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Vikings 2021 Free Agency Outlook: Running Backs

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EAGAN, Minn. — The calendar has flipped to March, which means the 2021 edition of free agency is quickly approaching.

The 2021 league year officially begins at 3 p.m. (CT) on March 17.

Over the next two weeks, Vikings.com will provide an in-depth look on where each position stands entering free agency. We'll look at which Vikings are scheduled to become free agents, where potential needs might be and note players from other teams that are set to become free agents.

View the best running back photos of the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.

We are continuing the series with running backs.

UNDER CONTRACT:

Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, C.J. Ham (fullback) & Jake Bargas (fullback)

Cook

2020 Stats: 14 games (14 starts); 312 carries for 1,557 yards (5.0 average) and 16 rushing touchdowns; 44 catches for 361 yards (8.2 average) and 1 receiving touchdown

The fourth-year running back built on a successful 2019 campaign with another 1,000-plus yard season, notching career highs in carries, yards and touchdowns. Cook helped the Vikings rank fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (142.7) behind only the Ravens, Titans, Browns and Patriots.

Mattison

2020 Stats: 13 games (2 starts); 96 carries for 434 yards (4.5 average) and 2 rushing touchdowns; 13 catches for 125 yards (9.6 average) and 1 receiving touchdown

In his second year in Purple, Mattison once again proved a reliable reserve back to supplement Cook's work in the running game. He scored his first career receiving touchdown in Minnesota's season-finale win over Detroit and will turn 23 in June.

Ham

2020 Stats: 15 games (11 starts); 5 carries for 18 yards (3.6 average); 8 catches for 97 yards (12.1 average) and 1 receiving touchdown

Ham played a significant role in Minnesota's offense throughout the 2020 season. Although – in typical fullback fashion – his stats aren't flashy, he helped Cook rack up more than 1,500 yards on the ground and continued to be a Swiss Army-style option in the run or pass game.

Bargas

2020 Stats: 1 game

Signed as an undrafted rookie last spring, Bargas spent most of the 2020 campaign on the Vikings practice squad but saw limited action on Christmas Day when he played seven snaps at New Orleans. Minnesota coaches liked what they saw from Bargas during the team's truncated training camp last summer, and it will be interesting to see what type of role he may hold going forward.

SCHEDULED TO BECOME FREE AGENTS:

Ameer Abdullah (unrestricted free agent)

2020 Stats: 16 games (0 starts); 8 carries for 42 rushing yards (5.3 average); 8 catches for 58 yards (3.6 average) and 2 receiving touchdowns; returned 15 kickoffs for 352 yards (23.5 average); long return of 33 yards

Abdullah may not have seen a lot of playing time offensively, but he certainly made his opportunities count. He scored both of his receiving touchdowns against his former team, helping the Vikings sweep the Lions. Abdullah, who will turn 28 in June, once again played a significant amount on Minnesota's special teams, being relied on as the Vikings primary kickoff returner and working on the coverage units throughout the season.

Mike Boone (restricted free agent)

2020 Stats: 16 games (0 starts); 11 carries for 59 yards (5.4 average) and 1 rushing touchdown; 2 catches for 10 yards (5.0 average); returned one kickoff for 17 yards

Originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Boone has continued to add strong depth to the Vikings running back corps. He also has been a reliable force on special teams. At Houston in Week 4, he recorded his first career forced fumble and later was named NFC Special Teams player of the Week.

View the best photos of Vikings RB Dalvin Cook from the 2020 season.

OUTLOOK:

Minnesota's running backs will once again be led by Kennedy Polamalu, who has coached the position group since 2017.

There's no denying the Vikings are set with Cook as their No. 1 back and Mattison as a reliable complement to "The Chef."

Behind those two, it remains to be seen what approach the Vikings take. Will they re-sign Abdullah as an option both at kicker returner and on offense? Will they retain Boone? Being that Boone is a restricted free agent, Minnesota has the option to assign a tender to him and ensure a draft pick in return should he sign with another team.

The Vikings will likely continue fielding a run-heavy offense under the guidance of new coordinator Klint Kubiak, who is taking over the position in the wake of his father Gary's retirement, so depth at running back will remain a priority.

Minnesota could stand pat with the players currently on its roster, add players through free agency or wait until the NFL Draft in April and potentially snag someone there or from the college free agent pool. The Vikings last added a free agent running back in 2017, when they inked veteran Latavius Murray, who played two seasons for Minnesota.

WHO'S POTENTIALLY OUT THERE?

NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal recently released his list of the top 101 potential free agents, which includes just seven running backs:

9. Aaron Jones, 53. Chris Carson, 68. Kenyan Drake, 78. Duke Johnson, 84. Marlon Mack, 97. James Conner and 99. James White

There's a big drop-off in Rosenthal's list between the first two backs included. Minnesota is plenty familiar with Jones, who's spent the first four seasons of his career in Green Bay. The 26-year-old has totaled 37 rushing touchdowns thus far, five of which he's scored against the Vikings. It seems safe to say the Vikings won't be targeting a big-name back like Jones with Cook on the roster … but equally safe to say they wouldn't mind if he signed with a non-division team.

The Seahawks may not be an NFC North team, but they may as well be for as often as they've met the Vikings over the past four years.

Carson has experienced his share of ups and downs in Seattle but notched impressive seasons in 2018 and 2019, exceeding 1,000 yards on the ground in each campaign. In 2020, he recorded 141 carries for 681 yards and five scores in 12 games played.

Originally a third-round draft pick by Miami in 2016, Drake has spent time with the Dolphins and Cardinals over the first five seasons of his career. This past season in Arizona proved his most effective, as Drake played in 15 games (13 starts) and totaled 955 yards and 10 touchdowns on 239 rushes. The Cardinals recently made a splash signing in defensive end J.J. Watt, so it remains to be seen if they'll re-sign Drake – and other free agents – or let him walk.

Also a third-round draft pick but in 2015 by Cleveland, Johnson's numbers in the run game are underwhelming; he's totaled just three rushing touchdowns in the past three seasons and eight in his career. Johnson has also been utilized in the passing game, though, both in Cleveland and in Houston, having totaled 2,829 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns through the air. He's also shown to be durable, not missing a game until the 2020 season.

Mack's most-productive seasons for the Colts were 2018 and 2019, during which he totaled 1,999 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He was sidelined for almost all of the 2020 campaign after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 1.

Conner has been a modest but reliable contributor to the Steelers offense. Last season, he started 11 of 13 games and recorded 169 carries for 721 yards and six rushing touchdowns. He also added 35 catches for 215 yards.

White is the longest-tenured player on Rosenthal's list, having spent the past seven seasons in New England. The Florida native appeared in 14 games for the Patriots in 2020 but had just 121 rushing yards. White was again more heavily utilized as a pass catcher, totaling 49 receptions for 375 yards and a touchdown.

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