Plenty of what-ifs surround the Minnesota Vikings running back position following Monday’s report of Dalvin Cook holding out from team activities until he receives a contract extension. If Cook were to sit out the whole season, his understudy Alexander Mattison would be the primary candidate to carry on the majority workload of the Vikings’ running game this season.
But beyond 2020, who could the Vikings bring in as the centerpiece of its zone-running offense?
Next year’s running back draft class is talented and deep, and the Vikings have shown they’re willing to spend early-round draft picks on the position in the past after drafting Cook in the second round in 2017 and Mattison in the third round in 2019.
One player in particular who’s been coined as “the next Adrian Peterson” out of high school could fall in the Vikings’ reach later in the draft — Alabama’s Najee Harris.
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Najee Harris: ‘The Next Adrian Peterson’
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranked Harris as the No. 30 player overall and No. 4 running back in the 2020 draft class. Harris decided to forgo this year’s draft and return to the Crimson Tide for his senior season.
He has drawn comparisons to future Vikings Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson for his aggressive, upright running style and has also shown elusiveness in his game.
Harris averaged 5.9 yards per carry in 2019, totaling 1,224 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Alabama expanded Harris’ role last season and as a pass-catcher and the junior secured 27 receptions for 304 yards and 7 TDs.
He shined as a do-it-all running back and became one of Alabama’s most deadly weapons, scoring on an average of every 12 touches he was given. For reference, LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who was the first running back drafted No. 32 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs this year found the end zone on every 16 touches in one of the most prolific offenses in college football history.
Harris is among the top three running backs listed in the 2021 draft class, meaning the Vikings could potentially spend a first-round pick elsewhere and still secure Harris or another running back in the later rounds.
If Harris fits the embodiment of thunder, Clemson’s Travis Etienne is surely the 2021 running back class’ lightning.
Etienne used his speed and athleticism in gashing opposing defenses as college football’s biggest home run threat. He’s averaged 7.8 yards per carry in his college career and tallied over 2,000 all-purpose yards and 23 touchdowns last season. There’s been speculation whether Etienne’s will find the same room to make plays at the next level, a similar argument struck with the best athletes of every draft class.
Etienne has remained the No. 1 pick across many prospective draft boards and was recently projected to finish as one of the best college football players ever by Pro Football Focus.
He was selected No. 24 overall, while Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard followed at No. 25 in SportingNews’ 2021 mock draft. Hubbard joined Barry Sanders as the only Cowboys running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a single season and has shown the patience to be an effective inside-runner in the NFL.
Harris was selected No. 45 overall in the same mock draft.
Follow Trevor Squire on Twitter: @trevordsquire