Welcome to another Off-Season Target article for the Tennessee Titans, and because I work in real estate, we’re looking for the best value targets that should appreciate in value. This week’s target is Jerick McKinnon of the Vikings, a player I believe can be a good complimentary back to Derrick Henry.
I expect the team to release DeMarco Murray, which should open up a need for a running back behind Derrick Henry. Mike Vrabel mentioned incorporating some spread concepts into the offense, so a pass catching running back can be instrumental in it’s implementation. If you watched Oregon, Baylor, Ohio State run their spread offenses, you will see the running back going out for passes on a consistent basis because it’s a quick passing system. The running back out of the backfield is to act like a safety valve as the main purpose, but also to remove a linebacker or defender from the middle of the field. If a running back runs to the sidelines as the play starts, the defense has to send a defender to the outside to match the guy in the open field. However, this poses a problem because it still has one of the best runners on a team matched up with one defender in the open, which should favor the offense in case of a pass. On the other hand, a running back out of the backfield to the sidelines means defenders vacating the middle of the field. It works even better with mobile QBs because the defense has to account for the running back as well as the possibility for the QB to run.
Jerick McKinnon came out of Georgia Southern without much fanfare, but he blew up at the combine, and is considered a great athlete. He is a former QB, turned running back, and I think he’s just tapping into his potential. He hasn’t been great for the Vikings in terms of being a running back, although he did put up yards per carry of 4.8 and 5.2 in his first two years. The yards per carry numbers dipped to 3.4 and 3.8 the last two years. Part of the issue might be the offensive line and the QBs he played with.
2014: McKinnon’s rookie year coincided with Adrian Peterson’s issues with violence, which put McKinnon and Matt Asiata into the spotlight. McKinnon was their most productive runner in terms of yards per carry, but Asiata was a TD magnet (if you played fantasy football, you will remember him) with 10 overall touchdowns, while McKinnon didn’t get any. McKinnon had 4.8 yards per carry, while the team average was 4.4 yards per carry.
2015: The second year running back saw a spike in yards per carry to 5.2 yards, but with a rejuvenated Adrian Peterson (whom most fantasy players forgave his transgressions….right around pick No. 2), McKinnon was relegated to the backup role. He did start to show an ability to catch the football out of the backfield, which wasn’t considered a strength coming out of college. McKinnon averaged 5.2 yards per carry, while the team average was 4.7 yards per carry.
2016: Many folks expected a breakout from McKinnon in his third year, but it did not materialize, as he put up the lowest yards per carry of his career. Once again, the QB arm strength issue has to be raised because Sam Bradford doesn’t throw the ball quite well down the field. Unfortunately for him, the shoulder injury in college caused him to lose some zip on the ball. However, McKinnon did see a spike in catches, reeling in a career high 43 passes. McKinnon averaged 3.4 yards per carry, while the team average was 3.2 yards per carry.
2017: I had McKinnon as a possible sleeper up until the Vikings picked up Dalvin Cook, at which point he was relegated to the backup spot again. However, when Cook got hurt, McKinnon split time with Latavius Murray, and their production stats were somewhat similar. Murray averaged 3.9 yards per carry, while McKinnon averaged 3.8, although Murray had 5 more touchdowns. Nevertheless, McKinnon was by far the better receiving option, putting up a career high 51 catches. For perspective, Eric Decker was second in catches for the Titans this year, with 54 catches. McKinnon averaged 3.8 yards per carry, while the team average was 3.9 yards per carry.
McKinnon has shown an ability to fit the need for his team, going from a QB to a RB, and then from a straight runner to a pass catching threat. One stat that I like to see for young runners is yards per carry relative to the overall yards per carry of the team. McKinnon outpaced the Vikings overall yards per carry every year, except for last year, where he fell short by .1 yards per carry. He’s shown an impressive ability to catch the ball and run routes, which will only be enhanced in a more open system with a mobile QB like Marcus Mariota.
I mentioned his combine earlier, so let’s take a look at them:
40 Yard Dash: 4.41 (He placed second among running backs, right behind De’Anthony Thomas – who thrived with Mariota)
Vertical: 40.5 (Second among running backs, 5th overall)
Bench Press: 32 (First among RBs, tied for 10th overall. It’s more impressive because everyone ahead of him is a lineman or tight end. The next RB is at 42nd overall)
Broad jump: 132 (2nd among RBs, 3rd overall)
3 cone: 6.83 (3rd among RBs, 30th overall)
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.12 (3rd among RBs, 29th overall)
I think it’s safe to say he performed extremely well in terms of running backs. He’s been a very good athlete that is somewhat new to the running back position, showing excellent growth in terms of catching the ball. Scouting reports do say that he does run a bit upright, which is a negative because it raises your center of gravity (same concept as sports car and SUV), and harder to change directions quickly. Let’s go to the film room and see how he did against the Eagles in the playoffs.
On this play, we see McKinnon improvise and turn to the outside and make something out of a broken play. The Vikings bring Jarius Wright from the outside to the line of scrimmage, which essentially puts 8 men in the box. The Vikings block for McKinnon so he can run through the C gap, but Wright doesn’t fully block Malcolm Jenkins, which forces the running back outside. However, McKinnon is elusive enough to bounce outside, and then get around Ronald Darby to the sidelines. It’s a good running move, and shows a good ability to turn outside when necessary.
Here we have a short play, where he shows good vision at the line of scrimmage, and picks the right hole to run through. The defense has played it well, but even in retrospect you can see that McKinnon picked the best of a mediocre situation. He shows good strength to break through a tackle (even an incidental facemask) but does get tackled quickly. On a sad note, this short run tied the longest non-Mariota run for the Titans against the Patriots.
