The Vikings offense isn’t precluded from adding a running back in this month’s NFL Draft after signing Latavius Murray to a three-yer deal in free agency.
General Manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer will continue to get closer looks at certain running backs this week during the team’s annual ‘Top 30′ event, when the bulk of the Vikings’ official pre-draft visits take place.
Running backs Alvin Kamara (Tennessee) and Kareem Hunt (Toledo) will be among the prospects visiting Winter Park on Tuesday and/or Wednesday, league sources confirmed to the Star Tribune. KSTP first reported both scheduled visits.
Kamara, who ran for 1,931 yards in 23 games at Tennessee, is planning on a Wednesday visit to Winter Park with a departure set for the same day. Kamara is visiting the Panthers on Monday with more visits scheduled this week, a source said. The Vikings also have a close eye on former BYU running back Jamaal Williams, according to a league source.
Turning around the NFL’s worst rushing attack from last season remains a top priority for Zimmer and the Vikings. Murray, who ran for 12 touchdowns last season in Oakland, underwent surgery to clean up his ankle shortly after signing last month.
“I believe obviously we have to run the ball a lot better,” Zimmer said during NFL owners meetings last week. “We weren’t very good in the red zone. One of the studies that we did on both sides of the ball, if a team converts a third-down conversion inside the red zone, they usually score a touchdown, whether against us or for us. So we’re going to work really hard on that area inside the five-yard line. We’re going to really work that side of the ball.”
The Vikings’ current depth chart at running back reads Murray, Jerick McKinnon, C.J. Ham and Bishop Sankey. The addition of Murray means the Vikings have more pressing needs than running back, but the backfield picture likely remains incomplete.
“[Murray] is a good back that can help in the run, in the pass game and in protection,” Zimmer said. “I think McKinnon will still get a lot of carries and we’ll go from there.’’
As our Matt Vensel from the NFL Scouting Combine in February noted, the Vikings approach a deep and diverse draft class for running backs. There will be many playing styles from which to choose.
Kamara, one of the nation’s top 2013 college recruits, had one forgettable year at Alabama plagued by a knee injury, a bowl suspension and later a traffic arrest in his Georgia hometown. Kamara (5-10, 214 pounds) left the program and turned one year at Hutchinson Community College into two productive seasons back in the SEC at Tennessee.
The Vikings also eye two college feature backs in Hunt (5-10, 216 pounds) and Williams (6-0, 212 pounds). Both ended their college careers at Toledo and BYU, respectively, on high notes. Hunt paired 41 catches with 1,475 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Williams ran for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing three games due to an ankle injury.
Just below the top of the 2017 running back class is a selection of projected mid-round picks also including D’Onta Foreman (Texas), Joe Mixon (Oklahoma), Wayne Gallman (Clemson), Brian Hill (Wyoming) and Samaje Perine (Oklahoma).
The Vikings could also find value from potential diamonds in the rough like former Ole Miss back I’Tavius Mathers, who played his senior season for Middle Tennessee. Mathers (5-11, 203 pounds) was not invited to the combine, but ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day last month.