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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings’ first matchup with Bears kicked off strong season for Jerick McKinnon

By Matthew Coller

After Dalvin Cook went down with an ACL tear in Week 4, the Minnesota Vikings traveled to Chicago with hopes of a breakout performance from their No.2 and 2A running backs.

Over the first four weeks of the season, Jerick McKinnon gained just 26 yards on 10 carries and caught eight passes on 12 targets for 40 yards while spelling Cook. It was fair to wonder if he would ever reach the potential that had been flashed over the first two years of his career.

But McKinnon proved otherwise against the Bears, rushing for 95 yards and catching six passes for 51 yards. A 58-yard touchdown run put the Vikings up 17-9 heading into the fourth quarter and McKinnon’s contribution in the passing game allowed the Vikings to be effective throwing underneath the Bears’ deep zones, which were designed to limit the deep passing game to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

Since his breakout performance, McKinnon and Murray have found their defined roles. Murray only has nine catches since Week 5, but he’s scored six touchdowns and averaged 17 carries for 70 yards while McKinnon has only averaged 12 carries, but grabbed 43 receptions for 381 yards (8.9 yards per catch).

Pro Football Focus ranks McKinnon as the 12th highest rated running back in the NFL this year and the sixth best receiving back only behind Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Duke Johnson and Chris Thompson.

For a running back who is listed at 5-foot-9, McKinnon has been a solid pass blocker (17th ranked by PFF) and he’s been difficult to tackle. Football Outsiders credits the fourth-year runner with breaking tackles on 20.9 percent of his touches, a higher percentage than Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell.

His strong 2017 could set McKinnon up for a lucrative contract on the free agent market. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur talked Thursday about the increased value of backs who can be a threat in the passing game.

“You’re seeing more and more and more where teams are utilizing the running back as a receiver,” Shurmur said Thursday. “Lots of empty sets, a lot of running back primary throws from the backfield. Then, the utilization of the running back as a check down when you’re trying to get the ball down field and you can’t for whatever reason. He’s able to do that where he’s primary or he’s a checkdown, or we extend him as a receiver. I think that’s important.”

With a career-high 947 yards from scrimmage, McKinnon has a chance to clear 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. In last season’s finale against the Bears, he gained 89 yards on 16 carries and caught three passes for 21 yards.

The post Vikings’ first matchup with Bears kicked off strong season for Jerick McKinnon appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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