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Jerick Mckinnon versus Matt Asiata - Who Will Have More Fantasy Value?

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The Daily Norseman breaks down recent trends in usage between Mckinnon and Asiata to decipher which one will have more fantasy value in 2016.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

With the knee injury to Adrian Peterson expected to sideline him for a few months, the Vikings named Jerick Mckinnon as their starting running back going forward. But Matt Asiata seemed to get the majority of the work last Sunday after Peterson went down.  So what can we expect about the usage between the two, and which running back will have the most fantasy value? For the answer, we need to look at every situation in which Mckinnon and Asiata played on the field without Adrian Peterson, and skew our results towards the most recent games.

The most obvious place to start an analysis is the 2014 season in which Adrian Peterson was suspended and only played the first game of the year.  From week 2 on that season Jerick Mckinnon and Matt Asiata shared the running back duties.  Jerick Mckinnon was only a rookie and was considered somewhat "raw" at the time, while Matt Asiata was a surprising undrafted free agent who had flashed potential in the previous two seasons leading up to 2014.  Since Peterson hasn't played a single Preseason game since 2011, it was Asiata and Mckinnon who shared the bulk of the running back duties during the 2014 Preseason.  While it's somewhat true that "the Preseason doesn't matter", we can still get a sense for what type of usage the Vikings had in the Preseason to gauge their assessment of each running back and what their future usage plans might be.

In the 2014 Preseason not only did Asiata out-touch Mckinnon 31 to 24 in combined carries and passing targets, he also saw 11 first team series to Mckinnon's four.  On top of that the Vikings really didn't know what they had in Mckinnon as evidenced by the 5 kick returns they gave him in the first two Preseason games.  They knew they had a dynamic athlete, but weren't sure how to get him on the field. Asiata was clearly ahead of Mckinnon in the 2014 preseason and the fact that he was used more heavily with the first team offense and got the start for the first 3 weeks post-Peterson in the 2014 season, supports the idea that Asiata was the top running back, at least initially.  However, once Mckinnon got a chance, and began busting long runs, he got a handful of starts. By October that year, Zimmer was even quoted saying they would "ride the hot hand" at running back. Unfortunately, Mckinnon injured his back in a weight room accident and went on IR, missing the final 7 games of the season.  When it was all said and done, Asiata logged 164 carries while Mckinnon logged only 113.  Asiata also got 63 passing targets, while Mckinnon secured only 41. Below is small chart that shows that same information, broken down on a "per start" basis.  It shows very similar usage between the two backs, but Mckinnon very clearly out-plays Asiata in his starts.

2014 Season per Start

Starts

Carries

YPC

Targets

Rec/Gm

Rec Yards/Gm

Jerick Mckinnon

6

15.5

5.04

3.5

2.7

13.2

Matt Asiata

9

13.2

4.28

4.8

3.3

21.9


I purposefully left touchdowns off the chart, because there's not much comparison.  Asiata had 9 total touchdowns on the year, while Mckinnon had none.  The narrative then about the 2014 season was that while Asiata had the trust of the coaching staff initially as a 3rd year veteran and Mckinnon had to earn their trust as a rookie, Mckinnon ended up being the more dynamic runner.  Asiata's value that year was in his ability to catch passes, pass block and turn goal line looks into touchdowns.  But as I discovered, this narrative of their abilities (Asiata as the pass protector and goal line back, Mckinnon as the young, raw and shifty running back), begins to fall apart as we look through the 2015 and 2016 Preseason trends.

In 2015, the tide began to shift. Once again Adrian Peterson did not see a single snap in the Preseason leaving Mckinnon and Asiata to shoulder the load once again.  However, while Asiata was the clear favorite in 2014 garnering almost 3 times the work with the 1st team, it was almost exclusively the Jerick Mckinnon show in 2015.  He saw snaps in a total of 8 offensive series with the 1st team offense, while Asiata saw 0.  Mckinnon also got 23 carries and 9 passing targets, compared to only 9 carries and 8 targets for Asiata.  Based on the Preseason usage, Mckinnon was clearly playing ahead of Asiata.  While Adrian Peterson started all 16 games in 2015, Mckinnon and Asiata both got some work as backups. Here are their 2015 Regular season numbers, once again side by side for comparison.

2015 Season

Games

Carries

YPC

Targets

Rec

Rec Yards

Jerick Mckinnon

16

52

5.2

29

21

173

Matt Asiata

16

29

3.9

22

19

132


As you can see in the table, Mckinnon touched the ball 73 total times compared to only 48 total times for Asiata.  Not only did he touch the ball 50% more often, he was also much more efficient on a per carry basis.  Mckinnon busted off a 68 yard run, the longest of his career to date that season, while Asiata's longest run of his career is only 39 yards, during the 2013 season.  Mckinnon once again demonstrated superior athletic ability, and the coaching staff clearly trusted him more giving him quite a lot more work.

