On Day 2 of the NFL Draft, Minnesota Vikings fans kept thinking their team was going to be on the clock soon and then kept getting disappointed as general manager Rick Spielman traded down and traded down and traded down.
Finally at pick 102, the final selection of the third round, they nabbed Boise State running back Alexander Mattison.
Spielman said a few minutes later that the team was looking for the next Latavius Murray. Of course, it wouldn’t be easy to replace Murray, who filled in for Dalvin Cook in 2017 and 2018 and has proven to be the rare NFL back with longevity. But Mattison showed on Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks that he can take the reins when called upon.
With Cook suffering a shoulder injury that ended his night, Mattison picked up 22 yards on four rushes and caught four passes for 51 yards.
“I thought he did a nice job in the screen,” head coach Mike Zimmer said on Tuesday. “He had a couple really nice runs. He held onto the ball well. He’s a hard-running guy that continues to get better with understanding what we’re trying to do offensively.”
Most of the attention in the backfield has been focused around Cook — and why not, he’s fifth in the NFL in rushing — but Mattison has quietly put together 416 yards on just 86 attempts and flashed an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
More importantly he’s averaged 4.8 yards per attempt under difficult circumstances. Only three running backs have faced a higher percentage of eight-man boxes than Mattison, according to NFL NextGen Stats. He’s overcome stacked boxes by breaking tackles, gaining 3.4 yards after contact, seventh best in the NFL among running backs with at least 85 carries, per PFF. He’s also busted out an impressive 15 rushes over 10 yards.
Mattison has lived up to all of the reasons the Vikings selected him. At Boise State he had the third most forced missed tackles of any running back in college football in 2018. That has clearly carried over to the NFL.
Cook told reporters following the game that he would be “good to go” this week against the Detroit Lions but the Vikings are facing a short week and enter the matchup with an 86% chance to make the playoffs per the analytics website FiveThirtyEight. That may cause the Vikings to consider allowing Cook to recover and be ready for the stretch run, which includes at December 23 showdown with Green Bay.
Mattison has shown he can take on the load, especially against a Lions team that ranks 23rd in yards allowed on the ground per game.
There are some areas in which the rookie has not been tested though. The most carries he’s received in one game is 14 and he has a grand total of five pass blocking snaps.
We will find out throughout the week whether Cook has a shot to play against Detroit.
On his Tuesday conference call, Mike Zimmer continued to defend the play of Xavier Rhodes, who has the third highest QB rating against in the NFL this year per PFF.
“I saw improvement in quite a few areas,” Zimmer said. “He had the one – we busted a coverage on the one, but the one curl they caught we were in zone coverage and actually he did a nice job on that. Got beat on a stop-9 one time, I think, but other than that I saw some improvement technically. Really with all the corners I saw some improvement last night – or with the secondary. We have to continue to get better in that area, but it was improvement and something to build on.”
Based on his comments it does not appear we will see Rhodes benched for Mike Hughes or Holton Hill.
— Zimmer was asked about the final play in which Kirk Cousins failed to find Irv Smith for a first down.
“The only thing he probably could’ve done better was move until somebody got open,” Zimmer said. “Got to make those quick decisions. I thought he played well, so I’m really not concerned about that one bit.”
— Rashod Hill filled in for Riley Reiff for the second time this year when Reiff left the game with a concussion and for the second time Hill did not allow a single QB pressure.
“I thought he played well in the passing game,” Zimmer said. “He has to continue to do better in the running game. It’s good to have him, he can play both sides. Need guys like that.”