A Graph That Will Be Telling for Vikings Offseason Decisions

Do the Vikings Really Have an Expendable Running Back?
Alexander Mattison and Dalvin Cook

The Minnesota Vikings will have decisions galore in the next six weeks, as aging veterans currently clog up much of the 2023 salary cap.

These are the top-paid Vikings players on tap for 2023 per scheduled cap hit:

  • Kirk Cousins ($36.2m)
  • Adam Thielen ($19.9m)
  • Brian O’Neill ($19.6m)
  • Harrison Smith ($19.1m)
  • Za’Darius Smith ($15.5m)
  • Dalvin Cook ($14.0m)
  • Danielle Hunter ($13.1m)
  • Eric Kendricks ($11.4m)
  • T.J. Hockenson ($9.3m)
  • Dalvin Tomlinson ($7.5m)

And just three of those men are close to locks as returning members of the 2023 Vikings:

  • Kirk Cousins
  • Brian O’Neill
  • T.J. Hockenson

A Graph That Will Be Telling for Vikings Offseason Decisions

Among wrestling with the futures of various longtime Vikings, the running back situation may stand out foremost for general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

A Graph That Will Be Telling
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Adofo-Mensah is known as a sports-analytics mind — yes, the Moneyball approach — and paying running backs vast sums of money is considered taboo among that crowd. Therefore, as Adofo-Mensah embarks on his second go-round as front office boss this offseason, Cook and Mattison may not be on the menu for 2023.

A few weeks ago, Tej Seth, a sports data scientist from Sumer Sports, tweeted a graph detailing Rushing Yards Over Expected in 2022 — and Cook, who’s served as Minnesota’s RB1 since 2017 — ranked at the very bottom of the list.

Cook broke off a few huge touchdown runs in 2022, scores that were game-changing and helped the Vikings clinch the NFC North. But aside from those mammoth scampers, “the analytics” portray the 27-year-old in an unflattering light.

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports.

The Florida State alumnus has a scheduled $14 million cap hit next season, while his teammate, Mattison, is a true-blue free agent. And per the Seth graph, when the rushing attempts criteria are downsized to 50 carries (Mattison didn’t rush as much as other RB1s), Mattison’s yards-over-expected is even worse than Cook’s. Cook checked in at -0.75 for the metric, whereas Mattison notched -0.97.

Alexander Mattison Lost
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Furthermore, the Vikings ranked third-to-last per rush play percentage in 2022, meaning the franchise rarely ran the ball at the rate of other teams. If head coach Kevin O’Connell continues to pass-pass-pass all the time — as the Vikings did in his maiden voyage — expensive running backs are silly to utilize. The team would be better off showcasing affordable tailbacks like Ty Chandler and Kene Nwagnwu, who are connected to the roster for at least two more years.

It’s not a foregone conclusion that Cook will be released or traded, nor is it impossible for the Vikings to re-up with Mattison. Yet, consider these six items:

  1. Adofo-Mensah likely isn’t a proponent of paying RBs big bucks.
  2. Cook earns big bucks.
  3. Mattison is an unrestricted free agent.
  4. The Vikings are cash-strapped entering the 2023 offseason.
  5. Minnesota ran the ball the third least leaguewide in 2022.
  6. When it did run the ball, its two main RBs struggled per Rush Yards over Expected.

That reads like a blueprint for change.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.