And that takes us to the 2016 Preseason, finishing up just a few weeks ago.  Per my calculations, Mckinnon saw work in 5 series with the 1st team offense, with Asiata also received 5 series with the 1st team offense.  And while they shared the snaps fairly evenly, through the first three games Mckinnon saw 22 carries and 7 passing targets compared to only 7 carries and 4 targets for Asiata.  So while they may have gotten a similar share of snaps, Mckinnon clearly got the majority of the Preseason work between the two of them, suggesting that once again Mckinnon is the favored back.  And as mentioned above, Zimmer named Mckinnon the starting running back with Peterson out.

However, before we simply jump to the conclusion that Mckinnon will take over for Adrian Peterson as the workhorse this year we can still look at the first two games of the regular season.  And when we do, it does put the whole "Mckinnon will be a workhorse running back" into question.  Asiata has gotten 10 total carries and 1 passing target through two games, while Mckinnon has received only 3 carries and 3 passing targets.  And when Peterson went down in the 3rd quarter last Sunday, and with the game on the line, it was Matt Asiata who saw the majority of the work down the stretch not Jerick Mckinnon.  I'm not sure what it all means, but it could be that the Vikings do still trust Asiata's pass protection abilities as a bigger back over Mckinnon (who is much smaller).  Both of them have equally good pass catching ability and Asiata has demonstrated an ability to punch the ball in on the goal line in the past.  So I do think that both running backs will have value.

And that takes us back to the original question: how much value will both running backs have going forward?  Well it's anyone's guess, but based on their usage in 2014 and the shift we saw last year and in the Preseason this year, combined with the fact that Zimmer announced Mckinnon as the starter, I think we're looking a time-share situation with the workload favoring Mckinnon.  How much will the workload favor Mckinnon?  Well in 2015, both in the Preseason and the Regular season, the workload between the two was split about 61-65% to 35-39% in favor of Mckinnon.  And then in the 2016 Preseason and the first two regular season games combined, it was split about 61% to 39% in favor of Mckinnon.  That suggests to me that we're looking at a similar regular season split in workload between Mckinnon and Asiata going foward that we've seen from 2015 up tot now.  Which is to say that I expect something like 60-65% of the carries and targets for Mckinnon and 35-40% of the carries and targets for Asiata.  I would also expect Asiata to be favored on the goal-line like he was in 2014, but we'll have to see how that plays out. It's worth mentioning that Mckinnon did score three total touchdowns last year compared to none for Asiata.

Lastly, it's tough to project what kind of season Mckinnon and Asiata might have in the final 14 regular season games (assuming Peterson doesn't return for the final few games), but if we look at expected team carries per game and their career rushing efficiency, we could probably come up with a close approximation.  In Norv Turner's first two years with the team, they averaged 25.8 and 29.6 carries per game.  So far this year, we're averaging only 25. So I wouldn't expect much more than 25 or 26 carries per game and it seems likely we might run a little less without Peterson like we did in 2014.  So, let's assume Mckinnon gets 63% of the carries and that the Vikings average 25 carries per game over 14 games.  That would be about 15.8 carries per game for Mckinnon.  With a career rushing average of 4.9, that would give him roughly 77 rushing yards per game, on average.  Based on the targets to running backs in 2014, we can safely project him for 3-4 receptions per game, and with a career 6.2 yard per reception mark, we can tack on another 20 receiving yards or so.  So minus touchdown projections (which are fluky and tough to predict), in standard leagues we're looking at a generic projection floor of about 9 points per game most weeks for Mckinnon with maybe a couple points less in a bad matchup, and a couple points more in a good one.  This puts him in the FLEX consideration in most leagues.  He gets a modest boost in PPR leagues.

For Matt Asiata, it's obviously much worse.  With only a 37% share of the rushing workload and a career average of only 3.5 yards per carry, we should expect 9.3 carries per game for 33 total yards.  Tack on 2-3 receptions with his 6.7 yard per reception average, and we can only add on another 15 receiving yards or so.  That gives him 5 fantasy points at best in standard leagues and not much more in PPR.  It's certainly possible he gets the goal line looks, and the touchdown upside certainly gives him some added value.  But even if he does happen to score one touchdown, his ceiling is capped at about 11 standard fantasy points per game, barring another fluky 3-touchdown game like he had in 2014.

So in conclusion I don't think we can expect either back to equal the potential of Adrian Peterson.  But I do think that Mckinnon will get a small majority of the workload, and should produce more fantasy points on a weekly basis.  Therefore, despite the potential lack of red-zone work, I like Mckinnon more than Asiata in both standard and PPR leagues going forward.