Since replacing Dalvin Cook, fourth-year running back Jerick McKinnon has been the unsung hero for the Minnesota Vikings.
With Case Keenum, Adam Thielen and the defense getting a majority of the attention for the Minnesota Vikings’ stellar first half of the season, Jerick McKinnon seems lost in the crowd. That’s not to say his work has gone unnoticed. I mean, if you ask any Vikings fan, coach or player about McKinnon, they’ll tell you just how much he’s meant to the team in place of Dalvin Cook. Yet, it is to say, he deserves being brought up far more in midseason conversation than he has for just how fantastic he’s been.
As matter of fact, he’s rated out as one of the top running backs in football by Pro Football Focus. With an 81.2 rating, he ranks eleventh among running backs and he even rated out as the top running back in Week 8 against the Cleveland Browns. While he ran for a modest 50 yards on 14 carries, 46 of the 50 yards came after contact and he also forced five of the Browns’ six missed tackles on running backs according to PFF.
To put McKinnon’s success into perspective, Dalvin Cook had a PFF rating of 82 before going down with a torn ACL against the Detroit Lions in Week 4. In turn, he ranks just ahead of McKinnon among running backs. Essentially, the Vikings have received the same production from the starting running back position.
Since replacing Cook, McKinnon has rushed for 261 yards on 59 carries, good enough for a 4.4 yards per carry. Very respectable totals. Not as great as Cook’s 74 carries for 354 yards, but I don’t think anyone questions who the superior rushing back is. That’s not to say McKinnon is a slouch by any means. Rather, a testament to how special of a back Cook is.
That being said, what McKinnon has done in the passing game is the real difference maker. He’s caught 20 balls for 163 yards in the last four games, including six catches for 72 yards against the Browns. Although Cook likely becomes an elite all-purpose back in time, McKinnon is clearly the more seasoned pass catcher at the moment. Unquestionably, Minnesota has reaped the benefits.
All things considered, the production from the featured running backs is close to a wash. McKinnon has 424 all-purpose yards in the last four games compared to Cook’s 444 yards in the first four. Not to mention, “Jet” has four touchdowns to Cook’s two within those stretches. This isn’t to suggest McKinnon is the better running back. Hopefully, no one is crazy enough to say that. Yet, it goes to show that McKinnon has stepped up to give the Vikings what they’ve needed after losing Cook.
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As a whole, Minnesota has actually rushed better without Cook, posting 528 yards since his injury compared to 432 prior to it. Undoubtedly, Cook warrants more attention for his play-making ability, so that’s partially to do with it. Nevertheless, McKinnon has headed a rushing attack that’s taken advantage of the opportunity in front of them.
In all likelihood, the Vikings wouldn’t stand in first-place of the NFC North at 6-2 without the outstanding play of McKinnon. The impact he’s had on not only the run game, but the pass game, is something Minnesota needed after losing Cook in addition to quarterback Sam Bradford. Consequently, it’s helped take pressure off Case Keenum, opening up a pass game that could have been in trouble with an inefficient run game.
At this point, McKinnon represents the unsung hero of this squad. No one expected him to replace Cook to the degree he has and in result, the Vikings are still a top-five offense. In addition, they are in prime position to make the playoffs and a Super Bowl run. “Jet” deserves much of the credit and recognition for that.