All off-season, the Minnesota Vikings made it abundantly clear that in 2019, they were going to run the football early and often. With Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak leading the charge on offense, the pass-first leanings of early 2018 were going to be replaced with a more traditional ground and pound attack. As a result, third-year running back Dalvin Cook stood to benefit most from this philosophical shift and he was tabbed by many as a potential breakout player.
But no one saw this coming.
Dalvin Cook Is Dominating the NFL
When the Vikings made Cook the 48th overall selection of the 2017 NFL Draft, expectations were high for the former Florida State standout. After a statistically prolific collegiate career, the talented tailback was immediately installed as the Vikings’ feature back as a rookie on the heels of an impressive training camp.
Cook came bursting out of the gate in his first season, rushing for 354 yards and two touchdowns on a 4.8 yards per carry average, while corralling 11 receptions for 90 yards in only three and a half games. Unfortunately, an ACL tear derailed an incredibly promising campaign in Week Four and Cook’s potential rookie of the year season ended on the spot.
In his sophomore year, Cook battled numerous injuries, missing five contests in the process and appearing highly limited in others. While he still managed an impressive 4.6 yards per tote, his 615 rushing yards and two touchdowns were less than he would have hoped for in his comeback season. However, he did manage to snare an impressive 40 receptions for 305 yards and two additional scores in only 11 games.
Without question, it was clear that Cook possessed the talent and potential to be one of the game’s very best all-around backs, but the only obstacles to his success were health and opportunity. In 2019, he’s enjoyed both of those things in abundance.
Putting the League on Notice
Through three games, Cook leads the NFL in rushing with 375 yards. Not only that, but his 6.6 yards per carry also leads all runners and his four rushing touchdowns are tied for second behind only Mark Ingram‘s five. Cook’s 57 carries through four weeks rank fourth in the NFL and there’s no sign of this workload slowing down.
In fact, the only reason Cook isn’t at the top of this list is that the Vikings built such a lead over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, that backup runner Alexander Mattison saw more action and handled 12 carries of his own. In a more competitive game, Cook would have easily topped the 16 carries he saw, and likely would have well over 60 on the season. And as icing on the cake, Cook has also secured nine of his ten targets for 79 receiving yards. It’s been an incredible start for the 24-year-old.
Whether or not you agree with the Vikings dedication to the ground game, or are of the opinion that the most successful NFL teams are the ones that have embraced a pass-first mentality, it’s hard to argue that at this moment, Cook looks like the best runner in the entire league. Week after week, he can be seen routinely breaking tackles and gaining extra yards on every carry. I mean, just look at this:
? Dalvin Cook just showing off!#OAKvsMIN
— PFF (@PFF) September 22, 2019
That’s absolutely incredible. Cook has always been an impressive amalgamation of speed and power and now that he’s at full strength, he’s proving to everyone why he never should have fallen to the second round three short years ago.
Can This Continue?
Cook has some tougher draws on the docket, with match-ups with the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles in two of his next three contests. Without question, these are two of the stingier run defenses in the entire league, but it may not even matter at this point. Cook looks better than he has at any time in his career, both collegiate and professional, and the Vikings running game is firing on all cylinders. Kirk Cousins has only attempted 63 passes on the season and the Vikings stud receiving duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have only seen 28 targets combined through three weeks.
Cousins, Thielen, and Diggs are three of the Vikings’ five highest-paid players in terms of annual average salary and head coach Mike Zimmer has effectively taken the ball out of their hands over the first several contests. Make no mistake about it, tough match-ups or not, this coaching staff is all in on Cook and he will remain the engine of this offense.
The quote that has always most commonly accompanied any conversation about Dalvin Cook has been “if he can stay healthy.” It’s something of a cliche, but you’re about to hear it again. If he can stay healthy, Cook is a legitimate candidate to lead the league in rushing for the first time in his career, while cementing himself as potentially the very best pure runner in football.
Whenever he has been injury-free, he has dominated his competition and put some of the best running back play imaginable on tape. It’s clear that he’s positioned for greatness in the second chapter of his career and the only obstacle to that is the trainer’s table. Here’s hoping he can avoid it and finally have the breakout season he has always deserved in 2019.