Running back Adrian Peterson devoured most of the workload last season, leaving few scraps for backups Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata.
While rushing for an NFL-best 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015, Peterson didn’t just lead the league in carries. His 327 carries were 49 more than the next guy, Doug Martin. And he was the first 30-something since Thomas Jones in 2009 to get more than 300 carries in a season.
Should we expect Peterson to hog the ball again in 2016?
“I think he can still handle the same role he’s had,” coach Mike Zimmer said last week. “I think we have to do a better job of continuing trying to get him more space to run so he’s not running into a hundred guys all the time. But I do feel good about McKinnon’s role and being able to take some plays off him because he’s good and also Asiata if we get him back.”
Asiata is an unrestricted free agent but the Vikings seem receptive to bringing him back. He is the team’s best backfield pass protector, a reliable goal-line runner and brings value on special teams.
McKinnon, meanwhile, is coming off a strong finish to 2015 and should be in line for a bigger role. In the Week 15 win over the Bears, he caught four passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. The following week, in a runaway win over the Giants, he rushed for 89 yards and two scores.
The Vikings refreshingly got creative with McKinnon, too, lining him up as a receiver and giving the dynamic athlete some carries on jet sweeps.
We should see more of that next year after McKinnon opened up some eyes late in 2015. It will be a balancing act for the Vikings, though, deciding when to use Peterson, McKinnon or both simultaneously.
“He loves to ball and he’s a great kid, always has a smile on his face,” Zimmer said. “I do think we can find a lot more things for him to do and can continue to use his athletic ability and get him in some open spaces that allow him to continue to showcase his ability.”
The possibility of that should get Vikings fans excited. But Peterson, even at 31, is going to remain the bell-cow back as long as he is healthy.