The last thing any NFL fan wants is for his or her team to hang onto a running back too long. There’s too strong of a narrative about the limited shelf life at that position — and how important it is to stay young and fresh in the backfield.
Of course, when the Kansas City Chiefs’ re-signed 31-year-old running back Jerick McKinnon this offseason, you could hardly find a negative thing said. In his eighth and ninth NFL seasons, McKinnon made himself an exception to the aged-running back consensus; he was one of the most productive players in team history during the 2022 season.
Jerick McKinnon's 8 receiving TDs in 2022 set a new franchise record for most TD receptions by a RB in a single season.#Chiefs— PJ Green (@PJGreenTV) January 1, 2023
It’s a remarkable feat for a player that once missed two consecutive years due to knee injuries. McKinnon reflected on his latest season with reporters during mandatory minicamp on Wednesday.
“Last year was a long year,” McKinnon described. “I was fortunate to make it through the whole season, every game. Those hits definitely take a toll on you going into Year 10, being an older guy. The good thing about being here, the coaching staff, the medical staff, everybody’s on the same page coming up with a plan to make sure I’m good to go for the season.”
Not only is McKinnon an exceptional age at his position but also for the team. The Chiefs have become one of the youngest rosters in the NFL on average, relying on just a few long-toothed players to provide veteran leadership.
“Now that (former Chiefs’ quarterback) Chad [Henne]’s gone, I think I’m like the second oldest player on the team,” McKinnon realized. “It’s always fun to watch the younger guys come in, not knowing what’s going on, but watching them learn and go over that learning curve. That’s probably the most exciting part about being a veteran guy on the team.”
Naturally, a veteran with McKinnon's wear and tear won’t be a constant fixture in offseason practices. The coaching staff actually approved of McKinnon not working on the field until training camp.
That leaves plenty of work for the rest of the guys, including a former first-round pick heading into his final season under contract: Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He has likely gotten the lion’s share of the reps this offseason because second-year back Isiah Pacheco has had to recover from offseason surgery.
McKinnon is likely hoping Pacheco is back to full speed by camp; he let Edwards-Helaire know that he’ll need all the bodies in the rotation he can get.
“Jet knowing, ‘Man, I’m the old guy in the room, y’all are going to have to help me out through camp,’” Edwards-Helaire shared. “It’s us knowing it’s a collect group... we were laughing today, like ‘I don’t mind taking however many reps in OTAs, we got pads on, but once camp comes, we’re going to need that three or four-headed monster.’
“It’s a 17-game season, and the running back position is not getting loved like it had been.”
The fourth head of that ball-carrying monster is becoming clearer and more apparent to name as the offseason has gone along. Undrafted rookie Deneric Prince has stood out in all the on-field work this summer, and that’s not just from media members or coaches.
A teammate like McKinnon has been easily impressed with the first-year player out of Tulsa.
“To be that big and that athletic is definitely rare,” McKinnon noted of Prince. “I think the first thing I texted the guys was, ‘Who’s 34? He’s big as hell, and he’s moving really fast!’
“He has been a standout for sure, I know the coaches love him, we love him, and I can’t wait to see what he does in camp.”
For the third-consecutive season, McKinnon will be dawning the red and gold on a one-year deal. Despite the incredible stretches of play he’s had each season, he has still been easily obtainable for the Chiefs in free agency — and that has been a silver lining for McKinnon.
“This was always where I wanted to be,” McKinnon declared. “I said that last year, I felt the same way this year. The whole free agency, trying to get things done is always a process, but fortunately, I was able to come back; this is where my heart is.”
At this rate, McKinnon may retire a Chief — and may very well be known more for his contributions here than either of the NFL teams he played for previously.