Dalvin Cook Fantasy Football Outlook

Dalvin Cook
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 30: Dalvin Cook #33 of the Minnesota Vikings carries the ball for a gain against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Few players have a higher ceiling than Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. When fully healthy, Cook is one of the most dynamic and explosive running backs in the NFL and a must-start in fantasy football. However, Cook has only played in 14 of a possible 32 games in his career. Cook is currently projected to go in the second round and has the ability to finish as a top-five running back. Fantasy football owners will need to decide if Cook’s massive talent justifies a high draft pick.

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2019 Fantasy Football Outlook: Dalvin Cook

2018 Recap

Dalvin Cook was a massive disappointment for the majority of his sophomore season. Fresh off an ACL injury, Cook recorded 26 carries for just 78 yards in his first two games before missing Week Three. Cook returned in Week Four, but re-aggravated his hamstring and didn’t play until Week Nine against the Detroit Lions. He recorded 89 yards on 10 carries against Detroit, but 70 of those yards came on one carry. In his next two games, Cook recorded a combined 41 rushing yards on 19 carries.

Cook was one of fantasy football’s biggest busts through 12 weeks of the season, but he closed out his season on a high note. Over his final five games, Cook recorded 387 yards and two touchdowns on 68 rushing attempts, good for 5.69 yards-per-carry. Additionally, Cook added 21 receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. Over this five-game stretch, Cook was the RB7 in standard scoring and played up to his potential. The talent is there when he’s healthy, but what can we expect from Cook heading into 2019?

2019 Projection

Dalvin Cook should be in a more favorable situation in 2019. The 2018 Minnesota Vikings were one of the most pass-happy teams in football, and head coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t a fan of that style of play. Zimmer openly criticized then-offensive coordinator John DeFilippo for his pass-happy approach and eventually named Kevin Stefanski the offensive coordinator for the 2019 season. Stefanski should increase Minnesota’s run rate, which will only improve Cook’s production.

Additionally, the Vikings had one of the worst interior offensive lines in football last year. Running back production is highly dependent on good blocking, so Cook didn’t have a chance on a high percentage of his runs. Minnesota won’t have a top-five line by any means, but it should be improved from a season ago. The Vikings selected Garrett Bradbury in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft and added Josh Kline as a free agent. Both players should immediately start on the interior and allow Cook more room to run.

The one downgrade for Cook involves his fellow running backs. Last year, Cook only had to fend off Latavius Murray for the bell-cow role. This year, the Vikings invested a third-round pick in running back Alexander Mattison. Cook will remain the starter when healthy, but Mattison could eat into some of Cook’s workload. Mike Zimmer wants the running game to be a feature of the offense, and Minnesota could utilize more of a committee approach with Cook and Mattison. Cook will still have plenty of value if the Vikings go this route, although it will obviously limit his ceiling.

Cook’s Injuries

Predicting injuries is an inexact science, but fantasy football owners need to weigh the risks associated with Cook. As previously mentioned, Cook has struggled to stay healthy thus far in his NFL career. Back in 2017, Cook tore his ACL after just four games. In 2018, Cook battled through a hamstring injury which clearly limited his ability in the early portions of the year. With such an injury-filled background, it’s understandable that some fantasy owners are wary of Cook.

That said, this two-year stretch of injury appears to be a run of bad luck. Cook was remarkably durable during his collegiate tenure, missing just two games over three years. While he underwent shoulder surgery in 2016 and suffered an ankle injury in 2015, these weren’t serious injuries and are fairly common among running backs.

Coming back from an ACL injury isn’t easy, and having a down year following a serious knee injury isn’t out of the ordinary. Not everyone can do what Adrian Peterson did in 2012, and Cook appeared to find his footing at the end of the year. Now entering the off-season with a clean bill of health, Cook should be full-strength for the start of the season.

Dalvin Cook Average Draft Position

As of this posting, Fantasy Football Calculator has Dalvin Cook going off the board with the 15th pick in standard scoring. This places him just behind guys like James Conner and Todd Gurley and just in front of Nick Chubb and Damien Williams.

This feels like the right place to take Cook. While his injury history cannot be completely ignored, his collegiate track record suggests he’s capable of staying healthy for a full season. His slow start can be partially explained by not having a complete off-season program, and Cook appeared to be back to form by the end of the year. No player comes without injury risk, but Cook isn’t at an advanced risk of re-injury compared to somebody like Todd Gurley.

Additionally, Cook’s situation in Minnesota has generally improved from 2018. Minnesota wants to run the ball more this year, and an improved interior offensive line should create better rushing lanes for Cook. The one downside is that Cook now shares a backfield with Alexander Mattison. While Cook will remain the lead guy, the Vikings might give Mattison more of a workload to try to help Cook stay healthy throughout the season.

Even with the injury risk and a possible backfield timeshare, Dalvin Cook is a great pick in the second round. The reward easily outweighs the risk, as he can be a week-in, week-out starter with top-five upside. If he’s there in the second, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

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