Player Analysis: Dalvin Cook
Author: Matthew Gifford (@MattGiffordFFA)
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Dalvin Cook's Rookie Season
After the first three weeks of last season, it appeared that Dalvin Cook was going to be one of the top candidates for Rookie of the Year. From the beginning, Cook had a featured role on the team and offered immediate success to the Vikings’ offense. During his four game stint, Cook built an impressive resume and much anticipation to what this upcoming season could look like for Minnesota. Right out of the gate, the 22 year old showed his dominance in the backfield while displaying his ability to make people miss and extend plays. His 5’11”, 210 lb frame allowed him to find his way through small gaps while still possessing the ability to deliver hard hits to oncoming defenders. Offering a perfect balance between patience and speed, Cook is a natural at finding developing holes, exploiting them and attacking the open field.
During Week 1, Cook quickly picked up where his college career left off, rushing for 127 yards and finishing with three catches for an additional 10 yards. With this performance, Dalvin broke the Vikings record for rushing yards in a rookie debut. This record was previous held by none other than Adrian Peterson, the seven-time pro bowler and 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player. By breaking the record of such a dominant force, Cook showed off what he is currently capable of and what the future could look like if that pace was kept up. This comparison would only mark the beginning of the many times in which the young sensation would be in the same conversation as some of the NFL’s greatest. The rest of his four game season wouldn’t look much different as he boasted big numbers and solidified himself high within the rankings. Among the first three regular season games, Cook recorded the second largest carries per game average and yardage total. Cook only trailed Todd Gurley and Kareem Hunt, both of which had spectacular seasons and were the league’s leading rushers at the end of the season. If Cook managed to continue these numbers through the rest of the season, he would have landed within the top four running backs at the end of the season. Furthermore, of the 60 running backs who finished the season with 70+ carries, Cook was 11th in elusiveness rating and 16th in breakaway percentage. As a comparison, Jerick McKinnon was listed in the middle of the field at 35th for breakaway percentage. These outstanding numbers explain why he finished the four games averaging 88.5 rushing yards per games with 4.8 yards per carry. But Dalvin Cook’s influence didn’t remain in the run game as he also recording 90 yards on 11 receptions. He displayed himself as a wonderful target for screen passes or short passes when Case Keenum was under pressure.
Although, one of the most impressive aspects in Cook’s short rookie season was his time on the field. Cook played in approximately 65% of all offensive snaps for the first four games including the fact that he almost missed the entire second half during Week 4 against the Lions. Additionally, he held ownership of three quarters of all carries during that time period. The numbers seems almost impossible when Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray were also part of the backfield, but between the draft capital invested and the skills shown in training camp he was given the opportunity.
The only downside from all the game footage on Dalvin Cook last season came with a couple drops, slips and a fumble. Of the three, the fumble is not worrisome at all, as it occur during the same play in which his ACL was torn. Although, getting caught up in many piles and hit plenty of times, Cook has shown great ball handling skills and keeps a tight grip on the pigskin. The slips and drops can be attributed to Cook adjusting to the speed of the game and getting himself more comfortable with the team.
The Road to Recovery
After a stellar start to his rookie campaign, Dalvin Cook suffered a torn ACL in the Vikings’ week four competition against the Detroit Lions. While knee and leg injuries are very concerning, especially to a high usage player like a running back, Cook could not have been in a better position heading into recovery.
Having sustained the injury on October 1st, 2017, Cook underwent surgery eight days later for the grade 3 tear on October 9th. With the Vikings’ season opener being September 9th, 2018, Dalvin Cook has been given a perfect 11 month span to get in game ready shape for the San Francisco 49ers. This gives him plenty of time to heal, recondition and resolve any nagging concerns along the way. Cook’s resiliency has truly shined in his time off the field as he was seen jogging again during rehab in January and was involved in drills during OTAs at the beginning of June. By mid June, it was reported that Cook was being given a full workload at mini camp. Now into training camp season, Dalvin continues to impress, even refusing the option of wearing a brace during drills. Within the last month, he’s been confident enough to state that he felt the recovery process was ahead of schedule. Cook has yet to step out on the field this preseason as training staff wants to make sure his knee is in the best shape possible before it sees action.
Another point in Cook’s favor during this offseason is recovery specialist, Eric Sugarman. The Head Athletic Trainer and Director of Sports Medicine for the Minnesota Vikings has been credited with the successful recoveries of Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson. Teddy Bridgewater tore his ACL and dislocated his knee during practice in one of recent NFL history’s most gruesome injuries. The injury was bad enough that if not cared for in the proper way immediately, Bridgewater was in danger of losing his leg. Now, Teddy Bridgewater is successfully competing in a heated preseason battle with Sam Darnold for the starting quarterback position of the New York Jets. Adrian Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL in 2011 and was never expected to play the same level of football ever again. Over the course of the next season, Peterson would go on to win NFL Offensive Player of the Year and NFL Most Valuable Player as well as acquire the second-most rushing yards for a running back in a single season. With these two examples, it can be seen that Dalvin Cook is in the best hands possible in regards to his recovery and is expected to be 100% going into Week 1 of the regular season.
The Evolution of the Vikings' Offense
After a red-hot regular season, the Minnesota Vikings would find their Super Bowl hopes cut short in the NFC Championship game with a 38-7 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles. Aside from a disappointing end to the season, the Vikings finished with a top ten offense and the second best defense in the entire league. With these offensive and defensive rankings, it’s not surprising that they had positive game scripts all season long with a 13-3 record. With great speculation of what is to come for the Vikings in the 2018 season, Cook is in a prime position to have a monster season due to the state of the Vikings offense, especially with the offseason changes. The Vikings offseason can be primarily broken down into three large moves, the departure of Jerick McKinnon, the signing of Kirk Cousins and the introduction of John DeFilippo as Offensive Coordinator.
