Jerick McKinnon is a 29-year-old running back with a pair of ACL tears on his resume. Normally, the shelf-life of a professional tailback is shorter than players at other positions — let alone those without a pair of serious knee injuries within the past few seasons. Not only do the odds suggest that McKinnon should possibly be buried on a depth chart, on a practice squad or even out of the league due to his age, but the nature of his injuries make his current status in the NFL even more impressive.
Not only is McKinnon on a team, but he just came up huge in the Wild-Card round for a squad that has legitimate championship expectations.
In what was the game of his life, McKinnon was a massive plus for the Kansas City Chiefs in their matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. On 12 carries, he recorded 61 rushing yards. He also hauled in six passes for a whopping 81 yards and a touchdown. In all, McKinnon had more combined yards than any Chief not named Patrick Mahomes. Not many people expected this level of performance. He did, though.
“Every day you have something to prove in this league," McKinnon said after the game. "I knew that I would get a little more opportunities than I had. I just wanted to prove to my teammates and my coaches that I can get the job done. My teammates allowed me to do that tonight.”
Because 2020 first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire remains out with a shoulder injury and second-string back Darrel Williams battled a toe injury and fumble issues on Sunday, McKinnon lapped the field several times in terms of workload. Head coach Andy Reid trusted him to make things happen, and that's exactly what he did. Whether it was taking a screen pass and slipping past the defense with his burst and elusiveness or fighting for tough yardage, McKinnon was extremely productive in a variety of situations. A quick look at his track record allows that to make sense.
In his final season with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, McKinnon recorded nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage with a steady diet of runs mixed in with 51 receptions out of the backfield. The following two years were lost due to the aforementioned knee injuries but once he returned to play — this time as a member of the San Francisco 49ers — McKinnon was a quality complementary back and yet again flashed his ability to do a little bit of everything. This, along with his mentality, is what drew the Chiefs to sign him as a free agent this past offseason. That mentality, one fueled by big-picture thinking and plenty of perseverance, is what saw McKinnon through to this game.
“You mentioned the two knee injuries," McKinnon said. "When you get in a place like that and you are fighting and battling back, the only thing you can do is just put your head down and keep working and know in the back of your mind that the hard work is going to pay off. I got the opportunity tonight and the hard work that I put in the past year, to overcome everything, it showed.”
While it remains to be seen what the Chiefs' running back rotation will look like moving forward, McKinnon has played well enough to warrant at least some consideration for more snaps (or sustained snaps, for that matter). Not only is he quite possibly the best athlete in the room but in a limited sample size, his flashes have been brighter than anyone else's. His hard work is paying off and if the Wild-Card game was any indication, it could be more of the same in the Divisional Round against the Buffalo Bills.