Vikings Sign Fascinating Running Back
The XFL is a league of second chances. Many players who were flying under the radar during the draft process try to earn a second NFL chance and a developmental league is a good way to chase that dream. One of the league’s top receivers – Lucky Jackson – was signed by the Vikings in May and is competing for a spot on the 53-man roster during training camp. One of his former XFL teammates just joined the team.
Vikings Sign Fascinating Running Back
The Vikings worked out a trio of running backs on Thursday – Aaron Dykes, Jacques Patrick, and Abram Smith. Smith was signed to the roster, putting the team to a total of 92 players, one more than allowed. In the 24 hours prior to the latest move, the Vikings released Bobby Evans and Sam Schlueter, signing Christian DiLauro and Jarrid Williams. Usually, teams are allowed to roster 90 players, Minnesota has an exception on the team. French defensive lineman Junior Aho doesn’t count against the roster.
But why a running back? Well, it is common knowledge how quickly running backs can get hurt because of the amount of hits they take. Kene Nwangwu missed a couple of practice sessions and Alexander Mattison exited Tuesday’s practice with what appeared to be a minor muscular injury. Neither of the two is in danger of missing much time but the coaching staff needs bodies to take the carries in practice (and the upcoming preseason game on August 10th) and only having a couple of backs left is not ideal. DeWayne McBride and Ty Chandler are those two. The new signing allows the Vikings to be cautious with their two most experienced runners.
Smith is an intriguing player because of his strong showings in the XFL, a competition he dominated on the ground. The 24-year-old rushed for 791 yards in ten games. To illustrate how much that is, he cleared second-placed Patrick, who also worked out with the Vikings, by 348 yards. His 5 yards per carry ranked him also at the top amongst running backs with at least 25 rushing attempts.
He scored 7 rushing touchdowns, recorded 21 rushes for 10 or more yards, five for 20 or more yards, and had an XFL-long 70-yard rush. All of those ranked him at the top of the rushing statistics. The 21 runs for ten or more yards also show his dominance, as nobody else had more than 11.
Smith had a rare college career at Baylor, starting out as a running back. Barely getting on the field, he switched positions to linebacker in his redshirt junior year but moved back to running back one year later, actually becoming the starting running back. He fired up 1,601 yards and 12 scores in his final season in 2021.
He had solid athletic measurements and the college production of his final year. Although most pundits expected him to end up as a late-round draft pick, he still went undrafted in 2022, signing with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted rookie.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein viewed him as a fifth-round talent and wrote in his scouting report:
Big, tough prospect who went from running back to linebacker and then back to running back during his collegiate career. Smith proved a formidable fit in Baylor’s zone scheme with a patient but decisive approach and a natural feel for cutback lanes. He became more comfortable in stretch plays as the season wore on but his average burst and linear running style make it easier for linebackers to find him. He has adequate contact balance and gives as good as he gets as a run finisher. Smith’s lack of short-area creativity could make him zone-dependent, but he’s a natural in that scheme. He has the upside to become a committee back with three-down potential.
Interstingly, Zierlein graded him in a promising tier of players: “Good backup that could develop into a starter.”
Smith was cut before the season began and was drafted first overall in the XFL by the D.C. Defenders. Now on the Vikings, Smith must attempt to make some noise in the preseason. The Vikes have a deep but wide-open running back group.
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