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A Closer Look at Dalvin Cook

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Florida State v Mississippi Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at Dalvin Cook in the lead up to the draft, for the same reason I didn’t spend much time on Miles Garrett or Jamal Adams- because I never thought he’d be there for the Vikings in the 2nd round. I was wrong. So, now that he’s a Viking, let’s take a closer look at how that came about, and what he brings to the Vikings offense.

Why Cook Fell to the Second Round

Dalvin Cook owns all the rushing records at Florida State. Scouts fawn over his talent. Explosive play-maker. Most complete back in the draft. Everything you could want in a running-back. And just about every big board had him as a top 3 RB in the draft - PFF had him as their top ranked offensive player in the draft - with most projecting him to go somewhere in the top-to-mid-first round. So why didn’t he?

There looks to be a few reasons why he dropped. The biggest one seems to be a string of off-field incidents, most of which happened during his mid-teens, growing up in a poor community in Miami-Dade, where he fell in with a bad crowd. By the time he got to Florida State, he was trying to distance himself from them, which isn’t always easy, with the help of the FSU coaching staff. Robert Klemko at SI has a good background story on all this. Cook has not had any incidents since 2015.

Part of that story also reports that Cook may have also been a victim of a disgruntled agent, or his assistant, attempting to sabotage his reputation with scouts because Cook went with another agent. The report says that an agent’s “runner” or assistant was spreading rumors that Cook was showing up to workouts late, was lazy, etc. which the guy he actually trained with reported as completely false. So there’s that.

Cook also had an underwhelming Combine performance, particularly in the agility drills like the 3-cone drill and short shuttles. His 40 time of 4.49” was a little slower than expected. He improved his 40 time at his pro day, running as fast as 4.43.” Not sure the pre-draft workouts were a huge issue, given his tape at FSU, but then again, look at what happened to Teddy Bridgewater.

The funny thing about Cook’s Combine performance - or underwear drills as some people call it- is that Cook tests very well in speed and agility drills - in pads - which for a football player is the only thing that matters.

ESPN’s Sports Science reflected what can be seen when watching Cook’s game film: Cook, in pads, is often fastest man on the field. The show measured Cook’s speed and concluded that he is the fastest running back that has been tested in the past five years. He also had the same 20-yard split time as Washington WR John Ross -- who set a Combine record with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash last month -- in pads.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who uses GPS tracking to measure the max speed threshold of players on his team, has also said Cook was FSU's fastest player with pads on, confirming what can be seen with the naked eye on Cook’s tape.

The other thing about Cook that was seen as a potential red flag was his injury history, although he only missed one game in his 3-year career at FSU. But he has had 3 off-season shoulder surgeries going back to high school. The first to repair a torn rotator-cuff, then in 2014 to repair the front part of his labrum, and in 2015 to repair the back part of his labrum. Obviously having 3 shoulder surgeries is concerning, so I took a quick look to see which top RBs in the NFL have had their careers cut short by shoulder injuries. I didn’t find any.

The only other injury history I could find on Cook was a hamstring and ankle injury that he played through in 2015, which led to his missing a game that year.

In his post-draft press conference, Spielman said that the Vikings doctors had checked out his injury history and were not concerned about any of Cook’s injuries lingering.

Spielman also said he spoke with Cook for about 45 minutes the morning before he was drafted, and rehashed the off-field incidents. Cook said he wasn’t taking any of the crowd that he had been hanging around as a teenager with him after he was drafted.

In terms of on-field issues, there are one or two concerns as well. The first is pass protection (although some say he does fine) and the other is fumbles. Spielman noted that most backs coming up from college, whether good or bad at pass protection, need to get better at it to block defensive ends in the NFL. Can’t argue with that. PFF reported that in 2016, Cook was asked to pass pro on 100 plays. He gave up 2 sacks and 7 hurries, leading to a 92.8 pass blocking efficiency rating. That’s not perfect, but it certainly isn’t terrible either.

He went on to say that with fumbles and ball security, that is something that is coachable, which is also true. Cook had 14 fumbles in 763 touches at FSU.

So that’s it. Overall, I think the more you look into the issues that led to Cook’s fall out of the first round, the less concerning they are. Sure there’s a couple things to deal with, but nothing, after closer scrutiny, that seems likely to be an on-going issue.

How the Vikings Drafted Him

Even though Cook fell out of the first round, it was still far from certain he’d be there for the Vikings at #48. Cook was considered by many to be one of the highest rated players to fall out of the first round, which was sure to draw interest.

The Packers started off the 2nd round, having traded back with Cleveland for the first pick of Day 2. And as Bob McGinn reports, their decision came down to a choice between Cook and CB Kevin King. The Packers chose King, which should provide a little motivation for Cook whenever he plays against our old friends east of the border.

But, although Cook made it past the Packers at #33, Vikings GM Rick Spielman didn’t think he’d make it to #48, so he started looking to trade up. Turns out he was right.

The Philadelphia Eagles, host of the draft, reportedly made an attempt to trade up for Cook as well. But their attempt fell through, while Spielman was able to secure a trade up with the Bengals, who wanted Mixon, to land Cook two spots ahead of the Eagles at #41. Suddenly the warm regard Eagles fans had for the Vikings after the Bradford trade, giving them a first-round pick for the draft in Philadelphia, turned to boos when the Vikings selection was announced.

