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Lunchbreak: Frequency of Dalvin Cook's Speed Bursts Sets Him Apart

It's not uncommon for NFL players to be described as "explosive" on the football field, but how does one really define the term?

NFL.com's Nick Shook tackled the topic and ranked the league's top 10 most-explosive players. He provided the disclaimer that the criteria is complicated because "it doesn't rely on one simple differential to define efficiency or effectiveness over the large sample size of an NFL season." Shook wrote:

Explosiveness, by nature, can't be defined by one statistic. It's a combination of blinding speed and productivity. What's the point of breaking 15 mph if you're not also gaining adequate yardage?

Speaking of 15 mph, that will be our final determining statistic. But before we use that metric – specifically, the percentage of runs on which the ball-carrier reached or exceeded 15 mph – we need to separate further by another key indicator of explosiveness: distance covered. For this, we'll institute a baseline for 10-plus-yard runs. The magic number: 20.

To summarize, players on Shook's list needed to fit the following criteria: A minimum of 100 carries in 2019; at least 20 carries of 10-plus yards; percentage of runs during which the player reached 15-plus mph.

Spoiler alert: Minnesota's Dalvin Cook was the highest-ranked running back on Shook's list.

But interestingly, Cook was not the top player but rather the second. The award for No. 1 went to Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, who recorded an incredible 47 runs of 10-plus yards.

Jackson carried the ball 176 times in 2019, and he hit a speed of 15 mph or faster on over half of those runs. Add in his ability to stop on a dime, and you see why defenses were so incredibly flummoxed by him for the majority of the season, and why he ended up sprinting (literally) to the MVP award. Jackson's total of 15-plus mph runs crept toward 100 (93), which is 20 more than the next closest runner on this list – Dalvin Cook, who had 73 – and was by far the most in the entire NFL, regardless of the criteria we listed above. No one was more explosive than Jackson in 2019, and it wasn't even close.

When it came to Cook, Shook said, "it should be of little surprise to anyone that a few running backs operating in zone schemes will appear on this list." Cook in 2019 racked up 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns on 250 carries.

View the top photos of Vikings RB Dalvin Cook from the 2019 season.

The most notable of these backs is Cook, who flourished in a Vikings offense that committed to two-tight end sets and allowed Cook to build up speed on his carries. Cook averaged 10.93 mph at the line of scrimmage on runs in 2019, the second-highest mark among running backs in the NFL with a minimum of 100 rushes. That build-up helped him rip off 25 runs of 10-plus yards and put together a rush efficiency – the distance traveled by the ball carrier on a run play divided by the net yards gained – of 4.2, proving the angles taken on zone runs inside and outside (such as stretches) weren't for naught.

Worth mentioning is the fact that Vikings running back Alexander Mattison, who finished his rookie campaign with 100 carries for 462 yards and a touchdown, "barely missed the mark" with just 15 rushes of 10-plus yards but would have been included on the list otherwise.

After Jackson and Cook, Shook ranked 49ers RB Raheem Mostert, Cardinals RB Kenyan Drake, Packers RB Aaron Jones, Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay, Colts RB Marlon Mack, Falcons RB Todd Gurley (who played for the Rams in 2019), Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey and Seahawks RB Chris Carson.

Hunter tabbed as Vikings 'most underrated player' by PFF

Vikings fans have known for quite some time that defensive end Danielle Hunter is something special.

Last season, Hunter seemed to finally gain some national recognition when he became the youngest player (25 years and 40 days) to reach 50 career sacks since they became an official stat in 1982.

But he continues fly under the radar. Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently named each NFL team's "most underrated player" heading into the 2020 season, and Ben Linsey pointed to Hunter for the Vikings. Linsey wrote:

Hunter is one of just eight edge defenders to record overall grades of 75.0 or higher on 500 or more snaps in each of the past four seasons, and he took things to an entirely different level in 2019. Hunter's 89.0 overall grade was one of the best marks at the position, as were his 88 quarterback pressures (second to Za'Darius Smith). If not for sitting out all but one snap in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Chicago Bears, Hunter may have finished the season with the most pressures in the NFL. That kind of performance deserves recognition — he's in the elite tier of edge defenders, and still at just 25 years old, he's only improving.

Looking at the rest of the NFC North, Linsey highlighted centers Cody Whitehair and Frank Ragnow for the Bears and Lions, respectively.

View the top photos of Vikings RB Dalvin Cook from the 2019 season.

He highlighted safety Adrian Amos from the Packers roster. Amos signed with Green Bay in free agency last year after spending four seasons in Chicago. He started all 16 games for the Packers and totaled 84 tackles (league stats), two interceptions, 1.0 sack, four tackles for loss and eight passes defensed.

Even though Amos may not have made the splash plays safeties get noticed for, PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner reasoned that he excelled in the second key component of play at the safety position — not giving up plays. It led to a grading profile that downgraded him in both 2017 and 2018, yet he put up a strong season with an overall grade of 75.7 for the Packers last season.

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