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2020 Vikings Position Recap: Running Backs

This just in: Dalvin Cook is still good.

The running back's fourth season for the Vikings turned out to be his best yet, despite a challenging season altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cook racked up the stats and moved up in the Vikings record books.

Over 14 games, he rushed for career highs of 1,557 yards and 16 touchdowns. The impressive campaign moved Cook into eighth place all-time for career rushing yards by a Viking (3,661). He also moved into fifth place for career rushing touchdowns by a Viking with 33, a fitting number that matches the digits on his jersey. Only Adrian Peterson (97), Chuck Foreman (52), Bill Brown (52) and Ted Brown (40) are ahead of Cook in franchise history.

View the best running back photos of the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.

Cook notched his first career 200-yard game (more on that below) and helped Minnesota rank fourth in the NFL in total yards per game (393.4) and fifth in rushing yards per game (142.7). The Vikings average of 4.88 yards per run play ranked fourth in the league.

Individually, Cook tied for second in the NFL in rushing yards behind Tennessee's Derrick Henry.

The numbers he put up likely wouldn't have been possible without the help of Vikings fullback C.J. Ham, who continued to help bulldoze through defenses in his fourth season on the roster. The Minnesota native primarily played role of blocker, although he did add 115 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.

Cook handled the majority (two-thirds) of the carries in 2020.

Alexander Mattison, whom the Vikings drafted 102nd overall in 2019, recorded nearly identical numbers of carries and yards in Year 2, but he scored three touchdowns, including one receiving, for Minnesota after reaching the end zone just once as a rookie.

Mattison played a larger role in the Vikings passing game, making 13 catches for 125 yards (9.6 average), and he also was able to showcase his trademark hurdle on a couple occasions, including the one below:

Behind Mattison, the Vikings looked to Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah, both of whom contributed mainly on special teams, in specific situations.

Notable Number

1,918 — Cook totaled 1,918 yards from scrimmage over the 14 games he played during the 2020 season. The number ranked second in the NFL behind Henry's 2,141 yards from scrimmage (recorded over 16 games).

Memorable Moment

Have a day, Dalvin.

Cook's top rushing performance of the season occurred against the Lions in Week 9. On just 22 carries, he racked up 206 yards and two touchdowns, including an explosive 70-yard run in the fourth quarter.

On first-and-10 from the Minnesota 30-yard line, Kirk Cousins handed off to Cook, who found a seam and wiggled his way through before outrunning a trio of Lions defensive backs in Desmond Trufant, Duron Harmon and former Viking Jayron Kearse. He reached 21.90 mph on the play, his fastest official speed as a ball carrier this season.

Cook's touchdown gave the Vikings a 34-13 lead over Detroit in a game they went on to win 34-20.

The 70-yard run tied for the second-longest of Cook's career, with the first being a 75-yard touchdown against the Packers in 2019. As far as his other 70-yard run? Interestingly, that play occurred also in Week 9, also against the Lions, in 2018.

2020 Statistics

Dalvin Cook

14 games (14 starts); 312 carries for 1,557 yards (5.0 yards per attempt) with 16 touchdowns; 44 receptions for 361 yards and 1 touchdown

Alexander Mattison

13 games (2 starts); 96 carries for 434 yards (4.5 yards per attempt) with 2 touchdowns; 13 receptions for 125 yards and 1 touchdown

Mike Boone

16 games (0 starts); 11 carries for 59 yards (5.4 yards per attempt) with 1 touchdown; 2 receptions for 10 yards

Ameer Abdullah

16 games (0 starts); 8 carries for 42 yards (5.3 yards per attempt) with 0 touchdowns; 8 receptions for 58 yards and 2 touchdowns

C.J. Ham

15 games (11 starts); 5 carries for 18 yards (3.6 yards per attempt) with 0 touchdowns; 8 receptions for 97 yards and 1 touchdown

Highest highs

1. The Vikings desperately needed a win after starting the season 0-3, and a rushing attack against the Texans helped them snag one.

Minnesota recorded 162 yards on the ground at Houston, led by Cook's 27 carries for 130 yards.

Cook scored both of his touchdowns (5 and 7 yards) in the first half. The Vikings entered the fourth quarter hanging onto an 8-point lead, and Mattison scored on a 4-yard run to seal a 31-23 Minnesota win.

