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Alexander Mattison

Can Mattison fill the Dalvin Cook void?

The Vikings, it seems, are going through with their scheme to move Alexander Mattison into the starting lineup. He’s not as good as Dalvin Cook, but he’s cheaper, with the hope being that will allow the team to be better overall. Or is this just a crazy idea?

Mattison doesn’t have the same kind of speed or elusiveness. In each of the last three years, he’s averaged at least a half yard less per carry than Cook. Mattison was a late third-round pick back in 2019 (selected with a comp pick after the end of the actual round) and hasn’t done anything to suggest he should have been picked earlier. He ran a 4.67 at the combine that year.

Mattison has had some opportunities; 14 times he’s had double-digit carries in games. He’s run for 960 yards and 6 TDs in those games, at 4.3 per clip – not terrible – along with 31 catches for 267 yards and 2 TDs.

Five times in those games, Mattison ran for 70-plus yards. Three of those games were against pretty awful Detroit defenses, and the other two were against the Seahawks (with one of those Seattle defenses really struggling against the run at the time). To me, he doesn’t look like a good back who’s simply been stuck behind a big-time player.

MATTISON WITH DOUBLE-DIGIT CARRIES
YearOppResultAttRunAvgTDReceiving
2019Oak.W 34-1412584.810-0-0
2019Phil.W 38-2014634.500-0-0
2019Was.W 19-913614.702-3-0
2019Det.W 20-714463.302-18-0
2020at Sea.L 26-27201125.603-24-0
2020Atl.L 23-4010262.601-4-0
2020Det.W 34-2012695.800-0-0
2020at Det.W 37-3521954.513-50-1
2021Sea.W 30-17261124.306-59-0
2021Clev.L 7-1410202.000-0-0
2021Det.W 19-17251134.507-40-1
2021at Det.L 27-2922904.113-34-0
2021LARL 23-3013413.213-29-0
2022at Chi.W 29-1310545.421-6-0

Mattison signed a new contract in the offseason, part of the maneuvering that involved him being promoted to the starting lineup. He says he’s fired up for the chance to play more.

"For me, it's a great opportunity to step into the role, the limelight and the position I've always dreamt of being in,” Mattison said in a recent article posted last week in the Star Tribune. “All the work I've put in to this point, all the work following in [Cook's] footsteps, side by side, challenging each other every day, prepared me for a moment like this where I can have the opportunity to seize what's in front of me."

To me, Mattison looks iffy enough that I wonder if the Vikings at some point will need to rotate in another back. Ty Chandler looked pretty good in the preseason last year, and they used another late-round pick in April on another Chandler-type back – DeWayne McBride. They also have Kene Nwangwu, who’s returned 3 kickoffs for touchdowns in the last two years. Nwangwu at Iowa State was stuck behind Breece Hall.

Ultimately, for Mattison to pay off (for him to be a successful pick in fantasy leagues) he’s going to need to put up top-20 numbers after not being much of a factor in his first four seasons. That’s a feat that not many others have pulled off. Playing around with the numbers some, I see only 22 other running backs in the 32-team era (about one per year) who’ve posted top-20 numbers for the first time after their first four seasons.

In the chart below, the final two columns show the player’s rank using PPR scoring (first their rank in that season – a top-20 number – and finally their highest rank in their previous seasons).

LATE-BLOOMING RUNNING BACKS (since 2002)
YearPlayerYrRunRecTotTDPPRRkPrev
2003Moe Williams, Min.87456441,3898251.91229
2004Thomas Jones, Chi.59484271,3757235.51237
2005LaMont Jordan, Oak.51,0255631,58811296.8647
2006Ladell Betts, Was.51,1544451,5995242.91058
2006Chester Taylor, Min.51,2162881,5046228.41432
2007Earnest Graham, T.B.58983241,22210231.210127
2007Kenny Watson, Cin.57633741,1377207.71439
2008Michael Turner, Atl.51,699411,74017282.0458
2008Derrick Ward, NYG51,0253841,4092193.92039
2009Cedric Benson, Cin.51,2511111,3626189.22043
2011Darren Sproles, N.O.76037101,31310277.3525
2013Danny Woodhead, S.D.54296051,0348227.41224
2014Justin Forsett, Balt.71,2662631,5298246.9828
2015Chris Ivory, NYJ61,0702171,2878206.71124
2016Bilal Powell, NYJ67223881,1105199.01734
2016LeGarrette Blount, N.E.71,161381,19918234.9933
2017Dion Lewis, N.E.78962141,11010203.01343
2018James White, N.E.54257511,17612276.6726
2020J.D. McKissic, Was.53655899543193.41749
2020Mike Davis, Car.66423731,0158208.51236
2021Cordarrelle Patterson, Atl.96185481,16611234.610WR
2022Jamaal Williams, Det.61,066731,13917229.91234
2023Alexander Mattison, Min.5??????37

—Ian Allan

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