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Jerick McKinnon: In The Shadow Of A Legend

It’s no real surprise that a triple-option quarterback from Georgia Southern has been overshadowed in his first two seasons in the NFL by future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson. Last season, Jerick McKinnon was limited to just 73 touches for the Minnesota Vikings as Peterson went on to win his third career rushing title while toting the rock a league leading 327 times. Peterson is ninth all-time in rushing touchdowns (97) and 17th all-time in rushing yards (11,675) and his quest to climb the NFL leader board could fleece more snaps away from McKinnon again this season.

It’s true McKinnon’s opportunities were slighted in 2015, yet the 5’9” 205 pound speedster was anything but lost in the shadows of an icon. A lack of playing time hasn’t stopped McKinnon from flashing his unbelievable athletic ability. For a smaller running back known for his breakaway speed, McKinnon has shown some surprising power as well. He is recognized as a freak in the weight room who can bench press twice his weight and squat three times his weight. His incredible work ethic is beginning to translating to the gridiron as he continues to develop strength as a pass blocker and improved power as a runner.

ESPN’s Ben Goessling highlights how hard Peterson still trains at age 31, and McKinnon has certainly benefited from seeing those disciplines first hand. As the understudy, McKinnon is learning all he can and taking advantage of every snap he gets. The admiration and respect the two have for each other continues to heighten along the way.

[pull_quote_center]“I said here last weekend in front of you guys that he’s probably one of the most talented players on the team, if not the most talented.” Peterson said. “I have a lot of respect for him: he’s eager to learn and he’s always asking questions. He’s impressive. So when he’s out there I feel comfortable with knowing that he can get the job done.”[/pull_quote_center]

Being confined to a modest role behind one of the greatest backs of this generation hasn’t diminished McKinnon’s development as a NFL running back. On the contrary, his apprenticeship under Peterson is ahead of schedule, and “Jet” as he is affectionately known, appears ready to take on a larger role in 2016.

In the final three weeks of the regular season, Vikings fans got a good glimpse of what McKinnon’s role might look like in 2016. In those final contests, McKinnon averaged 77 total yards per game and found the end zone three times. The first 13 games of the season, he only touched the ball an average of 3.53 times per game. As the Vikings made their late season run to capture the NFC North title, they also found new ways to incorporate McKinnon’s versatility as they fed him the ball an average of nine times per game.

The Vikings 38-17 win against the Chicago Bears in week fifteen saw Teddy Bridgewater complete 85% of his attempts (a season high) as he connected with McKinnon four times for a team high 76 yards and a touchdown. McKinnon’s playmaking ability as a pass-catcher out of the backfield and also from the slot position helped Bridgewater establish an early rhythm and tone for the game.

The following week in a 49-17 win against the Giants, McKinnon ran the ball seven times for 89 yards and capped off his first multiple-score game of his NFL career. His 68 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter is evidence of his improved patience, vision, outstanding lateral quickness, not to mention his game-breaking speed.

McKinnon headlines my list of 2016 breakout candidates and I wouldn’t be surprised if he leads the team in receptions in more than one game while also having more than one multiple touchdown performance.

Former tight ends coach and newly appointed running backs coach Kevin Stefanski thinks McKinnon is a special player. [pull_quote_center]”There is so much that he can do, and I think we are still figuring out exactly what he can do,” said Stefanski. “It’s up to us to put him in position so that he can help us, and I think we are figuring that out.”[/pull_quote_center]

Playing second fiddle to Peterson on the depth chart is not the ideal situation for McKinnon. Don’t count on him to set the fantasy world on fire with monster all-purpose yardage, but McKinnon will continue to do what is asked of him and make the most of his opportunity in Minnesota. His personality, hard work, and electric playmaking appeal has already captivated a Vikings’ fan base.

Tom Moore of Vikefans.com caught up with McKinnon after the training camp night practice and asked him what it’s like to play behind a living legend like Adrian Peterson. [pull_quote_center]“It’s Amazing man,” McKinnon said. “Being able to see him day in and day out do the things he does. He is humble and seems to be hungry. At the age that he is, it’s amazing. He has an incredible work ethic that I’ve learned from him. He is personable to everybody, practicing the right way, finishing runs, picking up blitzes, reading coverages, things like. It’s a daily thing learning from him.”[/pull_quote_center]

It’s hard not to root for McKinnon. The “Free McKinnon” support is growing and I too hope this coaching staff can figure out ways to get “Jet” on the field more consistently.

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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. Wonder how long before he requests more playing time? Versatility could manifest itself with some slot snaps, and with Diggs getting more time inside, Jarius Wright could be moved in what must be a crowded meeting room

  2. I am looking forward to his unleashing. I for one was disappointed that he wasn’t really used as a feature back when Adrian was out 2 seasons ago. He has been proven to be a team player, hard worker, never hear anything negative from him about playing behind AD (Remember Gerhardt whining about his role?). I could hardly imagine what it must be like to try to tackle a guy like him. As short as he is and over 200? Can bench double his weight and squat triple!! And he is fast and shifty. Yikes!

  3. “beginning to translating” – that’s “translate”

    “seeing those disciplines first hand” – should be “that discipline”

    “his first multiple-score game of his NFL career.” – “the first multi-score game of his career” avoids repeating “his.”

    “The ‘Free McKinnon’ support is growing” – you’re either missing a word here – “support group” – or you should have said “The ‘Free McKinnon’ movement” or “sentiment is growing.”

    Don’t worry, Carl, I won’t blame you for McKinnon’s own grammatical errors.

      1. Well, life sucks and then you die, but my voluntary efforts at copy editing are just my way of dealing with the breakdown in the use of the English language that I see and hear every day on the web and TV, from reality shows to advertising, sports and the news. My politics are generally so far to the left I make Hubert Humphrey look like Jesse Helms but boy, liberal and progressive teachers have a lot to answer for when it comes to teaching English.

        And hey, just thank your lucky stars that Mike Kano and I haven’t gotten into another brouhaha over Adrian Peterson.

        1. I generally agree with you, no exception regarding the decline of proper language. Some are so frequently abused (to and too, ain’t, their and there, list goes on) I truly do clench my fists and grind my teeth. And that is coming from a social conservative that is a science guy! Don’t blame teachers ck. Texting and the media (pathetic f’in ghetto slang, I truly don’t understand how being ignorant can be considered trendy) are much more responsible. I can assure you that English language teachers are not teaching anything other than proper grammar. And now there is a movement afoot to eliminate teaching cursive writing, some elementary schools in the metro already have.
          I am thanking my lucky stars regarding MK, methinks big Johnny’s bigger sister has taught him tolerance through anal pain, or perhaps it was the excitement of driving around with him/her in the oft mentioned tow truck wearing his/her Fred Evans jersey no less. No matter, I was not the only one not named ck that would join in against his ridiculous, hypocrisy laced rants.