The Broncos’ running back room is going to look a lot different in 2021. Phillip Lindsay is out, Mike Boone and Javonte Williams are in. While a ton of ink has been spilled over the rookie running back out of North Carolina, who is the former Viking? Is he going to tote the rock, or simply contribute to special teams?
Mike Boone’s profile
Weight: 207 lbs
Age: 26 years old on June 30th
A high school receiver who scored 18 touchdowns his senior season, Mike Boone’s made an early impact at the University of Cincinnati. He found his way to the field early due to injuries and rushed for 650 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman on just 101 carries, before he followed it up with another 749 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore. His own nagging injuries dogged him over the back half of his college career, and ultimately cost him an invite to the NFL Combine and played a role in him going undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Where a player goes in the draft isn’t the end of their story, of course. Pedigree matters, though. A first round pick gets more opportunities to prove himself worthy of development, while undrafted rookies are fighting for their NFL lives, often left with scraps as far as snaps go. Credit to Boone, who made such a strong impression he left little doubt he’d make the Vikings’ final roster.
Playing time was sparse during Boone’s first year in the NFL. He suited up for eight games and played all of 62 snaps. With Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison in the same backfield rotation, Boone would have to make his presence felt on special teams to survive long in Minnesota.
He did just that in 2019, and proved himself a capable understudy when injuries paved his way to playing time on offense.
Boone is a relative unknown as a ball carrier because of his lack of opportunities to carry the ball during his years with the Minnesota Vikings. That didn’t stop George Paton from heaping praise on one of his first free agent signings as the Broncos’ general manager.
“Mike Boone is a self-made man. Free agent out of Cincinnati. We signed him as a running back, obviously. He earned the team playing special teams. Four phases—played him four phases on special teams and he’s one of the top special teams players for the Vikings. He was playing behind [Vikings RB] Dalvin Cook, so he didn’t have a lot of opportunity, but when he did have the opportunity, he really produced. I think he’s going to help our room. He’s going to add some special teams to the offensive side of the ball, which we lack. I’m really excited to have Mike Boone here.”
Boone touched the ball 78 times over the last three seasons, and 44 of those came across the last three weeks of the 2019 season when Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison were dealing with injuries. To get an idea as to what Boone could offer the Broncos’ offense, I went back over the tape.
The first thing that stood out to me about Boone the ball carrier is his athleticism. He’s a good athlete with good burst, agility, quickness, and balance. Despite so-so agility drills before the NFL Draft in 2018, Boone shows impressive lateral mobility due to his short area quicks, body control, and footwork.
Boone’s stronger than his listed size suggests, and does a solid job lowering his pads to finish through contact. He’s logged 523 special teams snaps in his NFL career to date and it’s no surprise given his competitive toughness and athleticism. While he’s an inexperienced ball carrier, he shows promising vision and patience to set up and leverage his blocks. He does a very good job finding and exploiting space, with an almost preternatural feel for over pursuit.
Boone is a self described one-cut back, but his burst, contact balance, and vision suggest he’s an effective ball carrier on the second and third levels. He does a very good job working immediate threats to create problematic angles for tacklers, and will work into blind spots to force a defender to readjust.
“I consider myself a one-cut back. I like to make my cuts and then get downhill. That fits the scheme of this offense and I feel like I can be versatile and come in make the offense a little more explosive whenever my number is called.”
In very limited opportunities, Boone looks capable of catching the ball away from his frame and adjusting to a pass at eye level. He shows no hesitation cutting down a bigger defender in order to protect the quarterback.
Boone has never officially fumbled during his NFL career to date, but there are two plays from the 2019 season finale that suggests ball security could be an issue if he receives a larger role on offense. The first such play is a fumble caused by backup quarterback Sean Mannion’s pitch. It’s low and Boone fails to secure the ball, which ends up wasting his 59-yard run to open the game.
Later in the game Boone leaves the backfield to serve as an outlet receiver, and the ball heads his way before he turns. The back is able to locate and get his hands on the ball, but he fails to secure it to his body as he brings it in. The ball drops low and away, and as he tries to adjust it squirts into the hands of the defense. It’s worth noting that neither of these plays mean Boone will have turnover problems, but when evaluating such a small sample size they do stand out.
Perhaps a bigger concern of mine is that the Vikings did not appear to trust him as a third down back over the three game sample I watched. Boone ceded playing time to Ameer Abdullah and C.J. Ham on obvious passing downs, and Minnesota pulled him from the second half of their week 16 loss to the Green Bay Packers as the game turned into a comeback attempt.
While Boone’s collegiate injuries do warrant slight concern, he’s been relatively healthy during his NFL career. He suffered a concussion during the Vikings’ loss to the Indianapolis Colts last season, but passed the concussion protocol to play in week three.
Mike Boone’s roster status with the Broncos
I expect he’ll make the final roster. He’s a Paton guy, the kind of new signing a general manager makes early in his tenure to serve as a standard bearer for what the front office wants out of its players. In addition, the Broncos would eat $1.8 million in dead money to cut him.