The Vikings spent a third-round pick on Alexander Mattison in the 2018 NFL draft just over a month after Latavius Murray left Minnesota for New Orleans and created a void on the roster for a reliable runner behind Dalvin Cook.
What they’ve received in Mattison’s first 18 NFL games might be even more than they expected: He’s become more than just a between-the-tackles alternative to Cook, functioning as a true complement to the Pro Bowl back and delivering big plays at a surprising rate.
Twenty-seven of Mattison’s 162 NFL touches have gained at least 10 yards; his percentage of touches to gain 10-plus yards compares favorably to that of Cook. He’s gaining 10-plus yards 16.6% of the time, compared to Cook’s 16.4 figure, albeit with a smaller workload than Cook’s 407 touches since the start of 2019.
“You’ve got Alex coming in, and you’ve got a 220-pound back coming downhill so fast,” the 210-pound Cook said Wednesday. “And once we come in the game together, you’ve got Dalvin coming in and I like my big runs. You’ve got him coming in, he’s trying to break his long runs, but he’s a load to tackle. It’s a different changeup. How we push each other coming off the field on the sidelines, it’s the unknown conversations that people don’t know about. When they brought him in, I think that was the greatest thing they did.”
As the Vikings look for their second win of the season Sunday at home against the Falcons, Mattison might be a central part of their game plan. Cook did not practice Wednesday because of the groin injury that took him out of last Sunday’s game against the Seahawks. While coach Mike Zimmer would not rule Cook out for the Falcons game, sources said Cook is expected to miss it so he can take advantage of the Vikings’ Week 7 bye week and get a two-week break.
That would leave Mattison in position to start for the first time in his career, after posting his first 100-yard game in the Vikings’ 27-26 loss to Seattle. After Cook strained his groin on the Vikings’ first offensive play of the third quarter, Mattison carried 18 times for 99 yards in the second half, finishing with 112 yards on 20 carries.
“Alex is a great back,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “I don’t feel there’s a lot of limitation there in terms of an area of the offense. He can obviously run the ball, he can pass protect, he can catch the football, he can run all the routes. He knows the game plans inside and out, so you are able to run your offense, and the same can be said of Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah. So having depth there is a great help.”
The one yard Mattison didn’t gain was the one that received the most attention, after he was stopped for no gain when Zimmer decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Seahawks’ 6 in an effort to gain a first down that would have allowed the Vikings to run out the clock with a 26-21 lead.
Zimmer said Monday he thought Mattison would have picked up the first down had he bounced outside, but Mattison wasn’t terribly interested in revisiting the play Wednesday.
“Those are things that you can’t really script; you just have to play the game of football,” Mattison said. “We just have to execute, I have to execute and the offense is going to go out there and do the best of our abilities to make sure we avoid situations like that, and go out and execute on all cylinders this upcoming Sunday.”
In the Falcons, the Vikings face an 0-5 team that just fired GM Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn after allowing at least 30 points in four of its first five games. Atlanta could exhibit a different mind-set this week with interim coach Raheem Morris, but the Vikings figure to have opportunities to move the ball against the Falcons’ defense at home.
If they need to do so by trusting Mattison on Sunday, they don’t have many reservations about it.
“He sees the field how I see the field, and it’s crazy when we come off the field how we see things so similar,” Cook said. “He’s just a bigger version [of me].”