It’s not a good day for the Minnesota Vikings. Irv Smith had thumb surgery, and Kene Nwangwu is dealing with a minor soft tissue injury.
Now, Dalvin Cook left the field after injuring his left hand.
Running backs can’t play through hand injuries, as they obviously have to carry the football. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear to be a significant injury.
Cook came back shortly after the incident, but the Vikings can’t afford to lose their star running back for a longer period. Backup Alexander Mattison did a fine job when he had to replace Cook. The Pro Bowler misses games every year, so it wouldn’t be anything new for Mattison.
The RB2 can do some things that Cook does, but he lacks Cook’s explosiveness. Cook can take the ball to the house on any given play, while Mattison can’t. He doesn’t possess the necessary speed for big plays. The other backups, however, have that speed. Kene Nwangwu is a true speedster. He’s a special teams demon. Ty Chandler, the rookie, is an unknown at this point but has shown some flashes in camp so far.
Chandler played for North Carolina last season and cracked 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Before transferring there, he played for Tennessee, where he was never the unquestioned leader of the running back room. He also scored 13 touchdowns in his final year after scoring 13 times in the first four seasons combined.
Per NextGenStats, Cook averaged 0.34 yards over expected per attempt in 2021, a down-year for him. Mattison, meanwhile, had -0.44 yards over expected per run. The difference is gigantic. Cook finished with 1,159 rushing yards in 2021. That ranked him fifth in the NFL, despite playing just 13 games. He never played more than 14 games in a season. His touchdowns were down to just six after scoring 16 and 13 times in the last two seasons.
Cook talked in the offseason about his new role. He expected to get more catches, which should help his durability because running right into multiple 300 lbs defenders isn’t helping him stay healthy. Catching passes in the open field makes more sense in that department.
The offensive focus would shift towards the passing game. The theme of the offseason, and camp, is that the Vikings will throw the ball more. They will use more pre-snap motion and more no-huddle offense. However, the threat of a Pro Bowl running back in the backfield opens up more opportunities in the passing attack.
Irv Smith’s injury isn’t trending as a lengthy absence either. The word is that he’ll be ready for the Week 1 matchup against the Green Bay Packers. The depth behind him is a big question mark. Johnny Mundt came from the Rams. He never was in the spotlight in the NFL as a pass catcher. His tasks in Los Angeles were those of a blocking tight end. Ben Ellefson played the same role for the Vikings in 2021. Rookie Nick Muse doesn’t seem ready yet. He was a seventh-rounder.
Second-year player Zach Davidson had some good plays on Monday when he stepped in for Smith and ran plays with the first team. His 4.6 speed and 6’7″ frame make him an intriguing prospect. He could be a sleeper to make the roster and impact on the 2022 season.
The Vikings are still one the most healthy team in the NFL. They just placed two players on the ‘PUP-list,’ Blake Proehl and Ryan Connelly. The only player on the ‘NFI-list’ was Nate Hairston, but he returned to practice on Monday. Nwangwu and Smith are currently the two biggest names with issues.
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