Jerick McKinnon Should Be on Your Fantasy Football Roster
The Minnesota Vikings are a hot mess right now. The team is 2-4 after back-to-back bad losses in which their offense sputtered and never got going. They are projected to win 6.7 games this year and only have a 4.6 percent shot at the playoffs.
It's time to unleash the beast.
I have been a fan of Jerick McKinnon for quite some time. I wrote about him after the Vikings drafted him out of Georgia Southern (where his top comp was, of course, Adrian Peterson). I then fell in love with his "big rear end." And now that he has made his first NFL start, we may finally get to see his large-rumped potential.
This entire piece should be prefaced by noting that on Wednesday, Mike Zimmer did say he wants to get Matt Asiata more involved. Bruh, why? This is an over-excited puppy who held his pittle too long against a plodding bulldog that would really rather just gnaw on his three yards per carry average. If you want to develop the team, why not just let Asiata be the spell back?
At the same time, coaches lie. Basically all of the time. The Cowboys will limit DeMarco Murray's carries. Le'Veon Bell will lose carries to LeGarrette Blount. It's safer to operate under the assumption that coaches are always lying. And in this case, I hope they are.
What McKinnon Has Done So Far
In his first six games in the NFL, McKinnon certainly hasn't blown the world away, but he has also been at least respectable through the lens of advance analytics. Among the 34 running backs with 40-70 carries this year, McKinnon ranks 13th in Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per rush. You can read more about NEP in our glossary, but it's basically a measure of expected points added to a drive each time a player touches the ball. Who's directly in front of McKinnon in this ranking? Asiata, of course. But the two even being similar should tilt the hand toward McKinnon in the name of development on a 2-4 team. I don't think Matt Asiata is a guy you place in a high-powered offense. McKinnon is.
Part of being a rookie is progressing throughout the year. McKinnon has done that. On his first five carries of the year, McKinnon had a -2.05 Rushing NEP. That was obviously not good. But then he busted out for 135 rushing yards on 18 carries against Atlanta to make things a bit prettier.
Over the last three games (including two blowouts where the run-game was quickly phased out), McKinnon is averaging 15.33 touches for 93.33 yards per game. His role in the passing game has increased each of those weeks, culminating in six receptions for 42 yards last week. That's good production.
The problem has been the goal-line work. Of McKinnon's 41 carries, 4 have come in the red zone; only two of those have been within the 10-yard line. In Asiata's 64 carries, 9 have been in the red zone with 6 inside the 10. That basically puts a cap on any fantasy potential for McKinnon if he's not going to get any touchdowns from in close.
McKinnon the Rest of the Season
Even with the limited touchdown potential, McKinnon is still worth a roster spot in all season-long leagues. He was featured in JJ Zachariason's 15 Transactions column for this week because dude is going to rack up yards if he's given the chance.
Even with this, he's still owned in only 9.4 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. If you are that 90.6 percent, I encourage you to invest in confetti and streamers because life is great, my friend.
One of the features of numberFire's player profile pages is a list of comparable players. McKinnon's top comp for 2014 is Charlie Garner in 2003. Garner finished that season with 939 yards from scrimmage and 4 total touchdowns as this was on the backside of his career. McKinnon would surpass Garner's touches if he averages 11.3 per game, which you would assume he would, so he could end up higher than those totals.
McKinnon's second top comp is Clinton Portis in 2006. This was when Portis was still in the height of his production, but he was injured that year. Portis finished with 523 rushing and 170 receiving yards in 8 games. This is a tough one because you don't know what Portis' final numbers would have been had he not gotten hurt. But to have a guy like Portis among the comps is encouraging for the McKinnon believers.
If you check out numberFire's rest-of-season projections, McKinnon is slated as the 35th-ranked running, adding on 336.40 rushing and 228.36 receiving yards. That's with McKinnon averaging about eight carries per game and Asiata at seven. If that's how the distribution ends up, McKinnon's value down the stretch would not be huge. However, if McKinnon does get a larger bulk of the carries (possibly in the 15-per-game range), he has already shown he can be efficient with those carries. That potential is what makes him rosterable.
With numberFire having McKinnon as a low-flex option on just eight carries per game, you'd be nuts not to snatch this guy off of waivers right now. Every bump in volume moves him up that chart. With his continued rise as a receiving option (something he never did at Georgia Southern), McKinnon should have a solid floor and be more than a "stash" guy on your bench.
With a rookie quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater at the helm behind a struggling offensive line, McKinnon will have his ups and downs. That was evident in the last game against Detroit. Yet McKinnon was still able to rack up 82 yards from scrimmage against a solid defense. Once the Vikings start facing less stingy defenses (they have Tampa Bay next week), McKinnon is very much a startable guy. Pick him up, plug him in next week, and then bow to the booty of that young man.