EAGAN, Minn. -- For the last couple of years, Latavius Murray served admirably as the thunder of the Vikings backfield, lulling opposing defenses to sleep before Dalvin Cook hit with the lightning.
That dynamic duo of Cook and Murray, when at its apex, was one of the best in the league. It could hit opposing defenses from all angles, beating them with speed on the outside, or power up the middle.
“It’s a two-back league now,” Cook said earlier this offseason. “You see that around the league. You definitely need two backs to run the football. It would be selfish to say otherwise.”
That explains why the Vikings invested a third-round pick in last weekend’s draft on Alexander Mattison, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound back out of Boise State. It filled a major need after Murray signed with the New Orleans Saints this offseason.
“I like a lot of things about him,” coach Mike Zimmer said of Mattison. “He catches the ball well. He’s physical. He’s got a long, strong lower body. Most of the time when he made contact he was always falling forward. He’s a good prospect to work with.”
Looking at the rest of the competition in the backfield — Mike Boone, Roc Thomas, and Ameer Abdullah are the other running backs on the roster — Mattison appears to have the inside track at winning the backup job behind Cook.
“I can’t wait for the opportunity,” Mattison said, adding that he takes pride in being “that downhill, fast, physical back” in the offense. “I’m taking it day-by-day and working as hard as I can to get out there and prove that I can be one of those backs for this team.”
That started on Friday afternoon as Mattison and more than 50 other roster hopeful reported to rookie minicamp for a three-day crash course into the NFL lifestyle.
There’s reason to believe Mattison could be an immediate contributor in what’s sure to be a run-heavy offense next season. He played three years at Boise State and increased his workload every step of the way. His most recent campaigned featured 302 carries for 1,415 yards, and 17 touchdowns. He also caught 27 passes for 173 yards, proving his worth as a versatile player out of the backfield.
“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. We always said we were the legs of the team (with Boise State), so I just hope to be one of those (with the Vikings).”
As of Friday afternoon, Mattison still hadn’t spoken to Cook, though he said he’s looking forward to talking shop with him in the near future. After all, it’s now up to Mattison to be the thunder with Cook still serving as the lightning.
“I appreciate the way that the running backs are being used in the league now,” Mattison said. “It definitely is a way to make sure that backs are staying healthy so as much as I can contribute, I’m going to work and make sure that I can do that.”