In a recent piece evaluating all 32 NFL teams' running back units, Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner ranked the Vikings at No. 5 in the league with Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon.
Renner noted that Peterson averaged 3.93 yards after contact per attempt (the highest mark) in 2012 when he rushed for 2,097 yards. Although Peterson led the NFL with 1,485 rushing yards in 2015, Renner noted that Peterson's yards after contact average was below 3.0 for the first time in his career.
Adrian Peterson's 2015 campaign produced some impressive raw numbers, but his rate stats paled in comparison to previous seasons. His 2.3 yards after contact per attempt was the first time he was below 3.0 in his entire career. At 31 years old, it's time to wonder if he's finally starting to show signs of age. Jerick McKinnon might finally start seriously cutting into Peterson's carries in 2016, and the third-year back has earned positive rushing grades in each of his first two pro seasons.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, whose running back duo is made up of Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, topped Renner's list.
The Vikings NFC North rivals came in at No. 11 (Packers), No. 26 (Lions) and No. 28 (Bears). Renner wrote the following of the Packers:
It didn't take a strength and conditioning coach to tell you that Eddie Lacy had a serious problem with his weight in 2015, as it drastically affected his game. Surprisingly, he still had 11 carries of 15 yards, but none went longer than 29 yards. Lacy was publicly called out by Coach Mike McCarthy, and now is reportedly in as good a shape as he's ever been in during his NFL career. Lacy was a tackle-breaking machine his first two years in the league, and there's nothing to suggest he won't get back to that level soon.
McKinnon working on route running
Training camp is just around the corner, and the Vikings have spent this offseason working on individual goals and focuses. For McKinnon, route running has been a major emphasis for improvement. Viking Update's Tim Yotter calculated that McKinnon played 61 percent of his snaps on passing downs in 2015.
"[Adrian Peterson has] given me tips before on route running," McKinnon told Yotter. "Just stemming guys, getting body leverage and all those things.
"I learn every day, not just from him, other guys, Coach [Kevin] Stefanski," McKinnon added. "Every day is a learning process for me to come out here and get better."
McKinnon knows Peterson is the Vikings' bread and butter in the running game, but the backup continues to work on improvement to be ready if needed.
"Just keep working on our craft and the things that are not my strong points or that I would consider not my strong points but I'm definitely getting better in," McKinnon told Yotter. "Just keep working on those things and sharpening my tools every day."
Vikings defense positioned to improve again in 2016
Brian Altman of CBS Minnesota recently posted an article that examined three questions facing each NFC North team. When looking at the Vikings headed into the 2016 season, Altman discussed Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings defense. He wrote the following of the latter:
In 2014, [Head Coach Mike] Zimmer's unit was 11th best in points allowed and last year, they finished fifth in points allowed.
So that begs the question, can they continue to improve as a unit this year? On paper, there's no reason to believe they can't.
Altman said that Brian Robison, Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen are "as dominant as any unit in the NFC" and praised Minnesota's linebacker corps, as well.
In the secondary, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes headline a unit that only gets deeper thanks to the addition of Clemson DB Mackensie Alexander, whom they picked up in the second round of the draft this year. He joins Rhodes, veteran [Terence] Newman and Captain Munnerlyn and could be a key component in getting the Vikings deeper into the conversation of best defenses in football once 2016 gets underway.