Vikings Have a Strange Bounce-Back Candidate

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.

Entering the 2023 season, the Minnesota Vikings will be without some staples of the franchise for the first time in a while. Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, and Eric Kendricks were all released. While they still have some gas left in the tank, it is debatable if they were worth their huge contracts in 2023 and beyond. Minnesota’s decision-makers didn’t think so.

Vikings Have a Strange Bounce-Back Candidate

Vikings Have a Strange Bounce-Back Candidate
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.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had to replace those three guys and he used two different approaches. Thielen’s substitute Jordan Addison was a first-round pick, so he was a costly investment. Kendricks, meanwhile, will be superseded by Brian Asamoah who was already on the roster and is a much younger and cheaper option. Undrafted rookie Ivan Pace is also pushing for that job.

A mix of those strategies was Alexander Mattison who will be the lead back in Cook’s absence. He costs the Vikings $3.5 million in each of the next two seasons. Unlike Addison and Asamoah, Mattison has shown to be a reliable player in the league.

Former agent Joel Corry included him in his list of ten bounce-back candidates. A weird category he doesn’t really fit in.

mattison ready
Oct 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) runs with the ball against the Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith (58) in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The first two guys featured in the article are Odell Beckham Jr. and Jonathan Taylor. OBJ didn’t play since he tore his ACL for the second time in the Super Bowl 18 months ago and Taylor had an injury-plagued down year. Both are primed to be on the list. But Mattison? Here’s what Corry wrote about him:

Alexander Mattison has big shoes to fill as a lead running back because the Vikings released Dalvin Cook from his five-year, $63 million extension with three years remaining in June. Cook has four straight seasons of rushing for more than 1,100 yards. Mattison, who backed up Cook during those seasons, remained in Minnesota on the two-year, $7 million deal worth a maximum of $8 million through incentives he received in free agency.

Joel Corry

All of that is correct. Cook is gone and Mattison is the new sheriff in the backfield. In the six starts for an injured Cook, Mattison was sensational, producing almost 700 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns. His goal and the vision from Minnesota’s front office is that he can scale that production into a full season and basically replace Cook without much dropoff on a much lower salary.

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.

Cook wasn’t an effective runner in 2022, logging his big statistics because of a large number of carries but he wasn’t as dynamic as he was in previous years on a consistent basis. Still, it is hard to keep up the production, no matter the sample size. The best proof of that is that no other player besides him recorded 1,100 yards in each of the last four seasons. Despite his reputation as an injury-prone player, Cook has been fairly durable in recent years.

Undoubtedly, Mattison has big shoes to fill as a bell-cow running back in Minnesota. The last two were Cook and Adrian Peterson, with a season of Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray sprinkled in after Cook went down in 2017.

And he is ready for the new role after serving four years as a backup. The 25-year-old recently said in an interview: “Just really understanding what the opportunity I have in front of me is, just understanding that I’m going to go into this season preparing like a pro and just getting ready for a heavy workload, being the bell cow, and just bringing that downhill fast and physical run style, and just trying to bring that within the running back room, just to be the legs of this football team.”

Vikings Unveil Footage
Dec 5, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy (7) runs with the football after his interception in the second half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

But none of that makes him a bounce-back candidate. He can’t bounce back. What he can do is enjoy a breakout season in a bigger role and he has the opportunity to prove that he deserves to be a starter.

Bounce-back players on Minnesota’s roster could be Byron Murphy who missed time last season with a back injury or Marcus Davenport who is coming off a season with 0.5 sacks, although his pass-rush statistics were still pretty solid.

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