With word out of the Dalvin Cook camp that he will be holding out until a new contract is agreed upon, the Minnesota Vikings are in predicament. The Pro Bowl running back was the centerpiece of the offense in 2019 and by all accounts will likely be the same in 2020. However, with reports that he is seeking a deal worth $13 million per year (his total cap hit will be just over two million in 2020), the two sides could hit a standstill as camp and the season approaches. If Cook holds out, the team would likely count on second-year running back Alexander Mattison to tote the rock.
While no one is comparing him to Cook, Mattison was a more-than-serviceable backup as a rookie and one would expect him to improve in his second season. Today we look and see if he could handle the full-time duties if need be in 2020.
Can Alexander Mattison Carry the Load If Dalvin Cook Holds Out?
Some backup running backs are good as change-of-pace guys. They may not grind out five yards per carry, but every once in awhile they can hit a home run while the starting back is on the sideline. However, you have to suffer through them gaining next to nothing on their other runs.
Mattison is not that kind of back. In 2019, he ran 100 times for 461 yards. That is a 4.6 yard per carry average in a league that, if a back wants to be counted on, expects at worst 4.1 yards per carry. The per carry average is great, but the 100 carries were mostly efficient. Take, for example, that his longest rush was only 35 yards. He didn’t pop any 80 yard runs that skewed an otherwise poor performance. He simply grinded out quality carries over the course of games. Also, out of his 100 runs, he picked up 19 first downs, or one first down every five carries.
Second Half Slumps Affected Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison
While both Cook and Mattison were highly valuable in 2019 to the Vikings, both players had their best performances in the first half of the season. After Cook eclipsed 100 all-purpose yards in eight of the first ten games of the season, he did not again eclipse that number until the wild card game against the Saints. Mattison, meanwhile, only picked up 73 yards on the ground after week 10 in three games of action.
The drop-off had much to do with injuries, but injuries are a part of football. Cook battled a shoulder injury while Mattison had his own ankle injury that kept him out of four games. Cook has had injury issues his entire career so far, while Mattison has to prove that he won’t carry the same label. Still, it was not reassuring that Mattison wasn’t able to completely pick up the slack for Cook after week 10.
The Offense Doesn’t Change When Mattison Plays
Assuming Mattison can stay healthy, what he has going for him is not only the stats to show that he can be effective, but also that his game is similar enough to Cook that the offense doesn’t change when he is on the field. Both players sport dreads and a similar build. While Cook would surely stand out on one-on-one situations in the open field, even the most die-hard fans sometimes had to do double-takes when Mattison would run in 2019. His physical nature allows the Vikings to put him on the field for their normal offensive packages and his pass protection and catching allows him to be a part of the passing game as well. If Cook does plan to play hardball in negotiations, the Vikings wouldn’t need to scale down their playbook much at all because of Mattison’s overall game.
When Dalvin Cook is healthy, he is a top-five running back in the entire NFL. When thrust into the lineup, Mattison still needs to prove he can be productive and durable all season, but by all accounts the Vikings would be comfortable riding with him if Cook and his camp get too stubborn with contract negotiations. With the shelf life of running backs shorter than most other positions, Minnesota has a chance to use their leverage and utilize Mattison in the same role that Cook played his first three seasons. If Mattison shines, the Vikings may be willing to break off talks and allow Cook continue sitting out. As long as Mattison stays healthy, this writer believes he can make Cook expendable if the price is too high.
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