With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at an explosive second year running back attempting to return from a torn ACL.
Dalvin Cook Possesses Rare On-Field Ability
The star-studded 2017 running back class featured five running backs selected among the draft’s top-70 picks. The likes of Alvin Kamara and Leonard Fournette stole the show, while Joe Mixon and Christian McCaffrey never quite met their lofty preseason expectations. Then there’s Dalvin Cook, who only managed to suit up for four games as a rookie before suffering a torn ACL. The second running back off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft routinely demonstrated the same natural ability that helped him become Florida State’s all-time leading rusher.
Friendly reminder that Dalvin Cook was briefly one of the league's better 3-down RBs as a rookie. pic.twitter.com/SAFQmrXZNd
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) April 15, 2018
Cook’s tackle-breaking and big-play ability placed him among the league’s best backs; Cook ranked seventh in Elusive Rating (Pro Football Focus) and tied for sixth in runs of 15-plus yards during the first month of last season. Cook ranked among the league’s top 13 backs in both DraftKings and FanDuel points per game from Weeks 1-4 as well.
The only area that Cook didn’t exactly dominate was in the passing game. He dropped three of his 15 targets and ranked 71st in pass-blocking efficiency out of 88 backs with at least 75 passing play snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Luckily for Cook, his biggest competition for passing-game work, Jerick McKinnon, took his talents to San Francisco this offseason.
Cook Possesses Minimal Workload Concerns
The Vikings weren’t quite established with Case Keenum under center during Cook’s brief run with the starting offense, but that didn’t stop them from utilizing Cook as a featured back. Cook’s usage in Weeks 1-4 seemingly indicated a workload of 20-plus carries and 3-5 targets per game would be the norm.
- Week 1: 22 rushes, five targets
- Week 2: 12 rushes, three targets (17-point loss at Pittsburgh in first game with Keenum)
- Week 3: 27 rushes, five targets
- Week 4: 13 rushes, three targets (injured in third quarter)
Cook is reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery and expects to be ready by Week 1, according to head coach Mike Zimmer. Cook has since participated in both team and individual drills at OTAs, and he will have to adjust to life with former Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo running the offense, but DeFilippo’s early comments certainly seem to indicate a fantasy-friendly role could be in store for the Vikings’ No. 1 back:
Really interesting nugget from DeFilippo's presser on Dalvin Cook: pic.twitter.com/kkGsSpNgiX
— Nick Olson (@NicholasJOlson) May 24, 2018
The aforementioned loss of McKinnon only figures to broaden Cook’s impact as a receiver, as McKinnon racked up 12 total targets in Weeks 1-4 in 2017 while playing double-digit snaps in each contest. Latavius Murray was an afterthought during this period and had just seven touches in 14 quarters before Cook’s season-ending injury (though he was reportedly dealing with an injury of his own).
Still, Murray would go on to rip off 15-plus carries in 10 of his next 12 games as part of a productive committee with McKinnon, who averaged 15.3 touches per game with Cook sidelined. It’s certainly possible DeFilippo utilizes a committee like he did in Philadelphia that features Cook as the lightening to Murray’s thunder. Having a big-bodied back like Murray to help ease some of Cook’s between-the-tackles workload could be an occasional burden for fantasy investors in 2018.
Additionally, running backs haven’t exactly lit the league on fire after suffering torn ACLs, and Cook suffered two shoulder labrum tears during his time at Florida State. The likes of Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, and Deuce Mcallister have managed to return to form after tearing their ACL, but it’s still a concern for any player, let alone one projected to touch the ball 20-plus times a game.
But even with the worst-case scenario of Cook where Cook cedes more carries than anticipated to Murray, the second year back should still lead the Vikings backfield in touches and get his fair share of all-important passing-down work. His ceiling is still the roof.
The Vikings Offense Could Take a Step Forward in 2018
Kirk Cousins has objectively been a better quarterback than Keenum since both entered the league in 2012. Cousins has posted superior career marks in touchdown rate, completion rate, yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt, and quarterback rating. While Keenum’s career-best 2017 campaign produced a QB14 finish in fantasy, Cousins’ career-worst performance last season was still good for QB6 status — and running backs with elite quarterbacks have been very fantasy-friendly assets since 2014.
Cook might not have the same tantalizing combine metrics as his peers, but his on-field performance in 2017 proved he’s more than capable of producing with a three-down role. His status as a sturdy-sized back and former second-round pick bodes well for his daily fantasy value in a year in which he figures to work as the Vikings’ workhorse.
Improved quarterback play coupled with a step forward from an offensive line returning four of five starters could be all Cook needs to cement himself among the league’s very best running backs in 2018. His average draft position is hovering around RB10 in PPR as of this writing, which doesn’t reflect his ceiling as a top-five fantasy back.
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Pictured above: Dalvin Cook
Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn – USA TODAY Sports