It seems like just yesterday that Minnesota selected Dalvin Cook 41st overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.
But the dynamic running back already has five pro seasons under his belt – with the last three earning him Pro Bowl nods. Cook has racked up more than 1,000 rushing yards in each of those campaigns and has 35 rushing touchdowns in that time.
ESPN recently ranked the NFL’s top 10 best running backs entering the 2022 season, and Cook, who is donning a No. 4 Vikings jersey this season for the first time, landed at No. 4 on the list. Jeremy Fowler wrote:
Some around the league still have no problem putting Cook in their top three based on his explosion, vision and toughness. With a full season, he could put up historic numbers. But that is sort of the problem – Cook never has played more than 14 games in any of his five NFL seasons.
"He needs to stay on the field. The whole team is different when he's in there," a veteran NFL offensive coach said. "He's great and can get even better with discipline as a runner and growing as a third-down receiver. I think he'll show a more all-around game in a new offense."
Despite playing 13 games last year, Cook still produced 779 yards before first contact, second best in the NFL. And he recorded north of 1,100 rushing yards for the third straight season.
"I love Cook. Give me Cook all day," one NFC front-office member said. "That burst is impressive."
Fowler ranked three backs ahead of Cook; he topped his list with Tennessee's Derrick Henry, followed by Indianapolis' Jonathan Taylor and Cleveland's Nick Chubb.
The Vikings are slated to face Taylor and the Colts in Week 15.
Last year, Taylor lost a tiebreaker with Josh Jacobs for the 10th spot, which seems silly now. Taylor exploded in Year 2 with 1,811 yards – leading all running backs by 500-plus yards – and 18 touchdowns on 332 carries.
"You go into the game with the Colts and say, 'Don't let him kill you. Make the quarterback beat you,' " an NFC exec said. "He's No. 1, 2 and 3 on the game plan."
A scout in the AFC added that Taylor is the total package for the Colts, a humble player and an incredibly hard worker to match the on-field explosion. Taylor had seven more rushing touchdowns and 700 more yards in 2021 than he did his rookie year.
"He's only going to get better," the scout said. "And his breakaway speed can change the game at any time."
Behind Cook were Alvin Kamara (Saints), Joe Mixon (Bengals), Christian McCaffrey (Panthers), Najee Harris (Steelers), Aaron Jones (Packers) and Javonte Williams (Broncos).
View the best photos of Vikings WR Justin Jefferson from the 2021 season.
Justin Jefferson makes CBS Sports' 'All Under 25' offensive team
The only thing that might be surprising is remembering Jefferson – who's taken the league by storm over the past two seasons – is just freshly 23.
CBS Sports' Jordan Dajani put three receivers on his roster of youngins: Jefferson, Cincinnati's Ja'Marr Chase and Dallas' CeeDee Lamb. Dajani wrote the following of Jefferson:
The Vikings star has recorded 3,016 receiving yards in his first two NFL seasons – which are the most recorded by any wide receiver in his first two NFL seasons since the merger. Jefferson finished his rookie campaign with 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns on 88 catches, breaking the record for most receiving yards by a rookie. He upped his game in 2021 with 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns on 108 catches. Two NFL seasons, two All-Pro selections and two Pro Bowl appearances. He's already one of the best in the game.
Jefferson was the only Viking included on Dajani's list, which he topped with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.
The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year upped his game in 2021, as Herbert finished second in passing yards with 5,014 and third in passing touchdowns with 38. The Oregon product earned his first Pro Bowl bid and is someone who should be in the MVP running this upcoming season. Herbert is more athletic than people give him credit for and can complete throws from different angles. He's not afraid to take chances in tight windows and is only gaining confidence. The Chargers haven't made the playoffs since 2018, but that should change in 2022.
View the best photos of Vikings RB Alexander Mattison from the 2021 season.
Mattison hosting free youth football camp Friday afternoon
Vikings running back Alexander Mattison is hosting a FREE "life skills and football" camp Friday afternoon at Hamline University.
Mattison, who uses his "I AM GIFTED" brand to raise mental health awareness, is hosting two separate groups of students, starting with first- through sixth-graders from 3-5 p.m. (CT) and then seventh- through 12th-graders from 6-9 p.m. (CT).
Check out Mattison's tweet and the accompanying link for more information and to register.