The Minnesota Vikings running back room just got thinner.
Ty Chandler, a fifth-round rookie out of North Carolina who shined in the preseason and won a spot on the 53-man roster, suffered a thumb injury in Week 5 against the Chicago Bears.
Head coach Kevin O’Connell said “more than likely he’s going to be down weeks” but expressed a chance Chandler would not need to be placed on injured reserve.
However, on October 11, Chandler landed on the reserve list, per a team release, marking him unavailable for at least four weeks before he can be reactivated to the 53-man roster.
Chandler was a standout in the preseason, taking 15 carries for 113 rushing yards and a touchdown in three games. He showed potential as a receiving back especially but has been buried in a deep running back room.
Vikings Haven’t Used Their Diversity of RBs as Expected
Boasting a backfield with Cook and Mattison puts Minnesota among the league’s best running rooms. Mattison’s similar skillset allows the Vikings to employ the same run game as a close replacement for Cook.
“We actually take pride in trying to even get the announcers to say the wrong name after a run sometimes like they did [Sunday],” Mattison said in an October 10 Pioneer Press story. “I definitely think we both have our unique style that fits well and complements one another. One of the things that we pride ourselves on is not having any type of drop-off when either of us are in the game. … If I can come in there and run and it looks like him and feels like him, that’s pretty darn good, especially since I believe he’s the best in the league.”
But beyond the tandem are unique pieces that fans had hoped O’Connell would deploy more often.
Nwangwu earned special teams All-Pro honors after returning a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns his rookie year last season. One of the fastest backs in the league, Nwangwu has home-run potential every time he touches the ball.
Chandler, the smallest back in the running back room, shows potential to be a change-of-pace back, earning respect from Brian Baldinger during the preseason.
Stuck as special teams contributors, Neither Nwangwu nor Chandler saw a single rushing attempt through the season’s first five weeks — but both backs remain promising for the team’s future, especially with Mattison on the final year of his rookie deal.
Vikings Approaching Crossroads With Dalvin Cook
The Vikings rewarded Cook with a lucrative five-year, $63.0 million contract extension in 2020 after the former second-round pick emerged as one of the league’s best running backs.
But by the time many running backs reach the status of securing a second contract, they may already be past their prime.
Cook is coming up on the 1,500-carry milestone of his career, where most backs tend to fall off from their most efficient production.
“In the PFF era, there have been 27 seasons where a running back had at least 1,500 carries going into the season — only seven of those seasons resulted in positive RYOE [rushing yards over expected],” Pro Football Focus’ Tej Seth wrote in 2021. “The trendline is clear once a running backs gets that many carries — he usually shows signs of regressing.”
While Cook’s effectiveness may be approaching a downturn, his contract is about to hit a major upswing. Through the first two years of his current deal, Cook carried a $4.9 million cap hit.
But in the final four years of his contract, he carries an average cap hit of $14.0 million, per Over the Cap. Most of Cook’s guaranteed money has already hit his bank account at this stage in his career, opening a window where the Vikings could save $11 million on the cap next season by either cutting or trading Cook, who will be 28, after June 1.
Another option would be to restructure his contract.