Minnesota Vikings: Why Dalvin Cook Will Win Comeback Player of the Year

Dalvin Cook was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings with the 41st pick in the second round in 2017 out of Florida State. Cook was considered by many to be one of the top three running backs going into the draft. The Vikings were surprised he was still available at the 41st pick and happily took him. Training camp started and Cook quickly started to shine, not only for his running ability but also his pass catching ability. Three games into the season Cook was among the top running backs in the league. In the third quarter of the Week 4 game versus the Lions, disaster struck and Cook went down with a season-ending  ACL tear.

Why Dalvin Cook Will Win Comeback Player of the Year

Cook went down just as he was rising to the top of the running back heap. In three full games, Cook rushed for 288 yards and a touchdown on 62 carries for 4.7 yards per carry. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Cook’s performance was his pass blocking ability. Most rookie running back struggle with blocking and some, Adrian Peterson I’m thinking of you, never quite get it. Through three games Cook was looking like the Swiss Army Knife of running backs, he could do it all.

It’s clear that Cook has the talent to be a top-tier running back in the NFL. The real question will he be the same player he was before the ACL surgery?

By all reports, Dalvin Cook has made a full recovery in just 10 months. He is running without a brace and with full confidence in his knee. With the Knee fully recovered and explosiveness back the only question remaining is with the turnover of the offensive coordinator from Pat Shurmur to John DeFilippo. How does Cook fit?

John DeFilippo is a third generation West Coast Offense disciple, a system that relies on the running backs to be among their most prolific receivers.  Taking a look back at last season under Shurmur, Jarrick McKinnon was fourth on the team in receptions at 51 and yards 421.  I don’t expect DeFilippo will run a clone of Shurmur’s offense, there are has been a significant change at quarterback. However, I do think that the base system will be a very strong West Coast Offense which should provide Cook with ample touches.

Dalvin Cook
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

NFL offenses don’t just stick to one offensive philosophy but tend to borrow and bolt on concepts of other philosophies. There is evidence that the Vikings will work out of the spread at times which is another type of offense that benefits from having a pass-catching running back. Some plays essentially have the running back check for protection then if no block is required releases into a slot role.

Another concept that we are likely to see under DeFilippo is the RPO or Run-Pass Option. The Eagles were one of the most prominent proponents of the RPO in 2017, though most teams used the concept to some degree. I expect we will see the Vikings run more RPO this season with DeFilippo at the helm. How does the RPO benefit Cook? Well, if you’re a Vikings fan you saw what the RPO can do in the NFC Championship game. What the RPO does is puts pressure on the linebackers in particular by making them guess run or pass. When the RPO is effective it makes linebackers hesitate just enough to give wide receivers and running backs an edge.

Wrapping it up

Before Cook went down with the injury he was making a name for himself as a well-rounded running back. He was on pace to be in the conversation for offensive rookie of the year. By all accounts, he is back and fully recovered and some teammates believe he looks even more explosive than before. Then the Vikings bring in John DeFilippo as the offensive coordinator, who just happens to have concepts perfect for Cook. This all adds up to Dalvin Cook having a great comeback year, but potentially the best season of any running back in the league.

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