3 Running Backs the Vikings Should Target After Releasing Alexander Mattison

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Moving on from Dalvin Cook last offseason provided valuable cap savings for the Minnesota Vikings in 2023. Now the Vikings are moving on from Alexander Mattison too, but can coach Kevin O’Connell feel confident in his current crop of running backs, after how underwhelming the Vikings run game was last season?

Ty Chandler showed a lot of promise as a rookie. Kene Nwangwu and DeWayne McBride remain as depth options, and it’s possible Cam Akers returns too. But it’s hard to greatly improve a rushing offense that ranked 24th in yards per attempt if you don’t make any additions to the running back room.

3 Running Backs Minnesota Vikings should target this offseason

This is why the Vikings are expected to add RB talent through both the NFL Draft and in free agency. Here are three running backs that should be available for general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to target, depending on what he and KOC are looking for.

Florida State’s Trey Benson Drafted as Vikings RB of Future

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Back in 2016, the Vikings had an RB-by-committee approach. Realizing Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata weren’t getting the job done, the Vikings added Latavius Murray via free agency to hold down the starting role. But they also drafted Dalvin Cook out of Florida State 41st overall.

Related: 2024 Minnesota Vikings Mock Draft 2.0

Now, seven years later, the front office could draft another former Seminoles running back. Florida State’s Trey Benson packs a combination of speed, power, and agility into a 6-foot-1, 221-pound frame, and scouts view him as one of the best running backs in the 2024 draft class.

In 2022, Benson forced a whopping 79 missed tackles, which Pro Football Focus says was one of the highest rates they’ve ever recorded. Benson runs hard, makes defenders miss, and gets to the next level with ease. A projected Day 2 pick, draft experts expect him to develop into a three-down back at the next level.

Minnesota Vikings Get Cam Akers Back For A Bargain

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While dreaming of signing the very best players is always fun, the Vikings have other, more pressing needs when free agency begins. This likely means, barring some big surprise, they’ll ignore some of the top free agent running backs available.

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But there is another player set for free agency who already knows the Vikings offense, and as we saw, Cam Akers can provide a spark too. While Akers tore his Achilles back in November, he’s expected to be healthy in time for the start of the regular season, yet he’ll also need a new contract first.

After previously tearing his Achilles with the Rams, this will be the second time Akers recovers from a major lower leg injury, but that could make the recovery process a bit smoother for the 24-year-old. The first time, he returned in just six months, helping the Rams secure a Super Bowl victory. But now he not only has the experience of understanding exactly what’s needed to overcome such an injury, he’ll also have more time to work his way back to his peak form.

If the plan is to stick with Ty Chandler while giving Nwangwu and McBride more opportunities, then bringing back a familiar face like Akers may be the most realistic option available. After all, he does seem intrigued with the idea of returning to Minnesota, which means he likely won’t require the Vikings to commit any guaranteed money to the former second-round pick.

Saquon Barkley Would Thrive in Kevin O’Connell’s Offense

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While the Vikings could look to the draft to hope another young prospect develops into an impact player, with where the free agency running back market is today, they may be able to sign a proven commodity instead. While Saquon Barkley’s stock has taken a hit after fighting through injuries in 2020 and 2021, he’s since bounced back, producing over 1,000 yards from scrimmage each of the past two seasons.

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Yet, there’s still a sense that Barkley could produce more if he wasn’t running behind an ineffective Giants offensive line that allowed more sacks than any other team in the NFL this past season. Not to mention, there isn’t a Justin Jefferson-level talent, or anything close, in New York.

A lack of other playmakers leads to defenders swarming to No. 26 each time he touches the ball. That wouldn’t be the case in Minnesota, where suddenly the former No. 2 overall pick would nearly become an afterthought in an offense that features Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and Jordan Addison.

At his best, Barkley has it all, from the size, speed, and versatility to bowl over defenders or run excellent routes out of the backfield, where he’s viewed as a legitimate weapon in the passing game. However, his yards per carry did drop below four yards per attempt this past season.

Related: Minnesota Vikings Can Sign Cousins, Jefferson and Hunter Without Breaking Salary Cap Bank

The Vikings and other interested teams will have to determine whether the 26-year-old fell victim to the Giants’ ineffective offense or if he’s already somehow slowing down. We’ll put this blame on the Giants, considering they did have the third-worst scoring offense in the NFL.

The biggest question is, can the Vikings afford to add a premier talent like Barkley this offseason while having so many others to pay? He’d have to have a strong level of interest in Minnesota to begin with, much like how Patrick Peterson surprisingly sought out a chance to play for the Vikings.

Barkley will be the most expensive running back of the three on this list, obviously. There’s been an interest to return to the Giants, where he’s said he’d like to end his career, but if Barkley doesn’t get an offer to his liking, he could fall in love with Minnesota too.

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