After four years with the team who drafted him, Jerick McKinnon signed a four year, $30 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers last March. This deal provides McKinnon the opportunity to be the featured running back for the first time in his NFL career. Having previously shared time in the backfield with Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata, Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, McKinnon couldn’t resist the chance to be the 49ers’ workhorse while becoming the fourth-highest paid running back. So what does this mean for Dalvin Cook? Two things, less competition and more receptions. At first glance, it would appear that Cook could not possibly be more involved in the offense after boasting ownership of 75.5% of all carries through the first four games and being present on about 65% of all offensive snaps. Well, that is actually not the case. With McKinnon gone, all of the receiving targets he would have collected will now fall on Dalvin Cook, being the better receiver in the backfield. Latavius Murray struggles in the passing game and the Minnesota Vikings have shown no interest in involving him in that part of the offense. Last season, Murray was only targeted 17 times after playing in all 16 regular season games for an abysmal average of 1.1 targets per game, which only beat Cook’s total in four games by one target. The two backs will more than likely split McKinnon’s carries which is beneficial for Cook’s fantasy owners since Murray’s time on the field will give Cook needed rest.
One of the biggest shifts in talent throughout the league this season revolved around the Vikings, with the loss of Case Keenum to the Denver Broncos and the acquisition of Washington Redskins’ star quarterback Kirk Cousins. Last season, Keenum proved he had the potential to give the Vikings another shot at a Super Bowl run this year but with Kirk Cousins at the helm the offense looks even better. Although both quarterbacks put up similar numbers last season, Cousins has shown three years in a row that he can consistently contribute. Over the past three seasons, Cousins has thrown for over 4,000 yards and at least 25 touchdowns. It is worth mentioning that Cousins has been able to complete this feat with half the offensive weapons Keenum had at his disposal. Under the leadership of Cousins, few teams have moved the ball better down field than the Redskins. This is primarily due to Cousins development in going through his progressions rather than committing to his first read. So how does this help Cook’s value this season? First of all, we should see more red zone opportunities for Cook. With Cousin’s ball movement, expect more playing time inside the twenties with many chances for Cook to run the ball in the endzone. Additionally, since Cousins has great skills at scanning the field, all of the offensive weapons including Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Kendall Wright should be continually involved. In doing so, defenses will be forced into playing tight coverage, preventing many stacked boxes. With these defensive formations, Cook should have a better chance at breaking larger plays and finding himself in the secondary more often.
The last significant change in the Minnesota Vikings this offseason occurred within the coaching staff at the Offensive Coordinator position. After the stellar performance of the Vikings offense throughout the regular season and into the playoffs, Pat Shurmur left Minnesota to pursue the head coaching position of the New York Giants. With a position to fill, Mike Zimmer and the Vikings’ front office completed an in-depth search for a candidate who fit the goals and ideals of the current coaching staff. After much deliberation from Coach Zimmer, John DeFilippo, the quarterback coach of the Philadelphia Eagles was selected as the best fit for the role. DeFilippo provides the perfect mixture of promoting current philosophies of the Vikings while bringing a new age to the team with his experiences in Philadelphia. Both sides of his coaching style should prove valuable in developing Dalvin Cook as the star of the offense.
Coming from a similar offensive scheme in Philadelphia, DeFilippo is expected to keep much of the offense similar to last year, especially in the run game. With a continuation in the play calling, Cook should have an easy time transitioning back into football and his time on the field. Having coached within one of the top three rushing offenses in the league last year under Frank Reich, it wouldn’t be surprising for DeFilippo to help refine Cook rushing ability. DeFilippo has also mentioned carrying over one the Eagles’ strategies in a no huddle offense. A no huddle offense often tires a defense, forcing errors in personnel and formations, which paired with Cook’s elusiveness and speed could lead to large yardage plays. Lastly, DeFilippo has big plans to expand Cook’s usage in the passing game. It is expected that Cook will be lining up in many more places than just the backfield but outside the numbers, which should expanded the number of receptions to be expected from him this season.
Cook's 2018 Outlook
High Volume Usage
With Latavius Murray as the only competition in the backfield, expect Dalvin Cook to see plenty of carries and target in every game. Since Cook tore his ACL in 2017, the Vikings offense may provide Murray a larger role in the first few games to ensure Cook transition, but this should be seen in a positive way to fantasy owners as we would like to see Cook last the entire season. Again, Cook will be taking 90% of all receptions coming out of the backfield due to the loss of McKinnon, Cook’s natural ability and Murray’s struggles in the passing game.
Cousins and the Receiving Corp
With the arm strength and intelligence of Cousins paired with the talent in the receiving corp, defenses will be struggling a season to keep up with the purple and gold. Between the red zone capabilities of Kyle Rudolph, the large play potential in Diggs, the hands of Thielen and now Kendall Wright in the slot, Dalvin Cook should never experience must pressure in guaranteeing the success of the run game on ever play. Additionally, Cook has the potential to turn short dump passes or screen plays into large yardage scenarios when the defense in spread thin across the field.
Positive Game Scripts/Strength of Schedule
In a team stacked with offensive weapons and a top tier defense, few games this year should see the Minnesota Vikings trailing. During last season, the Vikings entered the fourth quarter leading in 11 of their 16 regular season games and in three of the remaining five games, they were tied or trailing by only one possession. Therefore, Dalvin Cook will likely see the ball often during the end of games to run down the clock when in a winning position. The Minnesota Vikings are also listed as have the 21st most difficult schedule in the league. With home games against teams like the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears, Dalvin Cook should have a field day in slicing through their defenses.
Projected 2018 Statistics