Vikings hope rookie Alexander Mattison can be next Latavius Murray

Third-round draft pick Alexander Mattison should help spell lead back Dalvin Cook. Jim Mone/AP Photo

EAGAN, Minn. -- This feels like the first normal offseason in a while for Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Instead of coming down from draft preparations or rehabbing from injury, Cook has been able to work on the on-field skills that make him a dynamic threat.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Vikings have continued to build their backfield around the third-year rusher by adding versatile pieces that complement Cook's skill set.

While offenses with featured backs who bare heavy workloads are common, two-back systems are becoming more prevalent across the NFL -- the benefit of which is not lost on Cook.

"You definitely want two backs to run the football," Cook said. "It would be selfish to say you didn't. ... You see it around the league, when you have two guys that can run the football real good, your offense is productive because there's not a drop off."

That philosophy is what led the Vikings to select Alexander Mattison late in the third round of the 2019 draft. What coaches and scouts saw in the Boise State product conjured memories of Latavius Murray’s contributions the past two seasons.

Minnesota put a high priority on finding Murray's replacement after he signed with New Orleans in free agency. Mattison, a 5-foot-11, 221-pound bulldozer, not only resembles Murray in stature (he forced the third-most missed tackles of any back in the draft-eligible FBS in 2018, per Pro Football Focus) but in the way his downhill rushing style fits combined with Cook.

"We watched all the tape on him, and it seems like the more carries he gets, the more work he gets, the more he gets lathered up," general manager Rick Spielman said. "To have that type of one-two punch along with the current backs we also have, we're going to have a pretty good stable of running backs."

Murray generated 4.1 yards per carry on 8.8 rushing attempts per game in 2018 for the Vikings. His best production was the byproduct of increased opportunities. Each of his six rushing touchdowns came when he notched double-digit carries.

Mattison left Boise State early after averaging 4.7 yards per rush during his junior season and 30 carries a game during his final five games in 2018. While there's little doubt that Cook will be the focal point of Minnesota's run game, Mattison's workhorse tendencies were traits the Vikings sought.

"That's always important," coach Mike Zimmer said. "The stamina, whatever position it is, is very important as far as being able to stay healthy and be on the field and be available."

The injuries Cook sustained in each of the past two seasons made way for Murray to assume a lead-back role in his absence. Having Murray, whom the Vikings signed as a free agent months before they traded up to draft Cook two years ago, allowed for sustainability in the run game.

Though their styles differed, their production didn't. Despite missing five weeks while rehabbing from a hamstring injury, Cook finished the 2018 season with 615 rushing yards (4.6 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Murray, in turn, had 578 rushing yards, averaging 4.4 yards per touch.

Paired with Cook's elusiveness and speed, Mattison not only hopes to contribute with his between-the-tackles style but add an element in the passing game.

"I'm valuable in the pass game both in pass protection and catching out of the backfield," Mattison said. "I just hope to get out there and prove that and hopefully we can work our way into the offensive system where me and Dalvin and the backs -- the whole offense can surround the running backs. In Boise we always said we're the legs of the team so I just hope to be one of those."

With an emphasis on becoming a more effective rushing offense after finishing 30th in attempts and falling just below 94 yards per game, the Vikings believe their different styles of backs will flourish within a zone running scheme. Behind Cook and Mattison, Minnesota can use OTAs and training camp to round out its stable by finding who, between Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone or Roc Thomas, provides the team the best option as a change-of-pace back.