To be honest, I usually don’t like to break down screen passes, mainly because it’s the culmination of blocks by the offensive line. If the linemen don’t block properly, disengage in time, and get down the field, it usually doesn’t work. For QBs, it’s an easy throw and running backs are usually just following the big guys until he needs to make a move. Therefore, unless something special happens, I tend to skip over these plays in the breakdowns. However, McKinnon’s open field move on linebacker Mychal Kendricks is just a thing of beauty. I couldn’t keep it out of the article, sorry. As far as the play goes, it’s a screen pass set beautifully, and McKinnon makes a nice move in the open field and gets down the field.
This is a simple pass and catch, it lacks theatrics like the last play. However, I want you to notice the timing of this throw because Keenum releases this pass before McKinnon turns his head around to locate the pass. Too many times you will see running backs turn around early to locate passes because they aren’t used to running routes with the possibility of a pass. In this case, Keenum trusts his running back like a wide receiver and makes an anticipation throw, which McKinnon reels in for a short gain. He almost makes another move on Kendricks, but the defender gets him out of bounds this time. I think this play is a testament to how well incorporated McKinnon is in the passing game for the Vikings.
This play here epitomizes the effect of a pass catching running back, because it’s free yards. Notice the formation of the defense, because Corey Graham is tasked with covering McKinnon on this play, but he’s about 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. The Vikings have a tight end as well in that area, matched up with another defender, thus it’s a 2 on 2 matchup, with one player 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. If you factor in McKinnon standing about 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, that’s a 15-yard gap between him and his defender. The Vikings throw a quick pass to McKinnon and it’s all but guaranteed to go for 5 yards because of simple trigonometry. Graham can’t make up the distance without it being a positive gain, and the extra angle to the outside allows for more space. It takes a shoestring tackle to prevent this catch from turning into a sizeable gain. These are the types of passes that thrive in a spread concept because the safety has to defend the deep part of the field as well, which forces him to pick and choose his battles.
This is a delayed hand-off and the running back follows the hole for a large chunk of yards. The play is just blocked exceptionally well, but McKinnon does follow his blockers down the field, and shows some shiftiness. It’s a good run by him, although most of the credit should go to the blocking.
The Eagles try a bit of trickery here because they have safety Malcolm Jenkins lined up parallel to McKinnon, indicating that he’s covering him. However, they have a switch called with Jenkins blitzing through the C gap, while Derek Barnett covers the running back. McKinnon makes a swift move at the line of scrimmage to get inside leverage on Barnett and Keenum hits him for the pass down the field. If this pass is thrown more accurately, there is a chance for a bigger gain since McKinnon did have to reach back for the ball. This is another testament to the pass catching abilities of McKinnon because the ball is coming in-between linemen, which means he can’t see the ball until it’s past the linemen. Furthermore, the pass is thrown behind him, yet not only does he pick up the ball, but he makes a good catch. During the draft, while you watch various shows on sports networks, you will see a JUGS machine hidden behind some tackle dummies for draft prospects, especially receivers. They will have the receiver catch the pass from these machines, to test their reactions times because the players can’t see the ball until it’s past the tackling dummies. When it makes it onto the TV, every prospect will look great because if they don’t, their agents won’t approve it for the show, and you won’t know. However, it’s a great test to see receivers get used to tracking balls through a crowded line, especially if they are from spread systems with wide open passing lanes. In this instance, I believe McKinnon showed great reaction time to this throw, while facing a similar test.
This is the safety valve play I was talking about earlier, because the QB is about to be sacked, so he just throws it to the running back for a few yards. At this point, the game is all but over for the Vikings, hence the relaxed defense from the Eagles. However, I just wanted to highlight how McKinnon acts as a safety value to prevent a sack here.
I don’t believe McKinnon is going to turn into a stud running back, but I think he will be an excellent option as the No. 2 running back to Derrick Henry. A pass catching running back paired with a mobile QB is a nightmare for defensive coordinators, and it should open up lanes for other receivers. I think he reminds me of a starter home, great for the right fit, and it can pay huge dividends with some love and care. Ok, Ok, I’m sorry, I can’t help myself sometimes.
He should be a very good fit with the Titans as the No. 2 back, and receiving option for Marcus Mariota. I don’t think he’s going to get a No. 1 job around the league, so signing with the Titans should be attractive in terms of roster fit. The contract shouldn’t be too excessive, and it’s my assumption that he gets more than the 2 year, $3.5 million deal Alfred Morris signed with the Cowboys, but less than the 3 year, $15 million signed by Latavius Murray with the Vikings. My best guess would be a 2 year deal in the $8-9 million range.
Thanks for checking out another off-season target article, please visit us often. This site has just started, so I can’t post daily because I still need to work, but I will update it about once or twice a week at least. I have some more targets in mind, but I would love to hear some suggestions. I tend to write about players that might be under-rated because I think everyone can agree that say Le’Veon Bell is a great.
- Would you sign McKinnon for the Titans? Why/Why not?
- What do you think his contract will look like?
Primarily, I work as a real estate agent at Keller Williams Realty in Franklin, Tennessee. I’ve lived in Nashville for almost a decade now, and my love for the city only grows deeper, like a 440 pothole. I follow the Titans closely, so I enjoy writing about the team and breaking down film. However, my main job consists of being a real estate agent, therefore if you need any kind of help with the sale/purchase of a home, I’d be happy to help you through the process. If you just want to talk about real estate, feel free to email me as well. I write a real estate blog as well, which I’ll leave a link to at the bottom of this section (as well as a few other places on the website) so please check it out.
Keller Williams Realty
9175 Carothers Parkway,
Franklin, TN 37067
Office: 615 – 778 – 1818
Fax: 615 – 778 – 8898
Mobile: 347 -249 -8442
License Number: 342828