Being that I will be at NFL Training Camps nearly every day, I want to take a few moments each day to break down a new player or two that I am relatively unfamiliar with (i.e. a guy that I haven’t worked with before). So in addition to the time that I am spending there analyzing my own players I am going to put out some content including insight regarding what types of things I am see popping out at first glance with some of these other guys.
It should be noted that most of the time I would extensively dissect player’s movement during game analysis which would include frame-by-frame breakdown to truly get an idea of what’s happening when he moves. Thus, I am going to likely miss a lot with these very brief evaluations based on my visual analysis of the guy playing live. Obviously, with the extent of detail that I usually go into with analysis of a player’s strengths and weaknesses, if I was doing this in preparation for working with the guy I would take the time to watch an extensive amount of game-film to see him play in multiple situations. This will be a limitation during camp practices as there are only so many plays that you get a chance to see from each guy.
Player: Jerick McKinnon
Years in the League: Rookie
From the opening of training camps, I have spent each day in Mankato, MN for the Minnesota Vikings camp. Each year, the analysis that I do on guys of this team becomes harder & harder with the good number of fellas on this roster I have some sort of connection or past relationship with; so I don’t want that to add any bias to these evaluations and because of that I will likely stick with rookies for my analysis reports this year.
Luckily, they have a number of very interesting & intriguing rookies for me to watch. The first that comes to the minds of many is likely new QB, Teddy Bridgewater. The second would probably be Anthony Barr (I will get to him later this camp). But anyone who knows me can likely guess where my mind goes immediately with this rookie class…the running back position…and that leads us to the dynamic & diverse speedster out of Georgia Southern, Jerick McKinnon.
When McKinnon was drafted in the 3rd round, he was relatively unknown to most. In fact, when his name was announced many of my players immediately text me and said, “Shawn, what do you know about this running back?” Side note: Is my obsession with RBs really that creepy that I would know a lot about a RB who wasn’t a full-time RB throughout his years in college?! Side note answer: Yes, it sadly is…but I digress. The thing is; I did know a little bit about him and I will tell you what I told those players and a little more after getting to see him in action a bit.
Many people will throw out the ‘bigger’ name RBs in the 2014 class when discussing the potential of the given backs in the draft…Bishop Sankey, Carlos Hyde, Jeremy Hill, etc. Shoot; some may even look at Kent State’s Dri Archer as the ‘top performer’ of the class simply because of his combine-best 40 time. But I don’t think it’s a stretch of any sort to say that Jerick McKinnon was the top RB performer of the Combine…and not by a little bit…by A LOT! Though a little on the smallish side for some General Manager’s liking, his freak athletic ability was on display in Indy in every drill and he immediately leapfrogged himself up some draft boards of those GMs who not only covet that physical tangible prowess, but also who could envision being able to fully utilize it on a field on Sunday. McKinnon gives any of those guys mentioned above a run for their money in the athleticism department…now he just needs to be able to focus his attention on one position for awhile to get some on-field mastery down (which he has never had the chance to do).
After he was drafted, I went back and looked at a little bit of his film from Georgia Southern (at least enough so I could make at least an accurate base assessment to my current Vikes when they asked me about him). The first thing that popped out is that as a playmaker he is very comfortable moving fast and making decisions while in both a lot of space and when only presented with a little (option QB play helped this). He did seem to run a tad high for my liking when moving from one plane to the next and I would like to see a guy have the ability to plant harder with his outside foot to be able to move at sharper angles with more efficient body positions. His inside foot (such as in speed, crossover, or lunge cutting) is rapid and powerful though and pops him out of most plants & cuts quickly (but I would still tweak it if I was working with him). That said his acceleration from 1st to 2nd gear really did shine through regardless. He’s got very crisp linear movement mechanics and he gets moving in a hurry.
After watching him for 4 days live & relatively up close, I have some seen flashes of the above but also some hiccups (which are to be expected 4 days into the new job). When he gets to put the pedal to the floor he does have supreme NFL speed and more importantly linear burst & explosiveness. Right now, as is the case for most rookies, it’s easy to see that he is still thinking about a lot that is going on around him. This reality becomes a greater requirement because he is in an offense which hasn’t been the easiest for even some of my veterans on the team to grasp onto. Thus, at the moment, you can sometimes see his hesitancy and this is masking some of his tools that he brings to be the table a bit. However, I do think that once he ‘gets it’, he has the potential to be nasty. Some see him as a change of pace type back, however, once the technical execution (the movement nuances of being an NFL RB) and the tactical understanding (the strategy being employed) get to meet his already existing physical prowess (those tools displayed at the combine and in the past) he can be a nasty game changing back.
In order for that to happen (become a Sunday playmaker), he will need to add a few more movement strategies to his toolbox to make people miss in short/tight spaces. Watching him do individual drills (and the limited live time) I think this lies in his ability to learn ways to shift his bodyweight/center of mass rapidly from side-to-side to attain sharper angles while utilizing a wider base of support that his height allows (think of guys like Barry Sanders or Shady McCoy here)…this is a quality he doesn’t seem to currently have. Some of the drills that RBs do daily can help develop this but he needs to practice them more precisely with that emphasis. Sometimes having a top-flight veteran can really help players grow quickly but he has to be careful to not try and emulate AD28…they are built drastically different and should have different movement strategies that they employ to get a similar job done.
In addition, he has seemed to struggle on the daily a bit with blocking (which is huge in this offense due to the RB’s role in so many aspects of the game)…but this is to be expected with the jump from Saturday-type playing to Sunday as well as when he has had to be so versatile playing multiple positions his entire career. He sometimes is late to his spot (due to reading & recognizing) and is a little high when he gets there but both of these things are definitely fixable with time though they could limit his playing time early in the ’14 season.
Overall, I am excited to see how McKinnon matures and his game evolves not only this season but into the future. He is truly my type of back with potential to reach some of the upper limits of RB play in the NFL.