There’s a Favorite for the Embattled RB2 Job

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; A Minnesota Vikings helmet sits on the field during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings released top rusher Dalvin Cook on June 9th after six seasons with the organization. He quickly became one of the team’s best players and was a feared weapon in his prime — his 2020 campaign was special. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is an analytically-driven mind and those analytics don’t view running backs highly nowadays, so the move should’ve been expected all along. Because of Cook’s departure, his backups must replace him.

There’s a Favorite for the Embattled RB2 Job

It is the chance for Alexander Mattison to finally be a starter after four years of backup duties. The former Boise State runner claimed that he is ready to seize his new opportunity and head coach Kevin O’Connell stated that he views Mattison as the RB1. However, he also mentioned the competition behind him will be between all three of Kene Nwangwu, Ty Chandler, and DeWayne McBride.

Favorite for the Embattled RB2 Job
Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) carries the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders during a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN’s Vikings reporter Kevin Seifert wrote about the 2023 Vikings’ offense and he views Chandler as the favorite to claim the RB2 role as Mattison’s top backup.

“The two returning tailbacks who received the second-team reps this spring — Chandler, a fifth-round pick last season, and third-year Pro Bowl kick returner Kene Nwangwu — have one attribute in common: speed. Chandler ran a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at the 2022 combine, and Nwangwu ran a 4.32 at his 2021 pro day. Testing times don’t always translate into explosive plays on the field, but both players’ speed gives them a chance to be natural complements to Mattison.”

Mattison’s most significant flaw is the lack of breakaway speed. He doesn’t possess another gear like Cook that he can put in and take the ball to the house from everywhere on the field. However, he can do most other things like the star runner which is why the Vikings trust him to be their main back. To make it harder for defenses, it is still valuable to have a running back with that top-end speed and both Chandler and Nwangwu can be that guy. Seifert thinks the Vikings prefer Chandler in that role as the backup:

Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) in action against the Dallas Cowboys during the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

“With that said, it looks from the outside that the Vikings want Chandler to win the role, even if the competition ultimately expands to include seventh-round pick DeWayne McBride, whom O’Connell referred to during minicamp as ‘the rookie.'”

Chandler is a more experienced running back than Nwangwu, and probably also more skilled. Nwangwu is a phenomenal kick returner but has never been involved much in an offense. Of course, backing up Breece Hall and David Montgomery in college and Cook in the NFL didn’t help.

2022 fifth-round rookie Chandler is a versatile back with the ability to help the team in the passing game — an area in which the Vikings struggled in the first season of running O’Connell’s offense.

The running back fractured his thumb early in his rookie campaign and spent most of the season on injured reserve. Chandler only carried the ball six times for 20 yards. However, he had an excellent preseason in which he rushed for 113 yards and 1 touchdown on only 15 carries while showing speed, agility, and contact balance. Of course, preseason is not the competition that should start any overreactions but he still looked promising. Chandler turned 25 a couple of months ago. He is older than Mattison and needs to produce sooner rather than later for the sake of his career.

Dec 18, 2021; Shreveport, LA, USA; UAB Blazers running back DeWayne McBride (22) breaks a tackle against the BYU Cougars linebacker Max Tooley (31) during the fourth quarter during the 2021 Independence Bowl at Independence Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports.

Chandler will face competition from Nwangwu, someone who fans are eager to see after a couple of seasons where he was barely used on offense. Rookie McBride was an outstanding runner in college but was not a part of the passing attack, mainly because of the scheme used by UAB. As a pure runner, McBride has an opportunity to be much more than a backup but it remains to be seen if his game translates to the NFL.

Training camp begins on July 23rd when the rookies arrive at TCO Performance Center and the running back competition will be one of the main attractions.

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