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Lunchbreak: ESPN Ranks Cook & Mattison as NFL's Top RB Tandem

The NFL's best running back tandem resides in Minnesota.

That's according to ESPN's Mike Clay, who recently ranked the top 10 running back duos across the league, and crafted his list by putting Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison at the top.

Clay first provided some statistical support for his reasoning.

Among running backs with at least 100 carries since the start of 2019, Cook and Mattison rank No. 9 (4.8) and No. 12 (4.6) in yards per carry, respectively.

But he then expanded on his selection of Cook and Mattison in the top spot, noting that the tandem in Purple will cause problems for opposing offenses for years to come.

We know Cook is one of the best in the business, having exploded into the "elite" conversation with 1,654 [scrimmage] yards and 13 touchdowns on 303 touches in 14 games last season. And the 2017 second-round draft pick picked up where he left off, pacing all running backs [this season] with 424 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Cook can do it all, ranking in the top 10 among backs in both rushing and receiving yardage last season while also ranking atop the position in yards after the catch (11.3).

The name you might not know as well is Mattison. The 2019 Day 3 draft pick was phenomenal off the bench as a rookie, putting up 544 [scrimmage] yards on 110 touches. He has forced his way into a larger piece of the pie this season and has turned 29 touches into 140 yards while playing 25 percent of the offensive snaps. Cook (25 years old, signed through 2025) and Mattison (22, 2022) are both young and signed long term.

Cook and Mattison's production through four games — 99 combined carries for 531 yards (5.36 yards per carry) and seven rushing touchdowns — are a key reason the Vikings rank fifth in the NFL at 150.8 rushing yards per game.

Both players found the end zone against the Texans, marking the second time the tandem has done that in their season-and-a-quarter as teammates.

The top 5 of Clay's list included the Saints at No. 2 [Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray], followed by the Ravens [Mark Ingram II and J.K. Dobbins], Bengals [Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard] and Broncos [Melvin Gordon III and Phillip Lindsay].

While Cleveland has a great tandem in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Clay wrote that "an MCL injury suffered by Chubb on Sunday has derailed the unit for at least a month or two."

Green Bay's tandem of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams was No. 7. The eighth spot went to Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde in Seattle, where the Vikings play on Sunday Night Football in Week 5.

Hasan breaks down Jefferson's hot start

Although he has started just twice in the first four games of his career, Justin Jefferson has been one of the league's top rookies in 2020.

The 22nd overall pick in the draft, Jefferson had four catches for 103 yards on Sunday as he went over the 100-yard mark for the second consecutive game. The last Vikings rookie to do that was Stefon Diggs in 2015.

Arif Hasan of The Athletic wrote a detailed breakdown of Jefferson's hot start, and noted that the rookie’s versatility has been a key reason why he has 16 catches for 348 yards through four games.

Hasan wrote:

Jefferson has won inside, outside and against a variety of coverages, winning at all three levels. He's won on comebacks, crossers, over routes, corner routes, out routes and fade routes. He's winning at the catch point in a plethora of ways as well, from contested catches to high-pointed comebacks to bucket catches in stride and even a back-shoulder catch that takes extraordinary concentration.

He has demonstrated positional versatility, route variety and the ability to win at the catch point, but he has also showcased skills that are more difficult to pin down. His releases off the line of scrimmage have been fantastic, and that was a concern of his coming out of college — not only did he need additional work, he wasn't required to get off of press coverage given his consistent alignment in the slot in his final year.

Jefferson currently ranks eighth among all NFL players in receiving yards, and is second at 21.8 yards per catch among players with a minimum of 10 receptions so far.

Hasan, whose full breakdown can be found here, concluded that "the signs are there early on that the Vikings have found a high-quality receiver."

See it again

Vikings fans in the home marketing area are able to watch a condensed version of Sunday's 31-23 win over the Texans on here between now and 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

The following marketing areas are included:
Minneapolis/St. Paul; Duluth/Superior, Wisconsin; Mankato; Rochester/Mason City, Iowa/Austin;
Iowa: Des Moines/Ames; Cedar Rapids/Waterloo/Dubuque; Davenport/Bettendorf/Rock Island, Illinois/Moline, Illinois; Sioux City
Wisconsin: La Crosse/Eau Claire
North Dakota: Fargo/Valley City; Minot/Bismarck/Dickinson
South Dakota: Sioux Falls (Mitchell)
Nebraska: Omaha

Viewers in the Twin Cities are also reminded that Vikings Replay airs at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on FOX 9+ WFTC in a two-hour format that recaps the previous week's game. Vikings Replay: Director's Cut then offers viewers a one-hour recap at 10:35 p.m. Wednesday's on FOX 9 KMSP.