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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Can Roc Thomas make the Vikings’ backfield into a trio?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings have a tendency to find under-the-radar players with plenty of potential.

You don’t have to look much farther than their pair of elite wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

Once upon a time, both players arrived in camp as nobodies and finished camp as players to watch.

Trying to follow that model is running back Roc Thomas, who caught two touchdowns and rushed eight times for 29 yards in the Vikings’ opening win over the Denver Broncos.

“It adds a lot of confidence for the coaching staff to know that I can be accountable for handling my job,” Thomas said Monday.

At the beginning of camp, it appeared Mack Brown and Mike Boone were ahead of Thomas on the depth chart, but he showed patience running the ball against Denver that didn’t exist when camp opened.

“At the beginning of camp I wasn’t patient at all, I was running up [the offensive line’s] backs and I wasn’t letting the blocks get developed and that type of stuff,” Thomas said. “Coach talked to me and told me to slow down, gather my steps…being patient works out a lot better for me.”

The door is now open for Thomas to win a job as the No. 3 running back and possibly earn a role as a change-of-pace back. His receiving ability could allow the Vikings to mix him in situationally.

With Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray ready to carry the load, the Vikings could create something resembling the Philadelphia Eagles did last year with Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement if Thomas continues to show he belongs. Clement was an undrafted free agent like Thomas.

Coincidentally one of Thomas’s touchdowns came on a “rail” route, which Clement ran on one of the biggest plays of the Super Bowl.

The devil may be in the details for Thomas to earn the spot. He passed a key test with a quality pass block against Denver.

“It was pretty good to get that game-speed feeling of pass protection because we don’t really get the collisions in practice,” Thomas said.

Thomas fits the mold of successful undrafted free agents or late-round picks of the past, who are often highly touted out of high school but stumble in college for whatever reason.

Diggs, for example, had his frame questioned by analysts. He was a five-star recruit but pegged as a slot-only receiver in the NFL.

Thomas was rated the fifth best high school recruit in the country, but couldn’t get playing time at Auburn, so he transferred to Jacksonville State. The former Gatorade Player of the Year rushed for over 1,000 yards last year but didn’t set the word on fire and went undrafted.

Prior to the draft, NFL.com draft profile writer Lance Zierlein wrote about Thomas’s running style, pointing out some of the positives that the Vikings saw in Game 1 of the preseason. Zierlein wrote the following in his scouting report:

Runs with good charge through lower half

– Has juice when he commits downhill

– Jump cuts are sudden and wide and he can string them together

– Uses vision and short-area foot quickness to access brand new running lanes along interior.

– Features exceptional balance through contact allowing him to keep the train rolling.

– Can make more subtle downhill cuts when pads are squared

One key stat from Saturday night’s game (per Pro Football Focus: Thomas gained 2.9 yards per rush after contact.

As impressive as Thomas’s opening performance was, head coach Mike Zimmer did not tip his hand on the battle for RB3.

“I was actually pleased with those three guys, hopefully we can continue to work with those three and see where that leads,” Zimmer said.

With the starters unlikely to take a large number of snaps in Week 2 of the preseason, Thomas will need another strong performance to open up distance between himself and the other two backs.

But the early signs of potential are there for the Vikings to have found another diamond in the rough.

The post Can Roc Thomas make the Vikings’ backfield into a trio? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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