Case for Jerick McKinnon being fantasy back to add in Minnesota

By Matt Kelley (@Fantasy_Mansion)
Special to Yahoo Sports

My name is Matt Kelley. I am a Jerick McKinnon Truther.

What is a Truther? Most fantasy analysts harbor an irrational conviction for one player who has yet to break out despite three or more years in the NFL. Last year, a handful of Adam Thielen Truthers were rewarded with a heartwarming, 26-year old breakout story. Unfortunately, most Truthers eventually concede defeat, slowly remove their favorite irrelevant player’s jersey, and slink away into the hot take void. The wounded fantasy analyst then turns his or her attention to another fringe NFL player. The new/old player inevitably slides into the bottom rung of the delusional fantasy analyst’s preseason sleepers lists, inspiring hollow rhetoric to rationalize away player shortcomings and exaggerate ability. Rinse. Repeat.

My name is Matt Kelley. I am a Jerick McKinnon Truther. Hear me out on this.

Athleticism to Burn

McKinnon is still relatively new to the running back position. McKinnon played quarterback in a read-option system at Georgia Southern before converting to running back during the predraft process. Then, McKinnon did the impossible at the NFL Scouting Combine. He hit the 92nd percentile or above in every workout metric from 40-time to agility to bench press.

Jerick McKinnon Workout Metrics on PlayerProfiler.com

According to Harvard, the NFL Scouting Combine actually matters, and furthermore, athleticism matters most for running back prospects. Specifically, McKinnon’s astounding 32 bench reps -with him weighing 209 pounds – is the highest ever recorded by a running back, and his 155.7 SPARQ-x Score, NIKE’s comprehensive athleticism metric, is the highest of any RB on PlayerProfiler.com. McKinnon is the most athletic running back in the NFL based on measured speed, burst, agility and power. 

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Positive Comparables 

Based on size and athleticism alone, McKinnon’s list of comparables on PlayerProfiler illuminates his playmaking ability:

  • Ladainian Tomlinson
  • Tevin Coleman
  • Ty Montgomery
  • Darren McFadden
  • Matt Forte
  • Lamar Miller
  • C.J. Prosise

All six comps have experienced degrees of success in the NFL. However, not all explosive running backs fire in the pros. If we expand the parameters to include non-producers, McKinnon’s athletic profile is also similar to the following irrelevant running backs:

The positive comparables far out-weigh the unfortunate comps. Moreover, just by sticking on an NFL roster for four consecutive years, McKinnon broke free of any Bishop Sankey and Michael Ford comparisons.

Snakebitten in Minnesota

McKinnon has experienced a snakebitten tenure in Minnesota. After the Vikings selected him in the third round of the 2014 draft, he was immediately thrust into a major role in the wake of Adrian Peterson’s season-long suspension. Though he was new to the running back position, McKinnon posted 538 yards on 4.8 yards per carry in his first NFL season. An impressive feat.

Peterson returned to glory in 2015 only to miss most of 2016 with injury. The Vikings bequeathed the starting role to McKinnon in 2016, but his efficiency collapsed. After finishing near the top of the league in yards per carry and yard per touch during his first two seasons, his 3.9 yards per touch checked in near league-bottom as he managed just two breakaway runs all season.

While McKinnon’s 2016 campaign appeared catastrophic on the surface, it was not a total failure. Last year, Minnesota’s offensive line suffered a litany of major injuries and finished No. 32 in run blocking efficiency on PlayerProfiler.com. Isolating McKinnon’s efficiency apart from the offensive line, his 26.2-percent Juke Rate was No. 26 among NFL running backs and his 81.1-percent Catch Rate was No. 10.

A New Era

McKinnon needed a second chance to make a first impression, and Dalvin Cook’s torn ACL provides an opportunity for redemption.

The 2017 Vikings offense looks nothing like the 2016 Vikings offense. In 2016, behind an injury-shattered offensive line, Minnesota was near the bottom of the NFL in total run plays. Regardless of their play-calling philosophy, the Vikings were constantly playing from behind, evidenced by the negative game script. This year, the Vikings are enjoying positive game script. Based on the Vikings’ 27 run plays per game, the team is implementing a run-first philosophy, fertile ground for McKinnon to flourish.

Vikings Running Game Year-Over-Year
  2016 2017
Run Plays Per Game 23 27
Game Script -1.56 +2.09
Run Blocking Efficiency #32 #5

Not Latavius Murray  

A seasoned truther would not allow an unfortunate detail like the Vikings naming Latavius Murray their starting running back to slow down a good hype train. Recall that Murray was the starting running back for two years in Oakland. In his second year as the primary back, the Raiders throttled his workload from a 69.2-percent Opportunity Share to a 52.8-percent Opportunity Share in 2016.

Latavius Murray 2016 Efficiency Metrics
Yards Per Touch 4.6 #45 among qualified NFL RBs
Juke Rate 18.9% #55
Yards Created Per Touch 0.9 #54
Breakaway Run Rate 3.6% #39

Once revealed as a fake bell cow in Oakland, Murray was widely viewed as a depth signing that did not threaten Cook or McKinnon’s role. Thus far in 2017, even after exiting week 4 with an ankle injury, McKinnon’s snap share is lapping Murray’s: 21.1-percent to 12.4-percent.

Fantasy Football Outlook

During his final two years in Oakland, Murray flopped despite perfect conditions for an NFL breakout. On the other hand, McKinnon has persevered through challenging conditions during his brief time in the league. McKinnon is a prototypically satellite back-plus (a great receiver with an every-down skill set) and is better than Murray in all phases, from interior running to pass blocking to receiving passes. Rising again like a phoenix on the Vikings depth chart, McKinnon has one final opportunity to prove his Truthers right.

This season, McKinnon has the luxury of operating in an efficient offense (once Sam Bradford returns) and running behind one of the NFL’s most effective run blocking units. While McKinnon will not fill Cook’s role 1:1, he has the talent profile, the supporting cast, and the opportunity to post 12-plus fantasy points per game from week 5 onward. Like Bilal Powell and Tim Hightower before him, McKinnon is well-equipped to help fantasy enthusiasts win a championship.