Replacing 3-time First Team All-Pro Adrian Peterson is nearly impossible but the Minnesota Vikings have no choice but to utilize “Plan B” against the New England Patriots in NFL Week 2. The Inside The Pylon staff looks at Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon.
With six-time Pro Bowler Adrian Peterson due to miss Sunday’s game the matchup for both New England and Minnesota will shift dramatically. The Vikings’ offensive game plan figures to be radically different than the one they drew up and what the Patriots prepared to defend will be similarly affected. As the last true “bell cow” running back, Peterson has gained more than 10,000 ground yards while averaging 5.0 yards per carry over his 7-year career, and his absence will undoubtedly be conspicuous. While it’s nearly impossible, replacing Adrian Peterson and his production, the Vikings do have some options.
Matt Asiata, RB (#44, 5’11”, 235 lbs)
Undrafted in 2010 out of the University of Utah where his 24 career rushing touchdowns ranked third all-time, Asiata entered his third NFL season last week expecting to see limited action this year as a backup to Peterson. In his only previous career start, against the Eagles in Week 14 last season, he had 30 carries for only 51 yards though he did score 3 touchdowns. Despite a lack of experience Asiata will likely be called on to help fill the void left in the Vikings’ running attack this Sunday against the Patriots.
Last weekend against the Rams Asiata had two carries in the second quarter, each for five yards. On the first Asiata was lined up as the tailback in an I-formation running off tackle to the left side of the Vikings’ formation behind left tackle Matt Kalil.
Asiata hits the hole hard and makes a great initial cut, but once he gets to the second level he shows some hesitation and allows James Laurinaitis time to make a safe and solid tackle.
On the next play Asiata runs a counter draw on 3rd and long. Once again he hits the hole with authority while using utilizing a hard counter step, but he gets hit trying to break through. This slows him up and prevents any kind of big play.
Asiata did show some prowess in pass protection. On this play he is lined up to quarterback Matt Cassel‘s right. On the snap he immediately comes across the formation and completely stones right defensive end Robert Quinn in his tracks.
If called upon to start Asiata should provide solid pass protection for the Vikings, though he will most likely be a massive downgrade as a full-down running back.
Jerick McKinnon, RB (#31, 5’9”, 208 lbs)
The Vikings’ third-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, the 22-year-old McKinnon played running back and quarterback in the triple option offense at Georgia Southern University. In 47 games over his 4-year college career, he rushed for 3,899 yards on 619 carries (averaging 6.3 yards per rush) and 42 touchdowns. Though he caught only 10 passes for the Eagles, their run-based offense likely limited his receiving opportunities. After his senior year McKinnon was only considered a late-round prospect at best with many pundits projecting him to go undrafted.
Then the NFL Combine happened.
McKinnon may have been small in stature but when it was time to compete against the best college prospects in the nation he blew them all out of the water. Here’s how he ranked among all running backs in Indianapolis:
- 40-yard Dash: 4.41 (2nd)
- Bench Press: 32 reps (1st)
- Vertical Jump: 40.5” (2nd)
- Broad Jump: 11’0” (2nd)
- Three-Cone Drill: 6.83 (3rd)
- 20-yard Shuttle: 4.12 (4th)
McKinnon arguably had the best combine of any running back and his stock soared on draft boards around the league.
With RB Toby Gerhart having departed via free agency, the Vikings snatched McKinnon with the 96th overall pick. He immediately entered the competition for backup running back and was even viewed as a possible long-term successor to Peterson. During the preseason McKinnon had 22 carries for 108 yards (a 4.9-yard average) and caught 4 balls for 12 yards, but his most impressive performance came in Minnesota’s third exhibition game in Kansas City where he gained 43 yards on just 6 rushes for a 7.2-yard average.
It’s doubtful McKinnon will be the Vikings’ lead back on Sunday since all signs point to Asiata taking most of the carries. But don’t be surprised to see the explosive youngster get some carries.
Jeff Johnson contributed to this piece. All videos created using NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.