit a whole new crazy level… haven’t even wet a line this spring! I gotta think seriously about retirement. Yeah, looks like VT has gotten pretty serious and sophisticated… neither of which I do well. That’s OK tho, I’m sure there are good folks here. Miss Feeds tho. Thanks for sayin’ hi Fran. I’ll try my best to get Ponder back under center here, and get this o-line beefed up. :-). Did like the LB at #1!

      1. OH MAN! You had me right up until your thought on Ponder back under center!
        If that happens, it’ll mean we once again whiffed in the draft at QB!
        The Bridgewater pick surprised me but I’m holding out hope Spielman got this one right.

        1. Just kiddin’ on that one Fran – can’t have everything be serious here. I was one of the last in Ponder’s camp, so figured I would just stay there for now to get a reaction. I agree, a good portion of this franchise’s future fortunes rides on finally getting that QB. But when gotta have something other than the 31st defense if and when he gets here.

          1. I think we can safely assume we will have a much better defense than last year.
            I’m looking at a top 10, at the very least.
            You HAD to love that 5th round pick of OL Yankey.
            Smart guys are saying it was a steal.

            1. Yup, good pick for sure, Fran. Tomb thinks any lineman picked in the first five rounds is a Reach. Hope you’re right about the defense. Just remember, Zim’s on the sidelines, and its still Aaron Rodgers looking at a buffet of receivers running free like calves on a sunny warm day. (You know what that looks like, right Fran? Free running calves on a sunny warm day, I mean. Right? Tomb won’t have a clue.)

              1. “a buffet of receivers running free like calves on a sunny warm day. ”
                Well, there you go Tomb.
                Now you KNOW it’s Coach for sure.
                WTH? “a buffet of receivers running free like calves on a sunny warm day.”??!!
                I think you’ve gone over the deep end Coach. Get some fishing in and STOP chasing those Calves.

                1. Dang, Fran, you could be right. Its those little grandchildren who are those calves on a summer day, and the garage is no place for a.Lund on a.beautiful Saturday in May!! Don’t count me over the deep end just yet, by gosh. Even so, Zimmer’s got his work to do in getting these passing games under control on D.

  4. “It’s a very stark strategy this year, embracing risk.”

    Embracing risk was an underrated part of the 2013 draft story IMO.

    Patterson was hardly a finished product — given the concerns about his character or willingness/ability to make use of coaching, he was widely considered to be a very risky pick.

    Floyd was another project. IIRC he only had 4 sacks in college and he was only 20 years old on draft day (he’s younger than Aaron Donald, for instance). He’d ascended draft boards during the off-season but I don’t think anyone expected him to be a 10 sack / year guy from day 1 — he was a pick for 2014 and beyond.

    The history of how they handled picks #23 and #25 is that they planned to take Rhodes (fairly safe bet at CB) and Patterson. They didn’t expect Floyd to fall, hadn’t game planned that scenario. When he did, they took him, took Rhodes next and then swung for the fences with the huge trade up for Patterson. That deal looks pretty good right now, but at the time, there was quite a bit of friction about “trading the draft” for a gadget player.

    Anyway, I thought the 2013 draft was interesting because it told me that they were more intent on adding premium talent at a few key positions than patching more holes on the team with prospects with lower potential. This suggests to me that they (correctly) interpreted the 2012 team as a fluke — they were still in dire need of potential stars, the roster wasn’t anywhere need good enough to be OK with just adding a couple of basic pieces or drafting for depth.

    That’s the right read: the team will have been almost completely revamped from the end of the TOA era in 2010 (only remaining players 4 years later = AP, Sullivan, Loadholt, Robison, Greenway, Sanford, Brinkley if you count that). It’s been a complete and very necessary overhaul.

    This year, Barr is roughly comparable to Patterson. Raw talents, productive in college (great highlights) over a short career, but very inconsistent, struggling with some basic techniques.

    Bridgewater, Crichton and Yankey are less risky picks than Barr, as close to finished products as you can find that late in the draft. Drafting Manziel would’ve been riskier (which they apparently tried to do). I’m pretty convinced Manziel will succeed in the NFL, so I can see their point there, but I’m glad it worked out that they landed Teddy instead.

    McKinnon is very raw. Luckily the position he’s going to try to learn isn’t that difficult, except for the pass blocking (he’s already got good hands). I imagine they’ll use him mostly as a “space” player.

    Bottom line is that they’ve been adding talent with an eye toward the future, not just the short term (the window for the team is 2015-17, I think, based on how many players they already have under contract for that span). I agree that they’re showing a lot of faith in the coaches, but that might be why Spielman went looking for a couple of veteran teachers with a reputation of developing talent (instead of schematic innovators or whatever).

    1. Nice perspective. I agree with almost all. I’m even starting to warm up to teddy a little(more than I ever did with ponder).

  5. 7 first round picks in 3 years….I like the idea of going for quality. I wasn’t so hot on trading a 5th for a 6th and 7th. It seems to me the 7th rounders don’t have much more of a chance to make the roster than the free agents. I’d rather see us keep trading up.

    We do seem to have focused on athletic talent this time out (with the exception of TB, who plays a position where accuracy and decisiveness trump athleticism every time). I get that a lot of people are counting on Zimmer to do a better job of coaching these players than the last staff, what I wonder is how many of the incumbent players can improve with proper coaching? Can Frazier’s guys have been that bad at coaching technique?

  6. I’m not sure if it was a matter of Fraziers guys being bad… rather Zimmer just wanting to add as many athletic smart players as he could get his hands.

    Zimmer wanted to draft a stud on defense and land a franchise QB… mission accomplished. After that a new coaching staff wanted want to grab as many young athletic “solid value” picks as a deep draft could offer offer.

    Yankey, Exum and Watts are guys I’m excited to see what Zimmer can do with.

    Might be some surprise cuts this year?

  7. If you are going to error in the mid to late rounds of the draft, why is it wrong to error on the side of “athletic upside and explosive playmakers”?

    I think I will like the aggressive nature of Mike Zimmer.

  8. I still think there is a very real possibility that Zimmer likes what he sees in Hodges, Mauti and even Cole. They all have experience now, hopefully Zim Zam can do wonders with at least two of them. I have all the 2013 vikes games on DVR and just watched the games against the Bears at the Metrodome this weekend. Cole has a long way to go and may not be fast enough, but he has a knack for being around the ball.

    1. Yes, Monk, the value of speed is reduced if you are in the right place at the right time to being with. Many players with speed have not made it in the NFL, as their speed did not offset their lack of intelligence (Carlos Jenkins) or their basic position skills (Troy Williamson). Dick Butkus doesn’t have any 40-yard-dash trophies in his basement, but I bet he’s got a yellow sport coat hanging down there somewhere.