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Replacing Dalvin Cook’s production comes with great risk for Vikings

Dalvin Cook had been touted as the future at running back from the moment the Minnesota Vikings selected him as the 41st pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Yet, as we know, the NFL’s shelf life for an effective rusher is quite limited. The 1,503 touches Cook received over the past six seasons seems to have taken a toll on the 27-year-old’s body.

While he managed to play a full 17-game season for the first time in his career, we also saw the Florida native take a step back when it comes to his consistency. Sure, Cook still had good feet and plenty of quickness. But for whatever reason, his impact was limited, averaging a career-worst 4.4 yards per carry.

Yeah, Cook still topped 1,100 rushing yards, an impressive feat for any player, but the advanced stats paint a more concerning picture. One of those metrics is Rush Yards Over Expected (RYOE), which helps measure how many yards a player is expected to gain on an individual play.

Next Gen Stats tracks these numbers for each player across the league. Cook finished fourth-worst among all qualifying running backs (90 attempts or more), with an RYOE rate of just 32.2% in 2022. This means for more than ⅔ of the time Cook received a carry, he either performed as expected or even below average.

So it’s understandable that the team didn’t want to allocate $14.1 million or 6.2% of its budget to Cook in 2023. Instead, they’ll take the $9 million in cap savings.

Great cap savings, but those are for the future. How does not having Cook on the roster help this Vikings team win more games this season?

What fans are forgetting about Dalvin Cook

While Cook’s abilities may be declining, what about the skills that the four-time Pro Bowl back did offer? We can’t quickly forget about his potential to rush for big gains or make big plays in the passing game either.

Sure, Mattison has been able to replicate Cook’s production for the most part on a carry-by-carry or game-by-game basis, but what about the home runs?

Mattison’s had just a fraction of the opportunities Cook has had (474 touches), but he’s also never had a play longer than 48 yards. Meanwhile, aside from his rookie year, Cook has never had a season where he’s been unable to break off a gain for at least 66 yards or more.

In other words, Mattison may be able to move the chains just the same and possibly even better in short-yardage situations where Cook often came up shy, but again, what about the home runs?

That’s where the Vikings will take a risk this season. Their running back by committee approach features a great amount of potential, but Cook was the proven game-breaker in the backfield.

Vikings’ RB committee can be more dangerous than Cook

With that said, Cook’s departure doesn’t mean the Vikings aren’t well-prepared. Just look at how the previous regime selected Kene Nwangwu before Kwesi Adofo-Mensah arrived as the lead decision-maker. Then KAM doubled down and added his own flavor by plucking Ty Chandler in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Both players have world-class speed, even more so than Cook. So far, Nwangwu’s contributions have come on special teams, but he’s a running back by trade. His explosiveness can also be a weapon, but unlike Cook, he doesn’t have some of the best feet in the NFL to help it all come together.

Nwangwu’s ability to turn on the jets can be a game-changer, but we haven’t seen it on a consistent basis yet. He’s great when given a clear runway on kickoffs, but how will the third-year pro be at quickly identifying which hole to hit at the line of scrimmage? We just don’t know until he’s put in a position to do so, but there’s plenty of intrigue with this 25-year-old.

Aside from Nwangwu is Ty Chandler, the more natural runner of the two mentioned here. Like his teammate who thrives on kick returns, Chandler also has blazing burners, having clocked a 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash. Again, that’s quicker than Cook, who ran a 4.49 at the NFL Scouting Combine coming out of Florida State.

As we know, 40 times aren’t everything. There’s a difference between sprinting in underwear and doing so in pads, but we’ve already seen how quick Nwangwu and Chandler can be. Their speed is legit. But their abilities as running backs? Largely unproven.

Yet, that’s the name of the game in the NFL. You’re nobody until you can prove it. We’re about to see what this young backfield is made of.

But that’s the thing. While these players have the potential to be much less expensive solutions, there’s no guarantee they can not only be effective but also become reliable second options. However, these are the gambles teams must take when trying to fit under the salary cap with extensions looming for T.J. Hockenson, Justin Jefferson, and possibly Danielle Hunter too.

Whether it pays off in the short term will be obvious by the end of the year. For the Vikings, all they can hope is for the risk to be rewarding, both in the short term and in the future. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate Cook’s potential success wherever he lands next. Unless it’s in the NFC North, of course.

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