Dalvin Cook was one of the NFL's top young stars during the first month of the 2017 season, as the second-round pick burst onto the scene early in his rookie campaign.
But the Vikings running back missed the final 14 games of the season (including the postseason) after suffering a torn ACL in Week 4 against Detroit.
Those around the league still hold Cook in high regard, however, and a panel of NFC North beat writers from ESPN recently tabbed the former Florida State standout as the division's rising star.
Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky were the two NFC North writers who went with Cook.
The rookie running back was on pace to break more than a few Vikings franchise records when he tore his ACL in Week 4. The dynamic rusher notched 354 yards rushing (4.8 per carry) and two touchdowns to go along with 90 yards receiving last season, establishing himself as a premier three-down back whose playmaking ability made him one of the most important pieces of Minnesota's offense. He'll be in the running for Comeback Player of the Year and may even contend for the rushing title in 2018. The Vikings offense will go as far as Cook and the run game take it. While quarterback Kirk Cousins has been the focus of the offseason, Cook's triumphant return this fall will play a major role in Minnesota's success.
He offered a glimpse as a rookie before tearing his ACL four weeks into the season. Up to that point, he was doing his best Adrian Peterson impersonation. Cook opened with a 127-yard game and in less than four full games had rushed for 354 yards (averaging 4.8 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Yes, the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to be the focal point of their offense, but having a dominant running back could be more important to a team that wants to control the ball and rely on its dominant defense.
Cook spoke to the Twin Cities media in early June about his rehab process, and he also offered an outlook on the future.
"I'm still that same guy. You just have to pick up from where I left off," Cook said. "I'm just going out there and playing football.
"I'm still Dalvin Cook. I haven't left. The motivation is still there," Cook added. "The talent is still there, just a little older – that's it."
Bears running back Tarik Cohen and Lions cornerback Darius Slay received the other two votes on the panel.
CBS Sports: Vikings have toughest schedule among NFC North teams
The Vikings still have more than eight weeks before they open the 2018 season with a Sept. 9 home game against the 49ers.
That will kick off a tough 2018 schedule for Minnesota, which is understandable given the Vikings went 13-3 and won their division in 2017.
How dangerous is Minnesota's schedule? John Breech of CBS Sports believes the Vikings have the most difficult schedule out of the four NFC North teams.
Breech wrote that the Vikings toughest stretch will come early on, when they play three of four games on the road against teams such as the Packers, Rams and Eagles.
Kirk Cousins better figure out the Vikings offense quickly, because Minnesota's toughest stretch of the season starts in Week 2. After a home opener against the 49ers, the Vikings will have to play three of their next four games on the road (at Green Bay, Buffalo, at LA Rams, at Philadelphia).
First, they'll be going up against [Packers quarterback Aaron] Rodgers, who will likely be out for revenge. After a winnable game against the Bills, the Vikings have to turn around on a short week and play a Thursday game in Los Angeles. As if that's not bad enough, the Vikings then have to play the defending Super Bowl champions.
Breech opined that the Vikings will face a similar stretch later in the season when they are on the road in two of three contests.
By the way, the Vikings actually have two rough stretches: The second one starts in Week 12 when they play the Packers, Patriots (away) and Seahawks (away) in consecutive weeks.
The Vikings full 2018 schedule can be found here.