ESPN’s Bold Prediction for Vikings Tabs Unlikely Hero

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

In four days, the Minnesota Vikings have an opportunity to prove their surprise 2022 season wasn’t an outlier.

Most NFL pundits and oddsmakers believe Minnesota will regress in 2023 after tabulating a 13-4 record during Kevin O’Connell’s maiden voyage a year ago. The Vikings are projected to win eight or nine games.

ESPN’s Bold Prediction for Vikings Tabs Unlikely Hero

And this week, ESPN previewed each team, with the NFL’s business kicking off Thursday night when the Kansas City Chiefs host the Detroit Lions. The sports media giant assigned the Vikings a 49% probability to reach the postseason, a 26% chance at winning the NFC North, and offered a bold prediction — running back Ty Chandler will lead the club in rushing yards.

Tabs Unlikely
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports.

Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah drafted Chandler last year in Round 5, and the North Carolina alumnus experienced limited regular season action due to a thumb injury. But this year, according to ESPN’s Seth Walder, that could change.

Walder explained, “Ty Chandler will take over as the Vikings’ top running back and lead them in rushing yards by the end of the season. Alexander Mattison has recorded negative rush yards over expectation in each of the past two seasons (minus-42 in 2022, minus-72 in 2021), per NFL Next Gen Stats.”

ESPN Names RB2
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

On paper, Mattison is the RB1, as the Vikings released an unofficial regular season depth chart on Tuesday. Chandler, 25, is the RB2, meaning he’s just one injury away from the big job. Too, Minnesota is more likely to embrace an RB committee approach with a roster not employing an Adrian Peterson or Dalvin Cook for the first time in 16 years.

In our bold predictions piece last week, we wrote, “Ty Chandler Sees Playing Time, and There Is No Major RB1 Drop-Off — running backs always get hurt, and at some point in the next four months, Alexander Mattison will miss some games. When that occurs, Ty Chandler will take over as the primary tailback, at least temporarily, and Vikings fans won’t notice much difference. Chandler is faster than Mattison — significantly faster — and just needs experience. Mattison has that; Chandler does not. The second-year runner is also a better pass-catcher than Mattison. Folks love Mattison, but they’ll adore Chandler, too.”

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports.

So, in the realm of “bold predictions,” the stars align here.

After the Vikings first preseason game, head coach Kevin O’Connell said about Chandler, “I thought Ty Chandler jumped out. Just any time he had the ball in his hands, very rarely tackled by the first defender that was in space. Catching the ball. And then picked up really where he left off as far as his ability when the lights come on to sometimes turn into a different guy.”

“Now I want to see it every single day and really see him be consistent because he’s proven when it goes live and it’s real football, he’s a tough guy to bring to the ground,” O’Connell added.

The second-year RB only played in three games as a rookie, with 6 rushing attempts for 20 yards, missing most of the season with a broken thumb. He was also buried on the depth chart behind Dalvin Cook, the aforementioned Mattison, and Kene Nwangwu. With Cook departing via free agency in 2023, Chandler seized the RB2 job.

And per ESPN, that could become an RB1 assignment sooner rather than later.

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,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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