Having too many quality players at an important position is a good problem to have in any sport. It’s the exact situation the Minnesota Vikings are working through with a running back room that’s crowded with talented players.
Of course, the leader of the pack and the starter on the depth chart is the premier talent and three-time Pro Bowler that is Dalvin Cook. Even though last year was technically a step back from a couple of years of outstanding production in 2019 and 2020, part of that was due to a few injuries that limited him to 13 games. He still put together a season with 1,159 yards and six touchdowns on 249 carries plus 34 catches for 224 yards. Those 1,361 all-purpose yards were enough for 11th overall and sixth-highest of any running back in 2021. And he missed four games!
Behind him are not one, not two, but three players providing quality depth.
Alexander Mattison is talented enough to be a starter on another team—and likely will end up in a better position to do so when he hits free agency after this year. In four starts in relief of Cook, Mattison rushed for 356 yards on 86 carries with an extra 162 receiving yards on 19 catches. That’s an average of 4.1 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per reception. Every time he got the chance to step up, he did just that. Mattison has proved he’s more than worthy of being locked into the No. 2 running back slot, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other contenders.
Behind Mattison on the current depth chart is second-year running back Kene Nwangwu. Nwangwu didn’t get a ton of looks in his rookie season. For one thing, he was stuck behind an outstanding backup in Mattison on the depth chart, so most of the touches Cook didn’t get went to Mattison. For another, he missed the first six games of the year on the injured reserve. He performed well when he was on the field, albeit in a limited sample size as a running back.
Nwangwu did, however, get to show off his elusiveness and breakaway speed in a couple of impressive kick return touchdowns in 2021 and had a standout performance in the Vikings’ first preseason game last weekend.
He showed off better vision than he had in his rookie season as well as an ability to catch passes out of the backfield after recording just four catches last year. With a strong training camp and preseason showing so far, Nwangwu has a really good chance at forcing himself into getting more looks as a second-year back.
As if Minnesota’s three quality backs at the top of the depth chart weren’t enough, their fifth-round rookie, Ty Chandler, has been balling out as well. Just look at his first NFL carry.
#Vikings rookie RB Ty Chandler picks up 14 yards on his first preseason carry pic.twitter.com/3LvvWfvi9O
— Will Ragatz (@WillRagatz) August 14, 2022
Chandler initially looks to run to the left side but sees a Raiders defensive lineman ripping through his block. The rookie cuts back to the right before seeing his right tackle pick up the other defensive tackle. He plants his right foot and explodes forward through the new hole in the middle of the formation, racing past the outstretched arms of the diving strong safety and between his linemen downfield for a 14-yard gain.
As the game went on, Chandler continued to showcase his excellent vision and quick cuts, finishing the day with 50 yards on five carries. He also had a 56-yard kick return that featured that same great vision and footwork but also some fantastic contact balance early in the run.
Ty Chandler giving his offense a short field. 😤 @Channdler_35
📺: #MINvsLV on @NFLNetwork (check local listings)
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/sIL5rVJL5k pic.twitter.com/zD67bZtym9
— NFL (@NFL) August 14, 2022
With more performances and runs like he had against the Raiders for the rest of the preseason, Chandler, like Nwangwu, is going to force the Vikings to give him some looks once the regular season begins.
With Cook, Mattison, Nwangwu, and Chandler as four really talented running backs out of the Minnesota backfield, there is no reason for the Vikings to envy other teams’ rushing talent. Even if Cook goes down to injury again or slows down as a 27-year-old running back—or if Mattison walks after this season—there’s no reason to panic. Nwangwu and Chandler will still be there, ready to step up and ball out.
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