Jerick McKinnon is a 29-year-old running back with a pair of ACL tears on his resume. Normally, the lifespan of a professional tailback is shorter than that of players in other positions – let alone those who haven’t suffered serious knee injuries in recent seasons. Not only do the odds suggest McKinnon should eventually be buried on a depth board, on a practice squad, or even out of the league due to his age, but the nature of his injuries makes his current status in the NFL even more so. impressive.
Not only is McKinnon on a team, he’s just been huge in the Wild-Card round for a team that has legitimate championship expectations.
In what was the game of his life, McKinnon was a huge plus for the Kansas City Chiefs in their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. On 12 carries, he recorded 61 rushing yards. He also had six passes for a whopping 81 yards and a touchdown. In all, McKinnon had more combined yards than any leader not named Patrick Mahomes. Few expected this level of performance. He did, however.
“Every day you have something to prove in this league,” McKinnon said after the game. “I knew I would get a few more opportunities than I had. I just wanted to prove to my teammates and my coaches that I can do the job. My teammates allowed me to do that tonight.
Because 2020 first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire remains with a shoulder injury and second back Darrel Williams struggled with a toe injury and fumble issues on Sunday, McKinnon did multiple times around the field in terms of workload. Head coach Andy Reid trusted him to make things happen, and he did just that. Whether it was screen passing and blasting past the defense with his brilliance and elusiveness or battling for tough yardage, McKinnon was extremely productive in a variety of situations. A quick glance at his track record helps to understand this.
In his final season with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, McKinnon recorded nearly 1,000 scrimmage yards with a steady streak of 51 receptions out of the backfield. The next two years were lost due to the aforementioned knee injuries, but once he returned to the game – this time as a member of the San Francisco 49ers – McKinnon was a quality complementary fullback and once again showed his ability to do a bit of everything. This, along with his mentality, is what prompted the Chiefs to sign him as a free agent this past offseason. This mentality, fueled by a big picture vision and a lot of perseverance, is what allowed McKinnon to qualify for this game.
“You mentioned the two knee injuries,” McKinnon said. “When you get to a place like this and you fight and you fight, the only thing you can do is just put your head down and keep working and knowing in the back of your mind that the hard work will pay off I had the opportunity tonight and the hard work I put in over the past year, to get through it all, it showed.
While it remains to be seen what the Chiefs’ running back rotation will look like in the future, McKinnon has played well enough to warrant at least some consideration for more clicks (or sustained clicks, for that matter). Not only is he probably the best athlete in the room, but in a limited sample size, his flashes were brighter than anyone else’s. His hard work is paying off and if the Wild-Card game was any indication, it could be the same in the Divisional Round against the Buffalo Bills.