The Minnesota Vikings built their offense around running back Dalvin Cook since the team drafted him in 2017. He missed the majority of his rookie campaign with a torn ACL. In 2018, the Vikings fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was fired halfway through the season because he didn’t utilize a less-than-fully-healthy Cook.
The Vikings signed quarterback Kirk Cousins for a lot of money in 2018, but head coach Mike Zimmer still wanted to build the offense through his runner, a rather odd concept.
The Florida State alumnus was certainly one of the best playmakers in the game in 2019 and 2020, single-handedly winning games for the purple team. In 2021, he was dinged up for most of the season and didn’t look as dynamic as he used to.
Cook recorded more than 1,000 rushing yards in four consecutive seasons and scored 43 rushing touchdowns since 2019. Only Derrick Henry scored more in that span, and only Henry and Nick Chubb recorded more rushing yards.
Is Dalvin Cook No Longer Elite?
On the surface, Cook still looks like one of the top running backs in the NFL. He has already secured 1,136 rushing yards on 253 attempts and scored eight times. His average of 4.5 rushing yards despite a shaky offensive line is also looking fine. However, advanced statistics tell a different story.
Cook is among the worst runners in EPA/Rush and Rushing Yards Over Expected per Rush. In the past, Cook was a running back that gained six yards when he should’ve gotten four. Now, he’s only getting three yards. The difference between the 2022 version of Cook and the prime version of 2020 is notable. His PFF grades confirm that thesis. In 2020, PFF graded him as the third-best running back in the NFL. In 2021, Cook was 42nd, and in 2022, he’s 38th.
What makes things worse, his backup, Alexander Mattison, is even poorer in those same metrics. Of the 63 players with at least 60 carries, Mattison ranks dead last in rushing yards over expected per run with -1.53. That is a disastrous number. The 62nd in that list, Saints running back Mark Ingram, has -1.17, a terrible number but a lot better than Mattison’s. Cook is 59th with -1.11.
The Vikings are 30th in rushing percentage. Only the Buccaneers and the Chargers run the ball less than the Vikings. The lack of success in the running game is a big reason for the high number of three-and-outs.
None of the recent Super Bowl winners did a great job running the ball. However, their offense worked overall because the passing game was at a higher level than that of the 2022 Vikings.
It will be a big talking point, possibly the loudest surrounding the Vikings in the offseason, if Cook will be a Viking when the 2023 season kicks off. Running backs are relatively easy to replace. Teams can find capable running backs toward the end of drafts.
Cook is a long-term Vikings star player and one of the faces of the organization. Therefore, it will be hard for fans to accept a future without the running back.
However, his cap hit next season will be over $14 million — a ridiculous number for a running back in the current state of the NFL, where running backs are replaceable. Cutting the star in the offseason would save about $7.9 million in cap space.
There are some reasons why the Vikings should keep the running back despite the huge cap number. First of all, Cook is a team leader. He is a team captain and one of the most vocal players in the locker room. Cook is a player with a positive mindset and one of the culture setters of the purple team. That impact on the locker room is always underrated.
Another thing the Vikings would miss without him is his big-play ability. His three most important plays of the 2022 season have been a 53-yard touchdown run against the Dolphins, a run that helped a heavily struggling Vikings offense to pull away for the win, an 81-yard touchdown run against the Bills, and a 64-yard reception against the Colts. Both big play scores were essential for the huge comeback wins of the Vikings.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt