Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has fought through a ton of adversity in his first two seasons. As of now, Cook is set for a big 2019 season. His rookie season was cut short due to a torn ACL, which opened the door for his backups to shine. Jerick McKinnon stepped in and showed a ton of promise, as did Latavius Murray. Following the 2017 season, McKinnon walked away from Minnesota and headed out west to join the San Francisco 49ers.
Cook returned from injury in 2018 as the lead back in Minnesota. With McKinnon gone, there were expectations for Cook to thrive as the primary ball-carrier. However, he missed five games with a hamstring injury and finished the year with just 133 carries. Murray filled in nicely for the Vikings, but he has since left town and joined the Saints down in the bayou.
Now, Cook is the only true threat in the backfield as the Vikings prepare for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Cook in a Committee
In 2017, Cook was seeing the majority of Minnesota’s touches in the run game. In his four appearances, Cook averaged 18.5 carries, including games with 22 and 27. He was injured midway through the fourth game, in which he had 13 attempts. McKinnon and Murray combined for just six carries per game in that span. It wasn’t until Cook was lost for the season that we saw McKinnon take over.
Cook and Murray appeared together in 11 games together in 2018. In those games, Cook out-carried Murray, but only marginally. Their carries were pretty well split, as were the touchdowns. Murray only saw a spike in numbers when Cook went down, but the two created a dynamic backfield with a ton of potential if not for a weak offensive line. Now, Murray is gone and Cook is left alone as the only note-worthy runner.
Changes in the Run Game
At the end of the 2018 season, Mike Zimmer made it known that he wanted the offense to run the ball more. The team went as far as to fire offensive coordinator John DeFilippo near the end of the campaign. Cook saw limited action out of the backfield, but was productive on the carries he got. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry and totaled four touchdowns on the year. In the first game with Kevin Stefanski as the interim offensive coordinator, Cook rushed for 136 yards on 19 carries, including two rushing touchdowns. Those were his only rushing scores of the season.
Dalvin Cook's spin basically made the LB just fall face first into the turf.
That's just talent: pic.twitter.com/rpzX78PPoI
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) December 18, 2018
Stefanski has since been promoted to the full-time offensive coordinator. The Vikings, however, weren’t done with coaching changes. They brought in long-time offensive mastermind Gary Kubiak to be an assistant head coach and offensive advisor. Kubiak is well-known for his ability to utilize a variety of running backs in his rushing attack. He has made stars of seemingly average backs. Kubiak has also proved his ability to stick to a zone-blocking emphasis in the run game, something the Vikings have been trying to do for what seems like eternity.
The addition of Kubiak’s football genius to the offense will bring the best out of Cook and his offensive line. They will not have to adapt to a new scheme entirely, and they can jump right into things with an experienced mind working in cohesion with a young up-and-comer. Of course, that is what they will have in Kubiak and Stefanski.
Current Running Back Situation
The Vikings will most likely add another running back prior to the season, whether it be via the draft or free agency. However, a lot will fall on the shoulders of Cook. He will be the veteran leader in the locker room. Not to mention Roc Thomas, one of the young options on the roster, was recently charged with felony marijuana possession. Ameer Abdullah recently re-signed with the team, but he only garnered one carry in 2018. In seven games with Minnesota, Abdullah had zero rushing attempts and one reception. That said, Abdullah does not seem like a realistic option in 2019.
One positive takeaway from Dalvin Cook’s injury history is that he hasn’t had a heavy workload. With just 207 career carries, there is a lot of tread still left on the tires. Of course, that does not come without concern. Cook needs to stay healthy and show that he can be the top back in an NFL offense.
Nothing is set in stone right now, but Dalvin Cook appears to be in prime position to finally take a big step in 2019. The Vikings have to hope he will return to his rookie self and handle a bigger load while avoiding injury and sustaining solid numbers. Minnesota is also expected to improve their offensive line in the NFL Draft, further helping the run game.