We follow up our previous Cook piece with an article regarding a different Cook entirely. Dalvin Cook, the RB6 overall — despite missing two games — from last season is a player who had been heavily scrutinized throughout his career for various reasons. Off-field concerns kept Cook from being selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Despite the fact that he slipped to round two, Cook earned a starting role for Minnesota off the bat, averaging 16.4 fantasy points-per-game in the four games he started before suffering a season-ending knee injury. While Cook’s injury issues persisted into the 2018 season, when he finished as the RB30 while playing in only 11 games, he rebounded in a major way last season, averaging 20.9 fantasy points-per-game, the second-highest per-game average at the position behind only Christian McCaffrey. As impressive as Cook’s breakthrough campaign was, he may be due to take a step back this season.
Most yards after catch in 2019
Christian McCaffrey – 1,010
Austin Ekeler – 944
George Kittle – 622
Darren Waller – 601
Dalvin Cook – 597
Chris Godwin – 591
Robert Woods – 584
Michael Thomas – 582
Leonard Fournette – 576
Alvin Kamara – 568
— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) July 24, 2020
First off, the departure of Cook’s former OC Kevin Stefanski will almost surely be felt, as Stefanski was credited with retooling Minnesota’s scheme following the brief but disastrous Jon DiFilippo era. With Stefanski calling plays, Cook became the focal point of Minnesota’s offense, seeing an increase in his target share (from 8.2% in 2018 to 14.25%) while also seeing an increase in his touches on a per-game basis (from 12.0 in 2018 to 17.85 in 2019). While I don’t see Cook taking a massive hit in either of these categories with Gary Kubiak taking over as the team’s play-caller, it’s likely that the team will turn to a slightly more diverse backfield distribution, integrating 2019 third-round pick Alexander Mattison into the game plan more often.
Speaking of Mattison, the former Boise State standout presents a clear threat to Cook’s starting role should the veteran once again miss time with an injury. Mattison had a nearly identical YPC average (4.6) to Cook (4.5) albeit from a much smaller sample size of carries, the majority of which came in the second half of games. Essentially, Minnesota deployed Mattison in a mop-up role last season, as evidenced by these splits:
Alexander Mattison (2019)
- 69% of carries came while team was leading
- 66.67% of carries came in second half of games
- 87% of carries came during victories
I fully expect Mattison’s role to increase beyond these duties this season, even if Cook manages to stay 100% healthy. The second part of that previous sentence is a very iffy proposition, as Cook has missed 20 games through his first three seasons in the league.
Statistically, Cook should produce similar averages, although his uber-efficient touchdown production from last season (13 touchdowns in 14 games) is one area of his statline that is primed for regression. Likewise, the departure of Stefon Diggs from Minnesota’s receiving core leads me to believe that defenses will be more willing to stack the box against Cook, giving him fewer chances to break off big chunk plays.
Last but certainly not least, Cook’s potential holdout could easily derail his upside this season, as we saw just how rusty a back can get following a prolonged holdout last season with the tepid performances of Melvin Gordon and Le’Veon Bell. Although it’s been reported that Cook will in fact report to training camp, the contract disputes that he has been having with the team are certainly worth monitoring. With that being said, here are my projections for Cook this season:
- 1,066 rushing yards (-79 from last season)
- 248 ATT (-2 from last season)
- 8 rushing TDs (-5 from last season)
- 59 receptions (+6 from last season)
- 74 targets (+11 from last season)
- 501 receiving yards (-18 from last season)
- 1 receiving TD (+1 from last season)
- 269.7 fantasy points ~RB9 (-22.7 points from last season)
While Cook will still be an elite running back in fantasy, I would advise against taking him in the first round of drafts this season.