Could Jerick McKinnon Be the Heir Apparent at Running Back for the Vikings?
Last week, numberFire's Brandon Gdula pumped out a killer-good piece about the top rookie running backs that could make an immediate impact this year. If you haven't read that yet, I suggest you do that right now.
One guy that didn't make that list was my new boo Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon's exclusion should be pretty obvious because he's stuck behind one of the best running backs of all time, and I wouldn't have had him in my top four, either. Nevertheless, this dude could end up turning some heads some time in the near future.
In college, McKinnon did pretty much everything. He played at FCS Georgia Southern as a quarterback and a running back in the triple option, as well as at defensive back. Honestly, the Vikings are weak at DB, too, so if this running back gig doesn't work out, dude may have a fall back plan. If you haven't seen his highlights, here you go. Some of those runs are NSFW.
So why am I talking about this guy? After all, he's an FCS player that didn't really have a true position. Well, his combine was borderline silly, which is where numberFire's READ comes in.
READ is the tool that the geniuses at numberFire devised in order to provide comparables for rookies entering the NFL. First, READ looks at a player's relevant combine numbers and compares them with previous guys at his position. Then it factors in the effectiveness of the offense which that player is entering using their Net Expected Points (NEP) from the previous year (more on that later). Finally, the algorithm removes any "false positives" that may have worked their way into the equation and spits out the players that were most similar to that guy in their respective rookie seasons.
Just one look at McKinnon's READ comparisons will help you realize why he caught our attention. Check it out below, and please keep your drool contained.
Ohmyfreakinggoshyes. So much #WANT in this. First, the fact his top comp is the guy he may end up replacing in a few years, Peterson, is almost poetic. Second, four of those five players topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage in their rookie seasons with Charles being the exception. He turned out okay.
I feel compelled to state, however, that part of this is due to the Vikings' efficiency on the ground last year. As I mentioned, part of the equation for READ was the team's success the previous year in NEP. In case you're new to numberFire or need a refresher, you can get a full explanation of NEP here. Basically, it's a measure of a team's efficiency in four different categories: passing and rushing offense as well as passing and rushing defense. A Net Expected Points score of zero means a team operated right at league average.
While looking at McKinnon, we'll be using the Vikings' 2013 Adjusted Rushing NEP per play. This metric looks at how many points a team added to their NEP each time they ran the ball and adjusts it for that team's strength of schedule.
Last year, the Vikings had the second-highest Adjusted Rushing NEP per Play at 0.09, trailing only the Philadelphia Eagles. This will amp up McKinnon's projections a bit. A big part of that is the fact that the line was blocking for a freakish human man beast of a running back last year, and the metric doesn't take Peterson's production out of the equation.
The other thing that makes these comparisons a bit out of whack is that they assume McKinnon will be the starter. Obviously, as long as AD is healthy, that won't be the case. McKinnon will most likely occupy a role similar to the one that Toby Gerhart had previously: a third-down guy who can come in and get you yards when you need him (assuming, that is, McKinnon learns how to pass block, something I'm assuming he didn't do much in a triple option offense).
Even with those factors working against him, it's not crazy to think that McKinnon will be productive both this year and beyond. As was noted in this article on Pro Football Talk, GM Rick Spielman wants to try to limit Peterson's carries to keep him fresh for later in the season. The article also says that Norv Turner operates under the two-back philosophy, although I haven't done any research to see whether or not there's any validity to that.
What's the most encouraging thing for McKinnon? Even more so than his READ comps and the possible decline of AD? Shawty got a big ol' butt, oh yeah! I'm not even making this up. Mike Zimmer actually said (as quoted here), "He's short in stature, but he's got big legs and a big rear end." This is the most amazing quote and most amazing sub-Wale-reference of all time. Minnesotans, fellow Norsemen - you have found yourself a winner in Zimmer.
Between McKinnon, Teddy Bridgewater, and Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings have a solid nucleus of young, exciting players. Even though their window to win a championship with Peterson may be coming to a close, McKinnon is more than prepared to step right in and keep the door open for a whole lot of fun in the future.