By: Justin Holden
Dalvin Cook missed 12 games in his rookie season (2017-2018) due to a season ending ACL injury, which required reconstructive surgery. Cook missed 5 games last season (2018-2019) due to a nagging hamstring strain injury. So yeah, his injury history is looking like a red flag at this point in his career. Cook also shows a lack of agility and burst based off of his workout metrics, however, this has not appeared to significantly impact his on-field efficiency and production.
I led with the negatives right out of the gate, but let me explain why the arrow appears to be pointing up on Dalvin Cook for the 2019-2020 season. We should all know by now that running back is one of the most interdependent positions in football. Pair a replacement level running back (CJ Anderson, Thomas Rawls, etc.) with an all-pro quarterback on a high-octane NFL offense, and he will have the capability to produce like a superstar in the short-term. By contrast, put an amazingly talented running back on an NFL offense that has poor offensive line play and a third string quarterback starting, and watch how much his productivity/efficiency drops.
Fortunately, Dalvin Cook’s situation this upcoming season is way better than the latter part of that analogy. Kirk Cousins may not be a perennial pro-bowler at the quarterback position, but he’s much better than most analysts and football fans give him credit for. Cousins is a reliable pocket passer throwing to two of the league’s best wide receiver talents in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Having that trio of players on the offense helps tremendously in not allowing opposing defenses to consistently stack the box against the Minnesota Vikings’ run game.
There are three other situational factors for Dalvin Cook that are noteworthy. First, the Vikings addressed offensive line play by selecting Garrett Bradbury in the first round of the NFL Draft. Second, Gary Kubiak was hired by the Vikings in the offseason as Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Advisor. While I’m not big on coach-centric analysis, Kubiak does have an undeniably strong track record of having highly productive 1st string running backs on the teams that he has coached. Across a sample size of 22 NFL seasons where Kubiak has been head coach or offensive coordinator, Kubiak’s lead running backs have averaged over 1100 rushing yards and 10.5 touchdowns per season. Third, Dalvin Cook has absolutely no competition behind him on the depth chart. The next man up is Alexander Mattison, a replacement level back that the Vikings unwisely selected in the third round of the NFL draft. Mattison is slow (4.67 40-yard dash time) and was ridiculously inefficient with his carries (4.7 ypc, 14th percentile) in a weak conference in college. The Alexander Mattison fan boys can come out of the woodwork to give me crap for this take, but I’m telling you right now that Mattison is not capable of siphoning off any meaningful snaps from Cook, barring a severe injury to Cook.
Cook has the prospect profile of an all-purpose NFL running back. Cook’s college dominator score, college yards per carry, and college target share are all above the 80th percentile for running backs. Looking at Cook’s production at the NFL level, he was #2 in juke rate per touch and #8 in evaded tackles per game last season. Cook is also well above average in terms of speed and strength, as evidenced by his 40-yard dash and bench press workout metrics.
So with Cook being in an NFL offense that is on the rise, with an exciting prospect profile and virtually no competition for touches, sky truly is the limit for Cook this upcoming season. All he needs to do is stay healthy. Cook’s ADP has him going in the second round of fantasy football drafts right now. Despite the perceived injury risk, I’d be comfortable drafting Cook in the first round of a redraft fantasy football league. There are very few players in the NFL that are truly “injury prone”. The public once thought that Julio Jones was injury prone, and then he strung together five straight seasons of missing no more than two games. I have no crystal ball, and injuries can happen to any player at any time, but Cook is healthy right now and that is what matters. Don’t be scared to trust him as your RB1 in fantasy this year.