The Vikings are expected to release veteran lead running back Dalvin Cook. In turn, Alexander Mattison is getting the opportunity he's sporadically had over his first four seasons while Cook is looking for his next one. It's yet another example of the changing of the guard among Fantasy running backs taking place. This means Mattison will, in head coach Kevin O'Connell's words from their late-May OTAs, "really show that all three-down kinda ownership that he's been capable of for a long time."
In Fantasy football, opportunity is king, and Mattison now wears the crown in Minnesota. He will be drafted accordingly.
Under Kevin O'Connell's playcalling for the first time last year, the Vikings went for a pass-heavy approach. Only the Bucs and the Chargers threw at a higher rate than the Vikings' 64%. Regardless, Dalvin Cook averaged 17.8 touches per game and played 72.3% of the offensive snaps. That's the kind of workload staring Mattison in the face this year.
It's also close to the kind of workload he's had when Cook's been sidelined. In four games without Cook in 2021, Mattison had at least 16 touches and 15 PPR points in each. Dreamy! It's also worth pointing out that in the eight career games Mattison has handled 15 or more touches, he's scored 15-plus PPR six times.
But do not mistake opportunity for explosive talent -- that's a different story and among the few things that could keep Mattison from being a top-12 rusher. Of his 404 career carries, only TWO have gone longer than 30 yards and another eight have met or exceeded 20 yards. Meanwhile, 79 of his rushes -- 19.6% of them -- went for zero or negative yards. That rate is the 12th-worst among all running backs over the past four seasons.
It's more than fair to say that a lot of those carries were in games he barely played, but even in the four 2021 games he had 15 or more touches in (the last four games he had a major workload) he had a negative run rate of 19.8%. Last year, only eight qualifying RBs had a rate that bad -- including Cook (23.5%) and Mattison (24.3%)!
If you buy into Mattison, do so with the understanding that his production is strictly tethered to his workload. However, the workload figures to be bountiful, which is why his projection of 1,100 total yards and as many as 10 touchdowns really isn't that outlandish. I'm comfortable taking a running back with this volume, albeit without efficiency, toward the end of Round 3.
Any other Vikings RBs?
Second-year back Ty Chandler might start training camp as Minnesota's backup to Mattison, but expect competition to determine who gets that role. The problem is, it'll be a small role unless/until something happens to Mattison. The other options are Kene Nwangwu, who has been lights-out on kick-returns, and rookie DeWayne McBride, who was a fun prospect at UAB but has a long way to go to leap-frog the others.
Anyone inclined to draft a backup runner should be able to do so with an expendable late-round pick.
What about Dalvin Cook?
I think Cook's release is a little more about not wanting to take a reduced salary and not as much about his talent. Simple metrics like his 4.4 yards per carry and 7.6 yards per catch were either career-lows or near-career lows but still fine for contributing players. The Vikings saved $9 million of cap space by letting him go -- that's probably reason No. 1 he's not a Viking anymore.
He's going to find work, but it's unlikely he'll get as much work. The best-case scenario would be with the Dolphins in Miami where he'd bump their other backs down the depth chart and ultimately lead the team in touches for the games he's healthy for. He fits into their zone-run scheme nicely and can contribute out of the backfield. He probably has 1,100-total-yard potential there, but maybe only 6 or 7 touchdowns.
The worst-case scenario would be a team without as potent of an offense, or one that already has quality talent at running back and wouldn't feel any pressure to use Cook more than, say, 10 times per game. A team that was totally inefficient running the ball last season like Tampa Bay might be cool with adding Cook, but it would inhibit any breakout for Rachaad White and place Cook in an offense that isn't projected to be very explosive. That would be a bad scenario.
If you're drafting between now and when Cook's landing spot is apparent, be cautious. He's a declining 28-year-old player who might get snapped up in Fantasy drafts on reputation alone. Unless it's 70th overall or later, you shouldn't be the one taking him.