New Vikings Starter Is Ready to ‘Crank That Thing Up’

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Jul 27, 2022; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) looks on at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings made significant changes to their roster in the 2023 offseason. Leadership figures like Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson, and Dalvin Cook departed from the organization, leaving a void in the locker room and on the field. Whenever guys exit, some new guys must step up and replace them.

New Vikings Starter Is Ready to ‘Crank That Thing Up’

Crank That Thing Up
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) in action against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

One guy who comes into focus is running back Alexander Mattison. He is entering his fifth season with the franchise. Things changed for the veteran when Cook was released, and he suddenly became the starter for the first time. Mattison is ready to step out of Cook’s shadow to be the lead back in Minnesota. He said while appearing on Sirius XM NFL Radio:

It definitely changes things. I like to go into every season preparing like I’m the back. That’s kind of where my mindset has always been. That’s kind of where we, as a running back group, held ourselves to that standard of. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for having Dalvin in that running back room and challenging me to challenge him every single day, so that kind of helped me out within my preparation.

Yeah, with that understanding of knowing kind of where my role is going to be and maximize it. I’ve been a lot more prepared in the way of understanding where I’m going to be at in the playbook, where I’m going to have to be at physically, my stamina.

It’s just a whole bunch that I have to now take into account but without applying too much pressure, of course, because this is a game of ball that we have grown to love and grown to adapt to at all different levels. I’m definitely comfortable as a professional athlete and understanding what I have to do to get the job done. Now just cranking that thing up and getting ready for this opportunity that I have in front of me.

Alexander Mattison

Mattison was a 2019 third-round pick, a high draft position for a running back nowadays. However, he couldn’t usurp the uber-talented Cook on the depth chart and was stuck in the backup role. He was quietly fantastic at that, replacing the star for a handful of runs every game and stepping up when needed, but he must show now that he can be more than an RB2.

Oct 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (4) and running back Alexander Mattison (2) look on before the game against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Mattison has started six games in his career in place of Cook and rushed 117 times in those contests for 477 yards and 3 touchdowns. That equals 19.5 carries a game, a really high number, which shows that he can handle the big workload of a true bell cow running back. He also caught 23 passes for 216 yards and 2 more touchdowns.

Mattison re-signed with the Vikings – a surprise for most – after his rookie deal expired. The career backup received a two-year contract for $7 million with $6.35 million fully guaranteed. It was a shockingly high salary for a player who logged six starts through four seasons and was scheduled to be the backup once again. The runner revealed that he didn’t expect to return to the organization in 2023.

I actually didn’t think that I’d be back in Minnesota, so it’s a blessing to be back, to be in a place where I spent the first four years of my career and loved it there. To be there, be a part of this team, this locker room, the ownership, the staff. It’s a great place to be, so I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, and while I’m with this opportunity in front of me, I just see so much upside.

Just coming back into year two of this offense under coach K.O. (Kevin O’Connell) and (offensive coordinator) Wes Phillips. They just, they know what they’re doing, and we’ve gone back to the drawing board, and we’ve seen a lot of where we can improve from last year, especially in the run game, so it’s pretty exciting.

Alexander Mattison
Year 1 of the O'Connell Era
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) reacts after losing a wild-card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The running attack was one of the most worrisome things of the 2022 Vikings. The running backs and the offensive line must do a better job, but O’Connell’s play-calling and play design must also improve. The offense ranked 29th in rush EPA/play and 28th in rush DVOA. That inefficiency led to the Vikings just stopping to run at times. The team ranked 30th in rushing percentage. The addition of Josh Oliver – a great run-blocking tight end – and the possibly higher usage of fullback C.J. Ham could help the run game.

It will be the Alexander Mattison show for the first time in his professional career. He must fight off rookie DeWayne McBride and the two speedsters Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler, but he is in the driver’s seat.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt