How Do Vikings Handle Running Backs in 2023?

3 Options at RB
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For the first time in quite a while, the Minnesota Vikings will break in a new starting running back. After the departure of Dalvin Cook this offseason, the role has been turned over to Alexander Mattison. It’s worth wondering just how much of a leash he has as Kevin O’Connell’s starting running back.

How Do Vikings Handle Running Backs in 2023?

For decades, the Minnesota Vikings seemed to have the running back position etched in stone. Robert Smith was the guy into the year 2000, and then it was the Michael Bennett show until Adrian Peterson was taken with the seventh overall pick during the 2007 NFL Draft. Dalvin Cook followed in his footsteps, and now, for the first time in quite a while, the Vikings may employ more of a committee.

Alexander Mattison is plenty capable as a running back on his own. He shined in multiple opportunities where he was given a chance to start. He was always going to be behind Cook whenever the starter was healthy, which may have taken some pressure away from him being the lead running back for a Vikings team.

Handle Running
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Now without the security blanket of Cook, O’Connell will turn the reins over to Mattison as his top running back, and it remains to be seen how he’ll respond. Mattison has never topped 500 yards in a season, and his 74 attempts last year were a career low. While O’Connell has favored more of a passing attack, you can bet that the expectation will be for Mattison to absorb the running back production taken away with Cook.

Behind Mattison, though, the running back room is thin. Ty Chandler played in just three games as a rookie last year and has just six attempts to his name. The hope would be that Chandler can show the promise he has flashed during a pair of preseason and that he emerges as a running back capable of supplementing Mattison. The Vikings would likely prefer to see Mattison and Chandler be a pair of interchangeable running backs rather than employing either as a traditional bell cow.

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By bringing in Myles Gaskin prior to the start of the season, Minnesota sought familiarity with Brian Flores but also a different skillset out of the backfield. Gaskin is a much better receiver and proven talent than either Mattison or Chandler from the running back position. He could get significant work as a third-down option and be expected to provide a different look for opposing defenses. Gaskin was well respected as a runner out of Washington, but it’s been his ability to work as a dynamic threat that has provided additional opportunities for him at the NFL level.

Heading into Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Vikings depth chart at running back is unquestionably thin. Mattison is taking over a lead role for the first time in his career, and Chandler has proven nothing in this league. Gaskin represents a veteran presence but is just settling in with Minnesota, and his usage as a consistent starter has not been seen often throughout his career.

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What will be worth monitoring for Minnesota in Week 1 is just how much the trio of running backs are utilized individually. Mattison will certainly get the first crack, but how many touches does Chandler get behind him? Is Gaskin only going to be used in situational spots and for receiving help? O’Connell will need to keep looks for his running backs fresh to make sure predictability by player doesn’t happen.

The Vikings haven’t had this type of revolving door at the running back position for a while, and although it could provide an opportunity for differing looks keeping everyone fresh, there won’t be as much of an opportunity to settle in. Look for the individual running backs to distance themselves from the competition and weekly performers to stand out.

In a league where the running back position is largely forgotten, the Vikings have a group that should provide plenty of intrigue.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.