Minnesota Vikings 2020 season in review: Running backs

fantasy football dynasty rankings: Justin Jefferson
Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) and wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) celebrate Cook’s touchdown run in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

In an ongoing series highlighting the position groups of the Minnesota Vikings, we dive into their 2020 performances as well as what to expect in 2021. We previously evaluated the performance of Kirk Cousins and the quarterback position.

With the Minnesota Vikings’ season in the rear-view mirror, they can immediately begin looking at ways to improve. One area where there isn’t a ton of room for growth is at running back. 

Related: If you’re a fan of the Vikings, check out #SKOL rumors, rankings, and news here.

Dalvin Cook cooked with the Minnesota Vikings in 2020

Minnesota Vikings year in review: Dalvin Cook
Dec 20, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs the ball in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

You couldn’t ask for anything more out of Dalvin Cook in the 14 games he was on the field. Performing as a top-three player at his position, Cook excelled in everything he was asked to do. Whether it was holding up as a blocker, gaining yards after the catch, or making defenders miss in the backfield as he’s handed the ball, Cook surpassed all expectations.

Dalvin Cook stats, running back group trade

Bold indicates career-high

  • 312 rushes, 1,557 yards, 16 TDs, 5.0 YPC, 111.2 YPG
  • 44 Rec, 361 yards, 1 TD
  • 3 Fumbles lost

Cook’s rushing yards, per game average, and touchdowns all ranked second in the NFL. He finished just 82 yards away from having 2,000 total yards.

Cook was the fifth-highest paid running back in 2020 and makes an average of $12.6 million per year. Considering his production, he earns every dollar of his deal. Since being selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Cook has been everything the Vikings dreamed of and then some.

After Cook injured his groin in a Week 5 game, backup Alexander Mattison earned a bigger opportunity. He carried the ball 20 times for 112 yards and gained 95 more in the final game of the season filling in for Cook once again. Mattison also started in Week 6 against the Falcons. He struggled, averaging just 2.6 yards on 10 attempts. Mattison finished the year with just under 100 rushes, gaining 4.5 yards per carry.

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As a lead blocker in the running game, fullback C.J. Ham is a key component to the Vikings’ success on the ground. The Duluth native only scored one touchdown this past year, but it’s his propensity to open up lanes for Cook and Mattison to burst through that led to the Vikings averaging the fifth-most rushing yards per game in 2020.

Ham also plays nearly 50% of the snaps on special teams and was the fourth-highest paid at his position in 2020. Making just $3 million per season, Ham is a bargain buy for the Vikings. 

Minnesota Vikings running back position group grade: A

Minnesota Vikings running back depth chart changes in 2021?

Minnesota Vikings RB Alexander Mattison
Jan 3, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (25) scores a touchdown against the Detroit Lions during the third quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Behind Cook, the Vikings have one of the deepest running back depth charts in the NFL. When given the opportunity, Alexander Mattison has shown starter-caliber talent, averaging 4.6 yards per carry on 196 attempts in his pro career. 

Ameer Abdullah is an unrestricted free agent. With Abdullah handling kick return duties for the past two-plus seasons, there’s a chance the Vikings offer him a contract. But with his return averages dwindling each year as a Viking, they may be better off gambling on incoming draft prospects or looking elsewhere in free agency to fill that need.

Related: Top NFL free agents of 2022 – Davante Adams likely to hit market

Mike Boone is a restricted free agent and will probably be retained as the team’s third running back. He, too, has flashed game-changing ability in the past. Boone had 148 rushing yards for the Vikings in the Week 17 finale of 2019.

Then again, the Vikings may allow Boone to seek a bigger role elsewhere as they seek to cut costs. Boone has shown home run potential, but the Vikings have two backs ahead of him who are younger.

It’s unlikely the running back rotation will change much if at all. With Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, and C.J. Ham all locked up through 2022, don’t expect any sizable investments or additions being made to the team’s backfield before the 2021 season starts.