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Vikings Running Backs Battle for No. 2 Spot: Who Makes the Jump?

Alexander Mattison scores a touchdown against the Chicago Bears.

The Minnesota Vikings secured the NFC North crown with 13 wins last season, but it can be argued they did so despite their running game. Minnesota’s running game ranked 26th in yards per carry last season and they passed far more than they ran. Look for a more balanced attack in 2023. The big question is: how much of newly released Dalvin Cook’s 1,100+ production can the new running back room replace?

There are currently four RBs on the roster: Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Ty Chandler, and rookie 7th-round pick DeWayne McBride. There are also two fullbacks: fan favorite CJ Ham and the hometown rookie from University of Minnesota – Duluth, Zach Ojile.

Mattison just re-signed a two-year deal worth $7 million and will start the season as RB1. He filled in well for Cook multiple times over the past few years. Through his six starts and opportunities behind Cook, Mattison has earned the starting role. He excels in short yardage in the red zone, has proven he can be dangerous in the screen game, and can absolutely make people miss. The real roster battle will be who spells him and claims the RB2 spot.

Nwangwu has incredible speed and provides tremendous upside as a kick returner. In two seasons he has three kick return TDs and provided sparks at critical moments of games. The most recent was an electric return on Thanksgiving night against the New England Patriots. Nwangwu only managed 9 carries for 14 yards in 2022. He has shown very little in terms of running game consistency.

Ty Chandler is a relative unknown entering his sophomore season. The hype around the former Tar Heel is high. He excelled in training camp last year and put together a strong preseason before suffering a broken thumb. He only played in three games in 2022, managing 20 yards on 6 attempts for one touchdown. So far this offseason he looks healthy and ready to prove himself after last year. He would certainly provide more in the traditional running game than Nwangwu.

DeWayne McBride has a viable opportunity to breakout this year as a rookie. He has solid size and is incredibly athletic. He led the FBS in yards per carry and was second in rushing yards with 1,713 last year while setting the UAB single season record. His largest knock coming into the draft was his ball security. McBride had 10 fumbles at UAB. He will also have to prove that he can catch the ball, something he was almost never asked to do in college. The Vikings ran him through catching drills, though, as he was spotted catching passes from Kirk Cousins. He also had one of the most incredible spin moves in college last season:

Look for the Vikings to have a serious competition for playing time among RBs this season. McBride has an opportunity to mirror what 7th-round pick Isiah Pacheco provided for the Kansas City Chiefs last year if he manages to hold on to the football. Nwangwu is the best kick returner the Vikings have had since Cordarrelle Patterson left and can change the trajectory of a game on special teams. Ty Chandler might be on the outside looking in during cuts this year. Overall, Minnesota has an abundance of talent ready to fill Dalvin Cook’s cleats and should see tremendous success with their running backs this year.

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