Thursday, June 12, 2014

Jerick McKinnon: A Raw Tool in the Vikings Belt

Daniel House analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the Vikings new 'scat-back', Jerick McKinnon. What can he bring to the table for the Vikings in 2014?

Updated: June 12th, 2014 10:23am

By: Daniel House

Jerick McKinnon is an athletic specimen. Whether he was in the backfield at running back, calling the signals at quarterback, or defending as a defensive back, McKinnon made an impact at Gerogia Southern University. His athleticism nearly jumps off the charts, but he will need time to adjust to the traditional style of the NFL. Today, I take a closer look at what Jerick McKinnon can bring to the field for the Vikings in 2014. 

Experience and Insane Intangibles

McKinnon actually faced elite college competition at Georgia Southern and in three games against three SEC schools (Alabama, Georgia and Florida), McKinnon rushed for a total of 282 yards on 33 carries (8.5 yards/attempt) with three touchdowns. He tested out well at the combine, topping the charts in the bench press, finishing second among running backs in the 40-yard dash, and third in the three-cone drill. 

Limited 'Pro-Style' Experience

McKinnon’s college offense was far from a pro-style system and he frequently got the ball in space rather than between the tackles. He needs to develop instincts as a running back and become better at reading blockers, while running in-between the tackles. McKinnon will get touches in third-down situations and Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner will likely scheme ways to get him in space, using his quickness in the open field. Turner has worked with Darren Sproles, who McKinnon is ultimately a prototype with. 

Pass Catching Worry could be Insignificant 

Many who analyze film worry about the small amount of passes McKinnon caught during his time at Georgia Southern. He caught just ten passes in his four-year college career, which is an area he will need to improve if he wants to be the feature third-down running back in this offense. This type of limited pass catching can be somewhat exaggerated and be insignificant when players hit the NFL. LaDanian Tomlinson caught fewer than one pass per game in his last season in college and he is arguably the best pass catching feature back of the last 15 years. DeAngelo Williams came out of college having caught about 1 pass per game and then his rookie year he was on a 40 catch pace on a per game basis. With that said, the Vikings just need to provide McKinnon with plenty of pass catching reps in practice and good habits can be developed. The front office isn't concerned about this issue, in fact, Vikings GM Rick Spielman stressed how well McKinnon caught the ball at the combine and called him a "natural pass catcher." 

Limited Experience as a Pass Blocker

Another aspect of McKinnon's game that will need to improve if he wants to see snaps on third-down, is his pass blocking skills. He was not asked to block very much in college and he has limited experience with a seven-yard runup behind the quarterback. McKinnon showed extreme growing pains in this avenue at the Senior Bowl, but many coaches believe this issue is highly correctable. He will need to solve this issue to help offset the loss of Toby Gerhart, who was an extremely critical pass protector on third-down. 

Likely the Third Running Back 

McKinnon will need to improve on some of his raw talents in order to challenge for the second running back spot on the depth chart behind Adrian Peterson. Matt Asiata is returning and will likely be the second running back behind Peterson, while McKinnon learns as the third player on the depth chart. That doesn't mean McKinnon doesn't develop insanely fast and challenges for the second spot, in fact, I think this is a strong possibility. Just put it this way, McKinnon is a lock to make the active 53-man roster.

What will McKinnon be asked to do in his first season?

His role will be established based upon how quickly he can develop as a running back at the next level. Expect McKinnon to be used on third-down in space, utilizing his speed and athletic intangibles. I see him receiving near 40 carries in his first season and considering Norv Turner's continued reliance on passing to running backs, he could catch upwards of 30 passes this season. Ultimately, if he shows he can pass block and his hands appear solid in the passing game, his role will be adjusted in a positive fashion.

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