2. Abdullah scored two touchdowns in 2020, and both helped Minnesota defeat his former team and NFC North rival.

Abdullah, who played for the Lions from 2015-18 before signing with the Vikings halfway through the 2018 season, touched the ball just once against Detroit in Week 9, but he made it count. The screen play capped off a six-play, 1:04 drive just before halftime. After making the catch from Cousins, Abdullah ran and managed to eek the ball inside the pylon for a 22-yard score.

In Week 17 at Detroit, Abdullah scored a touchdown on a 4-yard pass from Cousins, helping Minnesota end a challenging season on a high note.

View photos of RB Dalvin Cook's second touchdown during the Vikings-Texans game on Sunday at NRG Stadium.

Lowest lows

1. It's hard to find a lower low (across several statistical categories) than the Vikings Week 6 game against the Falcons.

With Cook sidelined due to a groin injury, Minnesota recorded just 32 rushing yards en route to a 40-23 loss to an Atlanta team that entered the contest 0-5.

Mattison led the team with just 26 yards on 10 carries, followed by Abdullah who recorded seven yards on two attempts. Boone had a single carry for a 1-yard loss.

2. It's hard to point any fingers at Cook, who had a career year for Minnesota.

But a turnover always impacts a game, and two of Cook's three fumbles lost occurred in narrow losses for the Vikings.

The first occurred against the Titans in Week 3. On the Vikings first possession of the game, Cook fumbled on second-and-1, and the ball was recovered – and returned for 25 yards – by Rashaan Evans. Tennessee went on to kick a field goal to take a 6-0 lead in a game that Minnesota would end up losing 31-30.

Against Dallas in Week 11, Cook fumbled on second-and-8 with just a minute to go in the second quarter. DeMarcus Lawrence recovered the ball and Jaylon Smith returned it 21 yards to the Minnesota 48-yard line. The Cowboys were able to drive down and kick a 19-yard field goal just before halftime. The Vikings ended up losing by the margin of a field goal, 31-28.

View photos of Vikings RB Dalvin Cook and WR Justin Jefferson who were announced to the 2021 Pro Bowl roster.

Quotes

"It means a lot to me. A guy that has done it before me and was in the same shoes I was in, just a few years ago. It means a lot. When I got drafted, I really didn't know what I was getting myself into. I thought I was going to be a guy that just came in and played behind Adrian. But they drafted me to come play right away, and I had to be ready. I was just a kid; I didn't know. Just to be playing on the field with Adrian, it's always a blessing for me to soak that up, every time.

– Cook after a 200-yard outing against Adrian Peterson and the Lions

"Yeah, man. That's my guy. … He is his own self-critic of everything, and just him going out there blocking every week, I don't think you see guys do that. He loves it every week. He lives for it every week. And every chance he gets he tells me how much of a special player I am. That's one of my closest friends nowadays. C.J., that's my guy, and I've just got to make sure he's all right because [he gives] it everything he's got, so he's been doing a hell of a job for us."

– Cook on the impact of Ham as a blocker

"I'll leave the rankings [of RB duos] up to the professionals and the fans out there, but for me I think we have a very versatile running backs room. As a whole, I think we can do something special in this league. I'm gonna hold us accountable, hold us to that standard as [coach Kennedy Polamalu] does and as everybody in that room does. We're going to go out there and try to be one of the better groups that we can be."

– Mattison on Minnesota's running backs

Pressing Questions for 2021

1. Can Cook replicate – or top – his 2020 season in 2021?

There's no denying Cook had a rock star performance in 2020. The 25-year-old impressed week after week and stayed mostly healthy, missing a game-and-a-half with a groin injury after struggling with injuries in previous campaigns. There's also no denying, however, that he took a beating in totaling 356 touches.

Cook repeatedly assured media members that his body felt great and that he embraced the heavy workload. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer favors a run-heavy offense, so it's likely that Cook will be asked to handle plenty of touches again in 2021 – will he be able to keep pace with this season's numbers?

2. Will the Vikings offensive system look the same next season?

As stated above, Zimmer holds a run-first philosophy, and that's not likely to change.

But there is some uncertainty as to whether Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak will return for a second season in the role, and it remains to be seen if any tweaks will be made to the offensive system – under Kubiak or otherwise.

According to Sportradar, Minnesota's run-play percentage (45.7) was the sixth-highest in the NFL in 2020. Will that number stay the same, or is there a chance that passing plays increase at all in Zimmer's eighth season at the helm?

Even if the ratio of run-to-pass plays stays consistent, it will be interesting to see if other backs on Minnesota's roster are implemented in games on a more regular basis instead of getting their primary action if Cook is inactive.

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