After Dalvin Cook‘s departure from the Vikings, Alexander Mattison‘s fantasy football numbers could explode. Or could they?
It seems like forever since rumors of the end of Dalvin Cook’s tenure in Minnesota first surfaced early in the 2023 offseason, but here we are. It’s been multiple eternities since fantasy players began salivating over the potential of Mattison in a lead-back role.
And why not? The guy was a volume machine whenever he filled in for an injured Cook. In seven games starting and/or playing at least 48 percent of the snaps, he averaged 19.5 carries, 84 rushing yards, 3.7 catches, and 34 receiving yards, to go with five total touchdowns. Over a 17-game season, that prorates to 332 carries, 1430 rushing yards, 63 catches for another 583 yards, and 12 total scores. Per game, he scored 17.7 half-PPR points, which would have been good for the RB5 in 2022.
And lo, the Vikings re-signed him to a two-year, $7 million deal. Which could become $4 million if he surpasses 1,000 yards rushing in that particular season. What. A. Steal, for one of the NFL’s next top backs, right? I mean, how did the rest of the league look past this guy? They saw the same insane production we did, right?
HOW THE MONEY TALKS
Or, maybe it’s time to take a step back. Could 31 other NFL teams really be missing this? I mean, maybe it’s understandable that guys that just signed new deals like Miles Sanders ($6.98M) and David Montgomery ($6.25M) get paid more in 2023, but even guys like Jamaal Williams ($5M) and Samaje Perine ($4.5M)?
No, something’s not adding up here. Maybe Mattison took a discount, and I mean a dis-count, to return to Minnesota. Here’s what he recently said during OTA’s:
“I love it here, so that was part of it,” Mattison said. “But some other things on the business side and understanding how it’s all laid out, how it’s all going to work out – it’s the best fit.”
Doesn’t sound like a guy who thinks the Vikes got a steal. In fact, the aforementioned Montgomery was reported to be higher on the Vikings front office’s list and they just didn’t get him. Regardless, at least head coach Kevin O’Connell believes in Mattison’s three-down skills.
“It’s been really good to see Alex Mattison take a few more reps [this offseason] and really show that all three-down kinda ownership that he’s been capable of for a long time,” O’Connell told reporters at the end of May.
So, why do so many people, like SI.com’s Will Ragatz, feel that Mattison won’t just run away with the backfield?
“To be clear, Mattison won’t just step into the workhorse role Cook occupied during his Vikings tenure,” Ragatz said. “This will be somewhat of a committee situation, with 2022 fifth-round pick Ty Chandler likely to be the primary complement to Mattison. Chandler, who brings 4.38 speed and elite acceleration to the table, could be the lightning to Mattison’s thunder. Kick returner Kene Nwangwu also has an outside shot to be in the mix for carries.”
THE NEW FACE IN THE RB ROOM
It’s not just Chandler and Nwangwu that bring speed to the table. Though not as fast as those two, seventh-round rookie DeWayne McBride also enters the running back room with more speed than Mattison.
Coming in at 5′ 10″, 209 pounds, he may not have the size to be an every-down power back that he was able be at UAB (233 carries, 1713 yards, 19 TDs, 7.4 yards-per-carry in just 12 games). But he may not have to, with Ty Chandler looking at an opportunity to use his speed to take some work away from Mattison this season.
McBride’s seventh-round draft capital may be worrisome, but there’s reason to believe that what made him drop are issues that are realistically fixable. Fumbles, 11 in his last two seasons, are a clear factor as to why he dropped. Another is his utter lack of receiving work, with five catches over his three-year college career.
Still, draft analysts including NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein didn’t expect so much of a drop. Zierlein himself gave him a round 4 grade (same as Mattison). But not only analysts, the Vikings front office was also surprised he was still there in the seventh, with General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah helping quell concerns about McBride’s lack of receiving work.
“[Vikings running backs coach Curtis] Modkins has been doing this a long time and coached some really good ones, and he kind of knows what to look for in those limited opportunities when you get a chance,” Adofo-Mensah said. “And he is super connected with running back coaches, so we had some good intel that he’s got more pass game value than he showed.”
Combining McBride with Chandler, the Adofo-Mensah era in Minnesota just may be good at finding day-three running backs. ESPN’s Todd McShay called Chandler a starting running back coming out of the draft last year.
“I love this guy—one of my favorite players in the entire draft class,” McShay said on the live broadcast draft panel at the 2022 NFL draft. “I’m surprised he’s at pick five, and I would say congratulations, Minnesota, you’ve got a starting running back. But they’ve already got a pretty good one in Dalvin Cook. So, a great backup—let’s put it that way.”
Mattison’s contract may mean that he’s not taking up too much salary cap space for the Vikings front office to worry, but it also speaks to how necessary that Minnesota, and the rest of the NFL, see his skill set. This off-season proved that the league continues to view him not as a three-down back, but more as a very good three-down backup back. Because of that, we have to be ready for the scenario where even if he gets a lead role this season, it may only last this season.
Mattison jumped up to RB22 (+6 vs ECR) on The Wolf’s 2023 Fantasy Rankings after the Vikings released Cook.
Other people in your league may still view Mattison as Cook’s heir to the throne, making him a prime sell-high candidate. If you have him, see if anyone wants to trade like they’re getting an RB1 over the next two or three years.
Now to be fair, that outcome is still in Mattison’s range. The problem is, the range of outcomes over the next few years is so wide, and many other players’ futures more stable, that you have to consider the type of returns you may able to get.
That said, the floor of outcomes for Mattison makes McBride an optimal buy-low. Currently, Chandler is better poised to handle snaps alongside Mattison, and if Mattison’s time in a starting role lasts just one season, now is the time to grab McBride. If you wait until McBride sees the field, you’re too late.
With many rookie drafts in the books, it’s likely that McBride got drafted even before Cook’s departure was finally a reality. If there’s any chance he’s still a free agent in your league, find a way to add him.
Past the second round of rookie drafts begins the Land Of Dart Throws, so if by chance your league hasn’t had their rookie draft yet, I don’t think a third-round pick is too high to get him or to try and trade for him.
With our own Kendall Brown having just put up Mattison on the trade block in the RSJ Dynasty league, hopefully, no other Roto Street staffers are reading this.
To keep your mind churning and values fresh during the long, cold offseason, tune in to the RSJ Dynasty Dive, with myself and Emery Dinsmore, every Tuesday evening. And as always, check out our RSJ Dynasty Rankings.