Minnesota used the 102nd pick on Alexander Mattison, the 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back from Boise State. It was a somewhat surprising selection given other priorities the Vikings needed to address in the early rounds. Plus, why did the Vikings need a three-down back when they already had Dalvin Cook?
“What we’re looking for in that particular case with Alexander … we’re looking for another bell cow,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. “You know that you have Dalvin, but you’re looking for a guy that can carry the load.”
Even though Cook was healthy entering the 2019 season after a hamstring issue caused him to miss five games the previous year, the Vikings chose to plan ahead in the event another injury hampered their star running back.
That foresight has paid off throughout Mattison’s three-year career, none more critical than Sunday, when the Vikings got their first win of the 2021 season. Mattison filled in for Cook, who was sidelined with an ankle injury, and helped lead the Vikings to a 30-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Mattison tied a career high with 112 yards rushing on 26 carries and had career-highs in catches (six) and receiving yards (59).
He was every bit the lead running back Minnesota needed him to be, and it allowed the Vikings to achieve offensive balance in one of their best performances of the Zimmer era.
“Alex impressed me two years ago as a rookie when he came in -- how well he caught the ball, mentally how well he handled all the protections and running the routes,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said after the win. “I was impressed with the way he runs after contact. He really brings his pads and runs with a lot of forward body lean. It makes him tough to bring down and it makes him a violent ball carrier, which I love to see.”
Mattison found out “a little sooner” than most he would be starting in place of Cook. That gave him time to prepare his body for a starter’s workload, which included taking all the first-team reps in practice for three straight days before getting 32 touches against the Seahawks.
In the second 100-yard rushing game of his career, Mattison put his stamina to work by racking up a career-best 46 yards rushing yards after contact. He ripped off three runs of 10-plus yards and helped the offense maintain 22 minutes and 40 seconds of possession in the second half. It was Mattison's coming-out party as he proved the Vikings can maintain the same approach in the run game they have with Cook.
“Dalvin is a special running back, and Alex is too, but it’s kind of just the next man up mentality,” center Garrett Bradbury said. “It’s what you have to have in the NFL, because it is a 17-game regular season. He definitely has that mentality, and he’s been waiting for that. It was fun to see him shine.”
It’s unclear whether Cook will be ready to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns (1 p.m. ET, CBS), a team with the fifth-best rushing defense (67.0 yards/game), or whether the Vikings believe he could benefit from more time off.
If it’s the latter, the Vikings can feel confident rolling with Mattison.
“[Cook] knew I was ready for the opportunity, and he told me just go run with it,” Mattison said. “He’s with me every step of the way. I come to the sideline, get some advice from him if he saw something. Most of the time though, he’s telling me I was doing exactly what he would do, so that just made me proud to kind of be that little brother in a sense where I’m just there and trying to learn from him, and it prepared me for this moment. Being behind him these past couple years, it’s been a huge blessing for me and my game.”