Although sparingly used in the first-year install of Kevin O’Connell’s offense, Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham appears to have a future in Minnesota.
Ham was considered a cut candidate this offseason with the Vikings needing to clear over $24 million in cap space before the start of the league year on March 15. He played over a third of offensive snaps over the past three years before playing just 15% of snaps in 17 regular-season games under O’Connell last season.
Despite the downtick in usage, Ham appears to be safe from the chopping block, Star Tribune reporter Andrew Krammer reported.
“The Vikings intend on keeping C.J. Ham at fullback,” Krammer said on the Access Vikings podcast on March 6, adding the Vikings’ rationale was to get Ham more opportunities last season but trailing late in many games took away chances of chewing up the clock with the running game.
A native of Duluth, Minnesota, Ham went undrafted out of Augustana University and emerged as one of the league’s most talented fullbacks, earning Pro Bowl honors in 2019. He is on the books for $3.8 million next season and could be a bridge veteran leader with many others still suspect to be released before March 15.
Vikings Strayed From Plan to Use C.J. Ham, Dalvin Cook More in 2022
Krammer’s report adds up considering the Vikings have touted that they hope to have a more efficient running game.
KSTP’s Darren Wolfson reported in February that the Vikings had wanted to get Dalvin Cook more opportunities as well – however, the team falling behind and needing fourth-quarter comebacks seemingly every week put the running game on the back burner.
“In the exit interview with Dalvin, I’m led to believe they told him, ‘Hey, this wasn’t necessarily our plan to pass the ball as much as we did. There was some lost opportunities to get you the ball,” Wolfson said.
Wolfson added that general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, just weeks after being hired, touted at the 2022 combine that the Vikings would run the ball often. That didn’t pan out. Minnesota ranked 28th in rushing attempts and 27th in yards.
With Cook’s future in question, Ham could be a piece to a running back room by committee along with Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler. However, they still need a proven early-down back, especially with Alexander Mattison a pending free agent.
“I think what I like to do offensively absolutely fits with having a player like that for, really, two reasons,” O’Connell said in September 2022, per The Athletic. “C.J. can handle a lot. He’s really able to take much more on his plate than the traditional fullback: A.) Because he mentally can handle it, but then B.) he’s a dynamic player. To have the strength he has in the run game, the understanding to be able to do some unique run-game concepts with him and then ultimately use him as a weapon in the pass game.”
Vikings Run Game May Need Another Piece Through the Draft
If Adofo-Mensah’s reputation as an analytics-driven general manager aligns with his decision-making this season, Cook will not stay at his current price of $14.1 million.
The potential of Cook not being on the roster for next season is real, and in that event, the Vikings would need to find a replacement lead back with few carries remaining in the running back room.
A mid- to late-round pick is the ceiling Minnesota could spend on a running back in the draft. However, more importantly, the offensive line could use better play on the interior to make a slight step back in the running back room less of a detriment to the team.