“Productive, willful runner whose combination of functional patience and aggressive urgency helped find his niche as an every-down workhorse.” – Mike Gillislie
With the loss of Dalvin Cook in the offseason, there has been much speculation as to who will step into the lead back role for Minnesota. Luckily, the Vikings have a back on roster who can do it all. As a runner, he’s got solid vision and can run both with elusivity and with power. As a receiver, he’s more than capable of picking up yardage through the air. Finally, when it comes to pass blocking, he may not be the best in the league but he’s able and willing. Though some were (and still are) unsold on this Viking, he is exactly what Minnesota needs in this offense and as the leader of this stable of backs.
Simply and truly, it’s always been Alexander Mattison and it should be. The former third rounder out of Boise State wasn’t a household name back during the pre-draft process. Nonetheless, the Vikings felt good enough to bring him in during the 2019 offseason. Whether as a competent backup or eventual heir to the throne, Mattison was tabbed as the next new sweetness and his opportunity arrived this offseason. Now, he is here and here to play. Over the last four years, he has worked to improve and grow as a player on and off the field. For those that doubt, Mattison has every opportunity, ability, and skillset to be a workhorse in the NFL.
The Case for Mattison
Though some will say he can’t handle a full workload that a lead back gets, wrong. Mattison has before, both in games and in a season. While in college, Mattison had two seasons of 200+ rushing attempts and one season of 300+ rushing attempts. In those seasons, he racked up 1,086 rushing yards with 12 touchdowns and 1,415 rushing yards with 17 touchdowns respectively. Add to this 60 receptions, 511 receiving yards, and a touchdown and he’s led a team and led them well. Is it college? Yes but his body is able to handle the workload that a lead back needs. Mattison has only missed six games in his career for an ankle sprain, a grade one concussion, and a ruptured appendix. In comparison, Dalvin only hit 300+ rushing attempts once and completed a full season only once as well.
(To preface, this is not saying Dalvin isn’t a great athlete, it’s highlighting what Mattison brings to the table as a workhorse back.)
For example, in the last four years, there have been six games where Dalvin has been fully out and Mattison started in place of him (five in 2021, one in 2020). In those six games, he racked up 117 attempts, 477 rushing yards, 23 receptions, 216 receiving yards, and 5 total touchdowns. That averages out to 19.5 attempts a game, 79.5 rushing yards and 36 receiving yards with a touchdown almost every game. In a full season, Mattison would finish with 331 rushing attempts, 1,352 rushing yards, 612 receiving yards, 8 rushing touchdowns and 6 receiving touchdowns. That pace would put him top five of all running backs in 2022. Though each year is different, Mattison will look to silence the doubters. That effort to get on track will start against the Chargers this week.
At the end of the day, here’s the reality: Mattison can be a workhorse but he’s not Dalvin, nor should he be. Though currently his yards per attempt (Y/A) sits at 4.1 Y/A, it’s important to note the role he’s had. The Vikings have used Mattison consistently as a short yardage back and as a change of pace rusher who can receive. However, Mattison has the tools to do it all. Minnesota has taken note and the coaching staff has shown that investment in him to start this season. Will Chandler and other backs get some work? Absolutely, but the league is moving away from singular featured backs and there will be others who get snaps. However, the Vikings have invested in Mattison to be a workhorse back. While some criticize him for his lack of productivity to start 2023, look deeper. When you get into it, Minnesota has played against, arguably, the two best defensive lines in the league. Both Philadelphia and Tampa Bay have star power along the front seven and held Chicago and New England (their other two opponents) to 67 and 76 rushing yards, respectively. Yes, Minnesota’s rushing totals were lower but the game script also did not aid in this endeavor. Additionally, the injuries Minnesota’s line has experienced has not aided any running back (or Cousins’ ability to not get sacked). Excuses aside, it’s two games. This team has shown their ability to air it out and win through the air. Mattison will look to establish the ground game; don’t give up on him just yet.
The Most Important Thing Here
The bottom line is Mattison has brighter days ahead and as a fan base, we’ve seen him do it before. There’s no reason he can’t do it now. Regardless, even if he has a poor game, which all players do, Mattison is still a human being. Not only does he care about his team, he cares about his community and his commitment to those around him, which is on display through his Week 1 NFLPA Community MVP award. His I AM GIFTED foundation is evidence of this. They serve students, addresses mental health issues, and connects with youth and family to impact their lives. Mattison matters and no game, real or fake, is worth attacking someone. So for those that send racist, violent remarks and death threats to Mattison, grow up. It’s not a joke, it’s not funny. These comments are never warranted and his value does not stem from his production on the field. If you criticize, criticize the play, but never the person. As a fan, it’s not acceptable and as a person, he deserves better. Whether you hate him or love him, he’s the Vikings RB1 and fans should rally around him because he is, at the very least, worthy of that.