Several new names will highlight the Minnesota Vikings roster this season, though production isn’t predicted to drop off significantly despite the stars the team is replacing.
There is, perhaps, no better example of this scenario than running back Alexander Mattison, who will step into a starting role after four seasons backing up Dalvin Cook. Cook earned Pro-Bowl honors in each of the four years Mattison played behind him, and in head coach Kevin O’Connell’s high-powered offense, Mattison has the chance to pick up precisely where his predecessor left off.
“To this point in his career, Mattison has served as Cook’s backup and as an occasional spot starter,” Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report wrote on Monday, July 17. “Now, Mattison will get a chance to show what he can do as a true featured back.”
While it is impossible to predict Mattison’s exact output as he takes the reins in the Vikings’ backfield, extrapolating out his most recent numbers as a starter in place of Cook points at good things to come.
“In four starts during the 2021 season, Mattison averaged 89 rushing yards and 41 receiving yards while scoring three combined touchdowns,” Knox continued. “If he can produce at a similar rate this year, Mattison will have a realistic shot at a Pro-Bowl nod.”
RB Alexander Mattison Offers Vikings Younger, Healthier Alternative to Dalvin Cook
Mattison, a third-round pick of the Vikings out of Boise State in the 2019 NFL Draft, offers several things that Cook no longer can.
The first, and most important, is affordability. Mattison is under contract for the next two seasons for a total of $7 million. Cook’s contract with the Vikings would have cost the team more than double that number this year alone ($14.1 million against the salary cap in 2023) and carried with it two more financially onerous seasons to come.
That deal is now history, and Cook remains a free agent with training camp just around the corner because no team is willing to pay his asking price — which is presumably similar to, if not significantly less than, what Minnesota would have been forced to pony up to keep him on the roster.
Second, Mattison doesn’t have the kind of injury history that Cook does. Cook had one of his shoulders surgically repaired during the offseason and has appeared in more than 14 regular season games only once across his six-year professional career.
Finally, the tread on Mattison’s tires is less significant. Cook has played in 73 regular season contests, starting 72, while Mattison has 59 appearances and six starts to his name. Mattison will play the upcoming season at 25 years old, while Cook will play this year at 28 years of age.
Alexander Mattison’s Career Averages, Price Equate to Better Value for Vikings When Compared to Dalvin Cook
It is difficult to judge Mattison based on counting statistics alone due to the fact that he has been a backup his entire career. As such, averages and extrapolations are necessary to get a handle on the type of player Vikings fans can expect Mattison to be.
Over the course of his career, Mattison has carried the ball 404 times and averaged 4.1 yards per attempt — a quality number over a significant sample size. He has gained a total of 1,670 yards on the ground and scored 11 touchdowns over that span, per Pro Football Reference.
Vikings QBs, almost exclusively Kirk Cousins, have targeted Mattison 84 times in the passing game over the past four seasons. The running back has caught 70 of the balls thrown his way, gaining 526 yards (7.5 yards per reception) and scoring three touchdowns.
In O’Connell’s first year as the Vikings head coach in 2022, Cook rushed the ball 264 times and caught 39 passes on 56 targets. If Mattison gets the exact same run in 2023, based on his career rushing average he will produce 1,083 yards on the ground. He will also catch eight more passes than did Cook based on catch percentage rates from 2022, on his way to amassing 352 receiving yards.
Under those projections, Mattison will produce a total of 1,435 yards from scrimmage in 2023 compared to the 1,468 Cook gained last season, and he will do so at 25% of the cost. In that scenario, Mattison has a legitimate shot to make a Pro Bowl in his first year as an NFL starter while offering the Vikings a massive upgrade in on-field value when compared to his highly successful predecessor.