With no Peterson, rookie McKinnon could see increased role

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The Vikings may have to look to a rookie running back, who two years ago wasn't really a running back, to fill the gaping "explosive play" void created with the self-inflicted loss of Adrian Peterson.

Jerick McKinnon, a third-round draft pick out of Georgia Southern, is a freak athlete.

The5-foot-9, 208-pound McKinnon finished college with 3,899 rush yards on 619 attempts (6.3 yards per carry), with 42 rushing touchdowns; plus 829 yards passing with 12 touchdowns and two picks.

And his SPARQ score – a Nike-developed measurement that looks at Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness – is borderline off the charts, as Rotoworld noted earlier this month.

(Note: His exact SPARQ score isn't known, as Nike doesn't provide the formula. But the author looked at data sets to reverse engineer the formula, and come up with very close numbers.)

Wrote Rotoworld's Zach Witman:

An average NFL skill position player will ring in at around a 110 pSPARQ, a good athlete at 120, and very good at 130. Elite is about 140, and the 150+ range is reserved for Calvin Johnson, Vernon Davis, and a select few others. McKinnon’s 147.5 is one of the top scores among all running backs over the last 16 years.

The Daily Norseman looked at his combine performance, compared to other running backs, and found McKinnon scored in the top percentile in nearly every athletic category. Take a look:

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That kind of explosiveness can translate to big play potential in the NFL. Something the Vikings will be missing with the loss of Peterson, a threat to score every time he touched the ball.

"He’s done a tremendous job of just learning the offense and then he’s also shown explosiveness throughout the preseason," Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Thursday of McKinnon. "He’s a guy that is going to have to step up and we’re going to have to count on him to be a guy that plays a role as we move forward."

Head Coach Mike Zimmer said this week McKinnon is "a good weapon" and he's excited to see the rookie out on the field.

Of course, being athletic doesn't guarantee success.

Through his first three years, McKinnon saw playing time at quarterback, slotback, fullback, defensive back and kick returner. He mainly ran the read-option from the quarterback spot in his junior year, then as a senior handled the bulk of the running back duties.

He was not asked to run between the tackles however, and in their draft profile CBS Sports called McKinnon "very raw as he possesses virtually no experience as a traditional running back."

Matt Asiata, who filled the starting role last week with a 13-attempt, 36-yard performance, will likely get plenty of carries again Sunday against the Saints. But while the 27-year-old is familiar with the traditional play of a running back, he appears to lack the dynamic potential McKinnon displayed in college.

And the raw rookie wasn't shut out against the Pats: He got 23 snaps in Week 2, while Asiata saw 47, Yahoo! Sports notes.

That could very well be flipping soon. Especially if McKinnon shows the penchant for big plays his athletic ability indicates he could have.

Vikings sign wide receiver

With Peterson no longer on the roster, the Vikings had an open roster spot – and were down a wide receiver after the release of Jerome Simpson. The team filled it Saturday with wide receiver Charles Johnson, signed off the Cleveland Browns' practice squad.

Johnson, 6 feet 2 inches tall and 216 pounds, was a seventh-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2013. Cleveland signed him off the Packers' practice squad that year, but then discovered he had a torn ACL. Johnson missed the entire season, but appeared in all four of the Browns' 2014 preseason games compiling 65 receiving yards.

Turner was Cleveland's offensive coordinator last year.

NFL.com notes the Vikings now have three wide receivers on the roster who have caught an NFL pass: Greg Jennings, Cordarelle Patterson and Jarius Wright. Johnson, Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith have zero regular season NFL catches.

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