Vikings running back Dalvin Cook hasn't failed to impress – in flashes – during his first two seasons in Minnesota.
Cook missed most of his debut season due to a torn ACL suffered against the Lions in Week 4. He returned from the knee injury but dealt with a nagging hamstring injury last season, missing six games.
If healthy in year three, what kind of season can Cook put together? Austin Gayle of analytics site Pro Football Focus **believes the running back is in for a pretty good one**, saying that a healthy Cook "may just lay claim to top running back honors." Gayle wrote:
In his two injury-plagued seasons in the NFL, the former Seminoles standout has averaged 0.25 forced missed tackles per touch, a mark that leads all 85 NFL backs with 100 or more touches since 2017. He also ranks 18thamong the same group of backs in yards after contact per touch (3.0).
Recovering from his latest ailment (hamstring) down the stretch of last season (Weeks 13-17), Cook earned an 87.4 overall grade and an 86.9 rushing grade, respectively ranking sixth and third among backs with 100 or more offensive snaps in the five-week span. He and [Tennessee's] Derrick Henry ranked tied for first in forced missed tackles per rush (0.26) in said span, and Cook ranked tied for fourth with longtime NFL great Adrian Peterson in yards after contact per rush (3.6).
Gayle noted that Cook was quite impressive at the college level in the passing game, as well. He averaged 11.1 yards after contact per reception and helped quarterbacks total a passer rating of 106.8 on his 97 career targets.
Much of the same has followed Cook to the NFL, as his 9.5 yards after the catch per reception average over the past two seasons ranks tied for 11th among the 87 running backs with 25 or more targets in the two-year span. And he ranks second in forced missed tackles per reception (0.43) among backs with 30 or more receptions since 2017.
Gayle went on to say that he expects there to be an "improved usage/situation" for Cook in Minnesota's new offensive system under Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak.
He opined that the additions of offensive linemen Garrett Bradbury and Dru Samia through the draft "are two reasons to have faith in an improved Minnesota run-blocking offensive line for Cook." In closing, Gayle said "the optimistic view of Cook and the Vikings current situation is a sight to behold."
Rosenthal breaks down Vikings roster, projects starters
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal is equally excited to see what Cook brings to the field in 2019.
Rosenthal recently delved into the NFC North division, **breaking down each team’s roster** and projecting starters.
He called Minnesota's lineup "one of the better rosters in all of football" and mentioned that he's looking forward to seeing what Cook can do in the Vikings new offense. He opined that the running back is "set up for monster production."
Rosenthal expects Minnesota to slide Pat Elflein to left guard and start Bradbury, whom the Vikings drafted 18th overall in April, at center. He wrote:
The offensive line added first-round pick Garrett Bradbury and … guard Josh Kline to a group that was woeful a year ago while struggling with a lot of injuries. If Riley Reiff and Pat Elflein can play 16 games together on the left side, it doesn't look like a bad group on paper.
Kirk Cousins and the coaching staff can make the O-line look better by getting the ball out of his hand faster. The offense is changing again under Gary Kubiak, but hopefully another season in Minnesota helps Cousins be more decisive.
In looking at the defensive side of the ball, Rosenthal said it's "truly remarkable in today's NFL to have as much continuity as [Vikings Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's defense."
The only new starter this season is Shamar Stephen, who's replacing Sheldon Richardson but is no stranger to this D, having spent the first four seasons of his career with Minnesota before a one-year stint in Seattle. Safety Anthony Harris was a breakout player down the stretch [filling in] as a starter last year, and the rest of the group has multiple years of starting experience together. This is Year 2 of the Kirk Cousins Experiment, but this should be Year 5 of Zimmer piloting a top-10 scoring defense.