Duluth native C.J. Ham has drawn a strong following from Minnesota fans since signing with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
The fullback has taken strides and carved out a bigger role for himself each season, and so far this year he appears to be well-liked not only by fans but by the Vikings offensive system.
Sam Ekstrom of ZoneCoverage.com broke down the ways Minnesota has used Ham through the first three games of the season, saying he's become "a staple" in the system under Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak. Ekstrom wrote:
The Minnesota Vikings kept a healthy posse of running backs on the roster behind workhorse Dalvin Cook, but it's been fullback C.J. Ham who's seen more time on the field than Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone or Ameer Abdullah. His 73 snaps are third most in the NFL among fullbacks. It's more than the Vikings' third and fourth receivers Chad Beebe and Bisi Johnson combined, and it's only 11 fewer than backup tight end Irv Smith, Jr.
The analytics are extremely fond of Ham as well, with Pro Football Focus ranking him as the third-best fullback in football and the second-best run-blocker, though it doesn't take an analyticalwizard to identify bulldozing blocks.
View exclusive images shot by Vikings team photographer Andy Kenutis as the Vikings and Raiders competed against each other in the Week 3 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium
Ekstrom embedded videos to break down specific plays that highlight Ham's strengths.
Ekstrom admitted that he thought Ham could be "on the roster bubble" when rookie Khari Blasingame (currently on the practice squad) made plays during the preseason.
But the team clearly had a vision for their fullback that would be better fulfilled with an experienced candidate.
Ham's bread and butter has been run-blocking, but those haven't been his only duties. He's been used as a backside and frontside pass protector, as well as a receiver. Ham got two targets against Oakland, dropping a perfectly thrown slant in the first quarter and reeling in a much harder diving catch in the second half.
The pass-catching might be a work in progress, but it keeps teams honest when Ham motions to the boundary.
To read Ekstrom's full article and film breakdown, click here.
Carr ranks Cook 9th-best offensive player after Week 3
Each week, former quarterback-turned-analyst David Carr releases a ranking of the top 15 offensive players across the league.
Cook isn't new to Carr's list, but the Vikings running back jumped four spots to No. 9 after his impressive performance against the Raiders on Sunday.
Carr highlighted the Vikings improved run game, which Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer emphasized during the offseason, and said that "riding the legs of Cook has been the not-so-secret key." Carr wrote:
Three weeks into the 2019 season, Cook has three straight 100-yard rushing games after two total in his first two seasons combined.
Cook was one of two NFC North names on the list, joining Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who improved two spots to No. 12. Topping the rankings from 1-3, respectively, were three players the Vikings will face this season: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Carr wrote the following of Elliott, whom Minnesota will see on Sunday Night Football in Week 10.
[The] two-time league rushing leader is off to the best start of his career (55 carries for 289 rushing yards through Week 3). He posted his 21stcareer game with 100-plus yards against the Dolphins, and feeding him is smart on the Cowboys part because they are 18-3 when Elliott rushes for 100 yards or more in a game.
Vikings 'getting major return' on investment Cook
Three games, 375 yards, four touchdowns.
ESPN's Courtney Cronin weighed in on a "Week 3 NFL Takeaways" roundtable and said that the Vikings are getting "major return on their investment" in Cook. She wrote:
He's averaging more than 6.5 yards per carry and has breathed life into this offense. Given the way the Vikings have built a run-first mentality, it's not hard to predict Cook continuing to turn in performances like he did against the Raiders, even against defenses that are harder to run on, like the Bears next Sunday.
Speaking of the Bears, ESPN's Jeff Dickerson said that quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was "better but not great" in Chicago's rout of Washington on Monday Night Football.
Trubisky tossed three first-half touchdowns, but he also struggled with accuracy. In particular, Trubisky's red zone interception on a ball intended for wide receiver Allen Robinson was a brutal underthrow. It's encouraging that Trubisky and the offense accounted for three touchdowns – all to Taylor Gabriel – but the 25-year old quarterback still needs to improve.