Ever since the NFL combine, many have been down on Dalvin Cook’s NFL potential due to his lack of athleticism and landing spot. What is astonishing, is how fast everyone can forget the dynamic player we watched every Saturday in the FSU offense. Once drafted by the Vikings in the second round, his fantasy value dropped even further. The majority of the fantasy world is looking at the Vikings as a bad landing spot, but many are missing the upside that the Vikings’ offense has to offer.
Dalvin Cook was a four-star athlete coming out of high school. As a senior, he rushed for an unbelievable 1,940 yards on 177 carries and had 34 touchdowns. He averaged 11 yards per carry. Cook also ran track and field in high school participating in the 200 meter dash and the 4 x 100 meter relay.
He signed his letter of intent with Florida State University in December 2013. In his freshman year, he blew up the stat charts with the 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. His game only improved every year as he ran for 1,691 yards his sophomore year and 1,765 yards his junior year. Both years he had 19 TDs on the ground.
An important note about Cook that should get the fantasy world intrigued is his receiving statistics. His freshman year he had 22 receptions for 203 yards and this would continue to rise throughout his college career. In his junior year, he had a statistical high of 33 receptions for 480 yards and one touchdown. For PPR leagues, this is the type of consistent statistical production you want to see.
After Cook’s underwhelming combine performance, many became critical of Cook’s potential at the next level. His 4.49 40 can’t be complained about but his lack of lateral agility and explosion according to his combine numbers became concerning.
The NFL Combine average 20 yard shuttle time is 4.28 seconds and the average 3-cone time is 7.00 seconds. Cook posted a 4.53 shuttle time and a 7.27 3-cone. These are not numbers that signify a running back prospect being a first-round talent like many first thought.
Cook did improve his 40-time during his pro day as he ran unofficial times between 4.40 and 4.43. Unfortunately, he did not participate in the three cone and shuttle drills to really prove his critics wrong.
According to playerprofiler.com, Cook is in the 10th percentile in agility score and 9th percentile in burst score. Looking at this brings a dark cloud over Cook’s potential upside at the NFL level, or does it? Jimbo Fisher came out after the combine and said it perfectly, “turn on the tape”. Fisher is absolutely right.
Turn on the tape and you won’t see a below average three cone or short shuttle time. What you see is fluid and instantaneous lateral cuts and plus vision to escape defenders. He has elite burst and doesn’t waste any energy in the backfield.
He’s a no-nonsense runner that is capable of creating his own space and sets his lead blockers up well. He patiently accelerates through each level. He may not always be a consistently tough inside runner but he has a good level of competitive toughness and a solid finisher.
The most underrated part of his game is his ability to be a threat out of the backfield. He has suffered from concentration issues while catching the ball, but still displays a great level of talent and ability to be a receiver for the Vikings in their backfield. Gaining 33 receptions for 480 yards is pretty impressive for a running back in a 13 game season. This aspect of his game will only help him become a valuable fantasy asset.
COOK’S ROLE IN THE VIKINGS OFFENSE
The Vikings lined up in the shotgun 48.59% of the time according to NFLsavant.com. The offense showcased Sam Bradford a ton in shotgun formation. Pat Shurmur took over for Norv Turner when Turner abruptly resigned last season. The run game was a joke all of the 2016 season, but Shurmur has the faith in Cook to change that.
“I don’t see any elements of running back play that he can’t be great at and pass protection is one of them,” Shurmur said after a walkthrough session in Mankato.
When reviewing Shurmur’s past, he inserts elements of the West Coast offense in combination with the spread offense. Both are ideal for the type of system Cook is used to running at FSU. Short, quick passes and running the ball will be a key aspect of the Vikings’ offense in 2017.
This chart by Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) of Pro Football Focus Fantasy Football shows the weighted opportunity RB1s have had in Pat Shurmur’s offensive scheme. The data ranges from 2007 to 2016. This further solidifies the type of opportunity Cook will have if he is the lead back in the Vikings offense.
The Vikings gained the most yards in the passing game on short passes to the right and left side of the field. When breaking it down, 38.86% of pass plays came from the short right and 28.29% came from the short left. Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon benefited from the short-range pass attempts but their combined 75 receptions out of the backfield will now be aimed toward Cook.
