Should the Vikings Explore Signing a Free Agent Running Back?

Oct 9, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders running back J.D. McKissic (23) runs out of the tunnel onto the field prior to the Commanders' game against the Tennessee Titans at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The release of Dalvin Cook was the third of a franchise cornerstone in the 2023 offseason. Wideout Adam Thielen will suit up for the Carolina Panthers, while Eric Kendricks will meet the Vikings in the upcoming season in a Chargers uniform. Cook is still a free agent.

Should the Vikings Explore Signing a Free Agent Running Back?

Should the Vikings Explore Signing Free Agent Running Back?
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.

When the Vikes released Dalvin Cook, they were left with Alexander Mattison and a bunch of unproven players. Mattison is expected to take over as the lead back in Minnesota’s offense. Head coach Kevin O’Connell recently implied that it would be the veteran as RB1 and his backups competing for RB2 carries.

Those backups include rookie DeWayne McBride, second-year player Ty Chandler, and return specialist Kene Nwangwu. None of the group has collected much experience as a running back in the NFL. Chandler rushed six times last year, and Nwangwu has 22 career carries. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could look into adding another veteran to the mix, someone who has proven to be an NFL-caliber player to rely on if something was to happen to Mattison, who could also function as an alternative in the offense with a different skill set than the former Boise State standout.

Oct 13, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Washington Commanders running back J.D. McKissic (23) runs against the Chicago Bears during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The free agency group besides Cook includes Leonard Fournette and Ezekiel Elliot – undoubtedly the two biggest names. However, they have lost more than just one step in recent years but might still be relatively expensive because of their names. Cody Benjamin (CBSSports) envisions the addition of a different player to the backfield of the purple team: Former Washington running back J.D. McKissic. Benjamin proposed a one-year deal for just $1.1 million.

Minnesota signaled with its release of Cook that it doesn’t intend to commit big money to the position, but new starter Alexander Mattison is owed just $2.4M in 2023, and his reserves are relatively unproven. McKissic is a utility-type veteran best known for his pass catching, making him a potential plug-and-play third-down option out of camp.

Cody Benjamin, CBSSports

McKissic is a veteran and has played a lot of football in the league. He spent three years with Seattle, one in Detroit, and three in Washington. The running back will turn 30 in August. In 70 career appearances, McKissic rushed for 1,074 yards and 4 scores. However, his superpower is the passing game out of the backfield, as he caught 220 passes for 1,674 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Fantasy football players know that McKissic is a specialist in the passing game. He caught 80 passes in 2020 alone and could indeed help the Vikings utilize their backs in the passing game, something they didn’t do much in recent years despite Cook’s ability to be a solid receiver. McKissic would bring a different skillset and experience.

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

On the flip side, NFL teams don’t carry five running backs and a fullback. One of the young guys would have to depart for the signing, which seems unwise as they all might be unproven, but they have shown flashes. McBride was ultra-effective in college at UAB. Nwangwu and Chandler offer elite-tier speed.

The latter showed some promise in last year’s preseason. Granted, against poor competition in a small sample size, but the Vikings kept him on the roster despite already having three other backs because they saw that same potential. The hope for Nwangwu is that he can offer the same he does in the return game and can translate that homerun ability to the offense. The jury is still out as he didn’t really get much chance to prove himself. He looked good during the mandatory minicamp.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings added another depth piece for training camp and the preseason, but it is unlikely that it will be a veteran and even more unlikely that he will steal a roster spot. The Vikes appear to be happy with their group, no matter how unproven they may be.

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