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Lunchbreak: ESPN's Barnwell Says Dalvin Cook Likely in Line to Chase Season Records

With the NFL rolling out a 17-game schedule this season, it remains to be seen how the extra game will affect players' health, as well as playoff races.

But Bill Barnwell of ESPN recently noted a few single-season records could also be taken down starting this year, and mentioned Vikings running back Dalvin Cook as a candidate to take a run at a few of them.

Barnwell picked out eight major records that could be overtaken in 2021, including both the single-season rushing yardage record and the single-season touchdown mark.

Barnwell wrote Cook could have a chance at both them. He began with the touchdown record, which was set by LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 when he found the end zone 31 total times.

Barnwell opined that Carolina's Christian McCaffrey is the favorite to break this record. But he noted that Cook is just behind him because of "The Chef's" workload and success rate inside the 5-yard line.

Despite missing four games and pieces of several more over the past few years, Cook has been force-fed valuable touches near the goal line. No player has more touches inside the 5 over the past two seasons than Cook's 47, and the only player within 12 touches of him over that time frame is Ezekiel Elliott. Unsurprisingly, Cook also leads all players with 19 touchdowns inside the 5 since then. He would need to play all 17 games to have a shot, but his ceiling is astronomically high, given his role when healthy.

Barnwell also wrote that Cook is second in line as a candidate for the overall rushing mark, too. That record of 2,105 rushing yards was set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.

Derrick Henry was Barnwell's top choice, which wasn't a surprise given that Henry has led the league in rushing the past two seasons. The Titans running back had 3,567 combined yards in 2018 and 2019, including a 2,000-yard campaign a season ago.

But Cook could also be in the mix for that hallowed record, too, Barnwell said.

[Vikings Head Coach] Mike Zimmer might like nothing more than to give his starting running back 400 carries in a 17-game season. It's tough to count on Cook staying healthy for the entire season given his track record with injuries, but if you take the 17 games he has played in which he has had more than 20 carries, he finishes with 422 rushes for 2,120 yards. It's going to take that sort of workload to get anybody ahead of Dickerson, so while those games weren't consecutive, it's not impossible to imagine.

Cook has proven himself to be one of the league's best running backs in recent seasons. He has made back-to-back Pro Bowls, with his 2,692 combined rushing yards and 29 rushing touchdowns both ranking as the second-most over the past two seasons.

Yet the affable Cook likely isn't focusing on these records, as he told the Twin Cities media last month that he's not focused on personal goals this season.

"I want to make the playoffs. That's my goal," Cook said. "I've never really set a goal ever since I got to Minnesota. My main goal was just to go out there and be Dalvin Cook, and I think everything will take care of itself.

"I never really set a goal for X number of yards and 'This is what I want,' " Cook added. "I always say work hard and when the season comes around, just be who I am and let it go. That's what I do."

Ekstrom: Hunter's presence needed up front

Danielle Hunter was a welcome sight at Tuesday's minicamp practice, even if the standout defensive end did not participate in the session.

Hunter, who did not partake in any voluntary Organized Team Activity practices, missed the entire 2020 season with a neck injury.

But Hunter's presence got Sam Ekstrom of Purple Insider thinking ahead to the 2021 season and the inevitable impact that Hunter could have on the Vikings defense.

Ekstrom wrote:

Without Hunter last year, Minnesota had the fifth-fewest sacks in the league. Without Hunter [this year], improving that number would have been difficult. Their sacks leader (Ngakoue) finished the season in Baltimore and their No. 2 sack-getter (Ifeadi Odenigbo) is now a member of the New York Giants.

Hunter's presence not only feels like adding an elite rusher, it should also improve conditions for the defensive tackles next to him and free up [D.J.] Wonnum or [Stephen] Weatherly for subpackage duties (third down pass rushing, maybe?). He also [will] prevent rookies from having to play extensive snaps and provides a massive game-planning headache for opponents.

The Vikings recorded just 23.0 total sacks in 2020, their lowest team total since sacks became an official stat in 1982.

Hunter has 29.0 combined sacks in 2018 and 2019 — with 14.5 of them each season — the second-most sacks in that timeframe.