Vikings hope speedy rookie also a quick study
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Jerick McKinnon was the last of Minnesota’s 10 draft picks to sign his rookie contract.
That’s about the only race he wouldn’t win.
The Vikings selected McKinnon in the third round out of Georgia Southern, using a pick acquired from Seattle in the Percy Harvin trade the previous year. They targeted him for his versatility, his vision and, most of all, his speed.
”Too good of an athlete to pass up,” general manager Rick Spielman said. ”Just too explosive of a player.”
McKinnon played a variety of positions for the Eagles, a perennial FCS power, frequently as an option-style quarterback. He also played cornerback and lined up as a slot receiver. The Vikings have slotted McKinnon as a running back, hoping the 5-foot-9, 210-pound prospect can be a productive alternative to Adrian Peterson.
”Honestly, I think I can do everything,” McKinnon said. ”But I guess the coaches have a vision of what they want from me, and whatever that role is I’m ready to embrace it and do the best that I can for the team.”
When Toby Gerhart, the dependable backup the last four seasons, left as a free agent, the Vikings needed to find another ball carrier. Peterson, 29, is approaching the point of a running back’s career when production usually dips and injuries increase. Plus, just about every NFL offense worth its playbook has a change-of-pace runner who can slither through the line or catch passes on the perimeter.
Putting the ball in the hands of multiple skills players has been a hallmark of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who turned Darren Sproles into a rushing-receiving threat when he coached San Diego.
As the Vikings started minicamp Tuesday, their final series of organized practices before a five-week break before training camp, McKinnon was coming along nicely.
”What jumps out to me about him is he’s a quick learner,” running backs coach Kirby Wilson said. ”He retains the information and then he’s able to come out and execute it out on the field. So that’s impressive for a young guy.”
Wilson’s scouting of McKinnon supported the fondness developed by Spielman, coach Mike Zimmer and Turner. McKinnon had 17 games of 100 yards rushing or more at Georgia Southern, finishing his career with 3,899 yards rushing and 42 touchdowns, and Wilson saw every single one of those on video.
”He stood out to me as a guy who’s very quick, had a nice burst into the line of scrimmage, had a very good acceleration in and out of his cuts,” Wilson said. ”I thought he had a very good vision and instincts and change of direction, all of the things that indicate he could possibly be a good football player at this level.”
McKinnon was dubbed ”Jet” by a couple of his Eagles teammates, for an obvious reason. His official 4.41-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL scouting combine was the second-fastest among running backs.
”I think it’s a pretty cool name. Something that’s grown on me, from college,” McKinnon said.
Running the option in college has given him toughness between the tackles. Watching Peterson perform so far as a pro has provided him even more valuable experience.
”For a minute, it was unreal just to see him in practice and stuff like that,” McKinnon said. ”But the more I get to talk to him and the more I feel him out and the more I get some tips he really acts like a mentor toward me. So I just take what I can.”
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