EAGAN, Minn. — For the first time this season, Dalvin Cook was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
It’s hard to believe the Vikings running back hadn’t garnered at least one of the weekly honors considering the prolific season he is putting together now that Cook is finally fully healthy.
Minnesota drafted Cook in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft for his big-play potential, but the former Florida State standout was limited to just 15 games in his first two seasons due to injuries.
But now in Year 3, Cook has broken out, and has turned into one of the NFL’s top offensive threats.
“You know, I always knew that he was a terrific runner,” said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. “But I think the other two things — how hard he runs and that the first person typically doesn’t tackle him — has been really impressive.
“And then the other part is when he gets the ball in space, people can’t catch him,” Zimmer added. “He just has that extra gear.”
Cook brushed off his second career NFC Offensive Player of the Week award Wednesday, simply saying it was a “good compliment” for a game in which he racked up 183 total yards along with a touchdown run.
But in a game on national television, Cook showed off his dual-threat ability for everyone to see.
He had 26 carries for 97 hard-earned yards, with his touchdown run coming on a 2-yard scamper into the end zone on fourth down.
And Cook set a season-high with seven catches while tying his season-best of 86 receiving yards.
Big plays early on were the theme for Cook, who had gains of 30 and 27 yards on screen passes in the first quarter. He also had another 12-yard reception in the opening period.
Cook explained how his involvement in the passing game affects the Vikings offense.
“Just hoping to get some 1-on-1 matchups with some linebackers. Just winning in space and creating more first downs,” Cook said. “I know [Stefon] Diggs is getting doubled a lot with Adam [Thielen] out, so trying to get some 1-on-1s with linebackers and create new downs. Just trying to win my matchup.
“It’s just about slowing a team down,” Cook added about screen passes. “I think the screen game, you can start with it, you can throw it in there [later]. It just depends on the type of defense you’re facing. With a defense like Dallas that is trying to get to the passer, that pretty much helped us out.”
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said Wednesday he enjoys his vantage point on screen passes, as he just makes sure Cook gets the ball and then watches the electrifying running back go to work.
“When you hit a screen for 20, 30 yards, your receiving yards are going to balloon pretty quickly. It’s not like we’ve put him out there and thrown him post routes,” Cousins said. “But when you give him a pass in the flat and he makes two guys miss, it turns into a 12, 13-yard gain, that’s going to start to add up quickly.
“Many times plays where he’s getting the football are screens or it’s even a play-action pass where he wasn’t the primary or secondary target,” Cousins added. “He was the third target but gets the football when they take other people away and he does a great job after the catch.”
Cousins’ alluded to an unheralded but effective part of Cook’s game — the ability to make people miss once he catches the ball.
According to analytics website Pro Football Focus, Cook has caught the ball an average of 1.2 yards behind the line of scrimmage on average in 2019.
But he leads the league with 11 explosive receptions of 15 or more yards, and is tied with Chargers back Austin Ekeler with 16 missed tackles forced on his catches.
Cook has 40 receptions for 424 yards in 2019, the second-most receptions on the Vikings. Ekeler has 57 catches for 559 yards and six scores.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster for the 2019 season.
On Wednesday, Cook gave a glimpse of how he makes so many people miss, as he revealed he takes a mental picture of the field before each play.
“I just take a picture before I get the ball in my hands … once I get it in my hands, I kind of go from there,” Cook said. “I kind of put myself in place to break those tackles before I even get the ball in my hands.
“I think you have to play the whole field when you’re talking about playing against the Minnesota Vikings. It’s a lot, there’s a lot of field you have to cover and that’s where my mind be at. Just making sure my mind is open to the whole field and not just locked in on one particular thing,” Cook added. “There could be some runs where you have to accept that you’re going to take two or three yards and go back to the huddle. But there are some runs where you know this thing could pop out and break an 80-yard run that you can take advantage of. I try to have my mind open to the whole field.”
Still, there are times where Cook admitted he can even surprise himself.
“Guys are just trying to make plays,” Cook said. “I just come out of there … I don’t know how … but it happens.”
Cook’s elusiveness has helped me become one of the league’s most productive running backs, as his 991 rushing yards lead the NFL. The running back also paces the NFL with 1,415 all-purpose yards, while his 10 total touchdowns are tied for second.
It’s not a surprise for those who have been watching — and waiting — for Cook to get healthy and put the league on notice.
“As far as being in practice with him, I watched him throughout that whole week,” Diggs said. “I like Dalvin. Ya'll know I've been a fan of Dalvin for a while.
“I knew he was special,” Diggs added. “I know how to pick them.”
Cook’s play has helped the Vikings go 7-3, with six tough games remaining in the push for the playoffs.
And even though the 24-year-old has 243 total offensive touches so far in 2019 — the most in the NFL — Cook said Wednesday his body feels good to go, and that he could play Thursday if needed.
That won’t be necessary, as Minnesota hosts Denver at noon (CT) Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
But you can bet the Vikings will find a way to get their do-it-all running back the ball.
“I like to have the ball in my hands,” Cook said, “because I think something special can happen.”