Former Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman, now an analyst with 33rd Team, tapped a former draft pick of his, Alexander Mattison, as a potential breakout player this season. Last week, Spielman said the following of Mattison:
There are a lot of interesting things going on with the Minnesota Vikings and running back Dalvin Cook. Cook was taken off their social media and replaced with Alexander Mattison. There are rumors the Vikings would like to trade Cook, or they may release him as a June 1 cut to save some cap space. They also gave Mattison a two-year, $7 million contract almost fully guaranteed. So all the signs point to Mattison being the lead back in Minnesota this season.
I was with the Vikings when we drafted Mattison in the third round out of Boise State in 2019. Every time he has gotten his opportunity to be on the field, he has made plays in the run game and in the passing game. He’s always been behind Cook, who is still an explosive playmaker. If Cook is not in Minnesota, he will play somewhere else.
The Vikings must feel strongly that Mattison could step in and carry the load. When he’s played, he’s averaged more than 100 yards combined rushing and receiving. He’s an excellent football player, and he’s an even better person and a high-character guy. He works extremely hard, and if he gets his opportunity to be running back No. 1, watch out. He will be the next very good Minnesota Vikings running back.
What Should We Expect from Mattison This Season?
With all signs pointing to Dalvin Cook either being traded or released, Alexander Mattison will likely have his biggest role and the most snaps since being drafted, so that all but guarantees that he’ll have by far his most productive season as a pro. Mattison has never had more than 491 rushing yards in a season (283 last season) with the Vikings to this point.
Mattison averaged just 3.8 yards per carry last season, in limited snaps, but a certain amount of that relatively low total may have been due to his usage. Mattison seemed to have a higher percentage of his run snaps in the red zone or goal-to-go situations, which may have affected his rushing average. In any case, 2.8 yards of that 3.8-yard average came after contact, which is similar, but slightly lower than, Dalvin Cook’s average last season. We’ll see what happens this season with more normalized usage and greater snaps. Mattison’s PFF run grade was the highest of his career last season at 84.2.
Mattison is also a versatile, well-rounded back as he can be effective as a receiver and pass blocker.
Running Back by Committee?
I would also be surprised if Mattison was used as a true workhorse back this season like Dalvin Cook was last season, and Mattison himself was in college at Boise State. Instead, I expect the Vikings to use Ty Chandler to complement Mattison. The share of the workload between the two backs may be something to be determined based on Chandler’s performance and ability to handle all facets as a receiver and blocker effectively. Chandler was a very effective receiver in college and his sub-4.4 speed gives him breakaway ability either as a receiver or a runner when he gets to the second level.
Early Down Efficiency is the Goal
Kevin O’Connell has said this off-season that improving the efficiency of the running game, particularly on early downs, is a primary goal for him offensively this season. The Vikings were pretty bad rushing the ball by DVOA last season, and that put them in unfavorable down-and-distance situations on third downs. The signing of top blocking TE Josh Oliver suggests the Vikings will go with more two tight end sets, which may help improve their run game efficiency, but they’ll still need good performance from both Mattison and Chandler to make that happen.
The Vikings apparently moving on from Dalvin Cook is a sign they believe they can get at least similar production from Mattison and Chandler at a much better price point. Both backs are three years younger than Cook as well, who at 28 has reached the end of the prime years for a running back in the NFL. I expect Cook to still be productive, however, wherever he lands this season.
Which running back will have the most total yards this season (rushing + receiving)?