In the first preseason game of 2017, Cook didn’t have a great rush game as his average of 2.6 yards per carry wasn’t impressive and he only produced 13 yards on 5 carries. What is important here is his four receptions for 30 yards. On the first 13 offensive plays in the first quarter, Cook was involved in eight of them.
His four catches came in just one quarter as he was replaced by Bishop Sankey in the second quarter. He may not have had a great stat line at the end of the night, but he rushed for nine yards on two carries in the first three offensive plays.
One of the main arguments for the Vikings be a bad landing spot for a Cook is the offensive line. Unfortunately for Cook, the Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff is dealing with a back alignment issue and left guard Alex Boone is out with a left knee injury. This all seems bad news for Cook but the offensive system might be the saving grace here.
Historical trends of Shurmur’s offense could possibly help the Vikings injury riddled offensive line. According to an article by Warren Ludford of dailynorseman.com, Shurmer could execute a power-spread offense that doesn’t rely solely on a strong offensive line. A power spread offense showcases a shotgun formation often and adds the importance of a good running back that can help in pass protection.
This power spread offense needs a feature back that can block and line up as a slot receiver out of the backfield. This type of offense screams production for Cook as he is a willing blocker, good pass catcher and creates his own space using his blockers effectively.
For an RB that received a 129.4 elusive rating, (2nd best in the country) according to Pro Football Focus, Cook has the ability to still flourish in a system that has a sub-par offensive line. He can move in tight spaces very well and makes himself skinny between the tackles.
Kyle Rudolph was a liability in the running game as he recorded 41.5 run block efficiency rating by Pro Football Focus. In 2016, Rudolph ranked 54th out of 63 in run-blocking. During an interview with the Minnesota Star Tribune, Mike Zimmer stated that Rudolph has improved as a blocker. This would be extremely beneficial for Cook if this is true.
CURRENT DRAFT VALUE
Cook currently has an ADP of 39 and is RB18 in redraft formats according to fantasypros.com. He is being taken on average with the fourth pick in dynasty rookie drafts. Cook has just as much upside as Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon and Christian McCaffrey who are being taken before him in rookie drafts.
Fournette is in a stagnant offense with bad QB play. He is already battling injuries and has a chronic ankle injury that is plaguing him. Also, defenses will likely stack the box against an RB that has limited lateral agility and a dismal passing offense.
McCaffrey is battling Johnathan Stewart and of course Cam Newton for touches. The Panthers’ offense isn’t designed for McCaffrey’s skillset so it is yet to manifest how McCaffrey will be used. Maybe as Newton preservation? There is also the question whether McCaffrey can manage a full workload at the next level.
Mixon is an elite talent but will be battling for touches in the Bengals backfield. He has had an inconsistent preseason averaging 5.2 yards per carry vs the Bucs but an abysmal 2.7 yards per carry vs Kansas City. Both times he battled Jeremy Hill who has been a viable RB so far this preseason. Let’s not forget Giovanni Bernard who is returning from injury and will likely vulture receptions from Mixon.
Cook doesn’t come into the NFL without his own question marks. He has battled injuries himself and dealt with off-field issues. His red flags are part of the package, but so far all news has been positive coming out of the Vikings offseason program and training camp.
There is reason for optimism that Cook will be the Vikings starter and will have limited completion as Matt Asiata has moved on to the Lions, Jerick McKinnon only averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 2016 and Latavius Murray has missed a lot of important reps in the off-season due to injury.
Cook has immense upside and the fact that many are looking the other direction due to his landing spot, only makes his ADP even better. Right now, RBs like Carlos Hyde, Todd Gurley and Isaiah Crowell are going before Cook in redraft. All in which are in sub-par offenses.
Gurley is going two rounds earlier than Cook in redraft and it is arguable that they both have the same ceiling. Barring injury, Cook could easily finish 2016 as an RB2 with RB1 upside. With Bradford playing mostly in shotgun and possessing multiple weapons on offense in the passing game, Cook could be more productive than the three rookie RBs going in front of him.