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Leading into the NFL Draft starting Thursday, April 25th, the Star Tribune will assess the Vikings roster, draft history and college prospects during this eight-part series.

Need No. 8: Quarterbacks
No. 7: Running backs

Dalvin Cook is a critical factor in the Vikings’ latest bid to revive the offense. Really, a breakout season is needed. After two injury-marred seasons, expectations remain sky high for the explosive running back who should benefit greatly from the Vikings’ pivot to a more balanced approach within a Gary Kubiak-influenced offense. His health, of course, will be paramount. Cook, who turns 24 in August, has missed 19 of 34 games since he was drafted by the Vikings due to ACL and hamstring injuries.

So, a solid insurance policy (or two) is key. The Vikings have unrefined talent at the position in Mike Boone and Roc Thomas, both entering their second seasons.  Thomas is due in Dakota County court May 1 on a felony charge of marijuana possession, and is subject to the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Level of need
No. 7. The Vikings did lose Latavius Murray, the key backup who played 44 percent and 38 percent of snaps the past two seasons, to the Saints in free agency. But it was the only hit to their depth. They really like both last year’s rookies, Mike Boone and Roc Thomas, and re-signed Ameer Abdullah for depth and special teams help. Like quarterback, running back isn’t a spot where general manager Rick Spielman spends many mid- or late-round picks. With no running backs signed beyond 2020, could Spielman be enticed to break his tendencies?

Contract years
Dalvin Cook (2020)
C.J. Ham (2019)
Ameer Abdullah (2019)
Mike Boone (2020)
Roc Thomas (2020)

Draft history
Dalvin Cook (2017, 41st overall)
Jerick McKinnon (2014, 96th overall)
Toby Gerhart (2010, 51st overall)
Adrian Peterson (2007, 7th overall)
Ciatrick Fason (2005, 112th overall)

Don’t forget about
Mike Boone. There were considerable growing pains for the athletic freak out of Cincinnati during his rookie season, but once Boone got the ball in his hands, it was easy to see the former high school receiver’s talent. Another summer to settle into finer points of the position, like improving in pass protection, could help Boone carve out a role in the backfield.

Five names to know
RB Jordan Scarlett, Florida: The Vikings have taken chances on what are called ‘red flags,’ or players with off-field issues, including last year’s top undrafted signing in cornerback Holton Hill. Scarlett (5-11, 208 pounds) would fit this mold. The former Florida high school star had a middling college career for the Gators, interrupted by a suspension for credit card fraud that eliminated his 2017 season. But he’s a physical marvel, reportedly once benching 465 pounds. And only two running backs had faster 40-yard dashes than Scarlett’s 4.47 seconds at the combine.

RB Tony Pollard, Memphis: Not many college running backs were as productive as Pollard when he got the ball. He scored 25 touchdowns between rushing, receiving and kick returning, during which he averaged 30.1 yards per return. At 6-feet tall and 210 pounds, Pollard would be the biggest in the current Vikings backfield. A combination of size and speed make him an intriguing prospect, however unpolished as a runner and receiver.

RB Rodney Smith, Minnesota: Before suffering a season-ending knee injury early last season, Smith (listed 5-11, 210 pounds) was a strong and decisive runner for the Gophers. Depending on his medical tests leading up to the draft, Smith could be a strong undrafted addition or at least a prospect to stash.

RB Aeris Williams, Mississippi State: This former four-star recruit was one of the SEC’s best runners two years ago, when he ran for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns. But Williams (6-0, 207 pounds) lost playing time as a senior despite remaining effective when given chances. He averaged 6.2 yards last fall on just seven carries per game. Williams wasn’t invited to the combine, but reportedly fared well at Mississippi State’s pro day.

FB Alec Ingold, Wisconsin: The only fullback invited to this year’s Senior Bowl and combine, Ingold (6-1, 242 pounds) could be the only one drafted. If not, it’s not a stretch to see him become an undrafted priority for the Vikings. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein describes Ingold as “appealing to outside zone-heavy teams.” The Vikings are expected to lean heavily on outside zone runs this season. Plus, an increased emphasis on running in general could lead to competition at fullback.

How it’ll happen
Our best guess is the Vikings will add a couple undrafted running backs to the mix, if not one in the late rounds. The No. 2 spot was not addressed in free agency after losing Murray, making it possible the Vikings could draft help in rounds 4-7 while expecting growth from their current backfield.

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With Thielen signed, what’s ahead for Vikings on the financial front?

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