The Saints were also interested in Cook at #42, and after the Vikings leap-frogged them to land Cook one spot ahead of them, they traded up in the 3rd round to get Alvin Kamara instead.

So What Did the Vikings Get in Dalvin Cook?

Having gone through the concerns that led Cook to fall in the draft, let’s look now at what he brings to the table.

Florida State Stats

Cook has the most rushing yards and touchdowns of any RB in Florida State history. Here is a breakdown of all his key performance numbers over his 3 year, 38 game career at FSU:

  • Averaged 6.5 yards per carry, 11.8 yards per reception, and 7.0 yards per touch (rushing & receiving combined)
  • Averaged 141 total yards (rushing + receiving) and 1.26 TDs per game
  • 687 rushing attempts for 4,464 yards and 46 rushing TDs
  • 79 receptions for 935 yards and 2 TDs
  • Averaged 4.19 yards after contact per carry

This is comparable to Ezekiel Elliott’s 3-year, 35 game career numbers at Ohio State:

  • 6.7 yards per carry, 7.7 yards per reception, 6.8 yards per touch
  • 126 total yards/game, 1.26 TDs per game
  • 592 rushing attempts for 3,961 yards and 43 TDs
  • 58 receptions for 449 yards and 1 TD
  • Averaged 3.6 yards after contact per carry

Elliott is a bigger back than Cook - 2” taller and 15lbs heavier, with a little more power between the tackles and a little better in pass pro, but Cook is more elusive, and more prolific as a receiver. Both Elliott and Cook ran behind good offensive lines, except Cook last year, as the FSU offensive line run-blocking was sub-par. Still, Cook managed a very productive year in 2016, with nearly 1,200 yards rushing - after contact.

Scouting Report Comments

Beyond Cook’s impressive stats at FSU, Here are some quotes about Cook generally from scouts and analysts:

  • Could be the most complete back in a RB class loaded with talent - Drafttek
  • When given a hole, he can take it to the house, and even when his blocking isn’t good, he has the ability to maximize what is there. - PFF
  • Cook creates for himself with elusiveness and speed, but his value could be diminished by injuries, character and issues in pass protection. If everything checks out, he could become a rookie of the year candidate right away. - Lance Zierlein, nfl.com
  • Dalvin Cook is a dynamic football player who can be the focal point of an NFL offense. With a tremendous ability to see the field and carry speed off his cuts, Cook is problematic for offenses. Complimenting his natural running skills with significant receiving upside, Cook is a versatile contributor that projects perfectly in today’s NFL. - Joe Marino, NDT Scouting

Here is a nice video scouting report on Cook:

I also mixed in some GIFs here to go along with the comments on specific traits Cook demonstrates on the field.

“Cook creates for himself with elusiveness and speed”

Elusive

  • Able to make defenders miss at full speed; led the FBS in elusive rating, breaking 99 tackles (92 on rushes, seven on receptions) and averaging 4.19 yards after contact - PFF
  • He’s extremely elusive in the open field with good agility and balance to continue picking up yards after contact. He has plenty of wiggle and ability to carry speed through sharp cuts. He breaks angles and has all the juice you can ever want in a back. He can shake and slip tacklers with good balance. - Joe Marino
  • Cook creates for himself with elusiveness and speed - Lance Zierlein
  • Elusive athlete and can make defenders miss in a phone booth, showing exceptional body control and instincts in his jump cuts. - Dane Brugler
  • Has cutback ability to leave defenders grasping at air. - Chris Burke, SI

Vision

  • Outstanding vision, patience to allow blocks to develop playside but also decisive when presented with backside opportunities - PFF
  • He sees the field well and makes great decisions. Cook runs with great tempo to allow blocks to develop with a tremendous burst to and through the hole. He is decisive and has a great feel for the defensive flow and counters accordingly. - Joe Marino
  • Senses his surroundings well and anticipates spacing in his runs. Quick to read blocks and sets up his moves with patience and feel. - Dane Brugler
  • He has exceptional vision to the outside and in the open field. - Chris Burke, SI
  • Excellent vision to the perimeter becomes cloudier between the b-gaps. - Lance Zierlein
  • Quick to flow from first to second read on outside zone plays. - Lance Zierlein

“He is decisive and has a great feel for the defensive flow and counters accordingly”

Footwork / Balance

  • He has exceptional footwork that allows Cook to remain balanced, take sharp cuts and make people miss. He carries his speed through tight angles and is continuous in his change of direction skills. He makes cuts with terrific timing and does well to get tacklers off-balance. - Joe Marino
  • Very talented runner with outstanding balance, footwork and burst. Uses choppy feet and compact stride length downhill. Keeps feet under him and is able to make lateral cuts at a moment's notice. - Lance Zierlein, nfl.com
  • He has excellent balance for a player that is barely over 200 pounds. This kind of balance points to terrific core strength, as well as a player that is comfortable playing with a low center of gravity. - Drafttek
  • Explosive lower body and coordinated feet to start, stop and redirect quickly. Runs balanced with a low center to escape tackle attempts. - Dane Brugler

Play-Making Ability

  • Breaks long runs in spite of his blocking. Home run waiting to happen. - PFF
  • Even behind subpar run-blocking in 2016, made the most of it and showed the ability to take what is given. - PFF
  • He is a homerun hitter with a resume featuring monster games against his most highly regarded opponents. - Lance Zierlein
  • The brighter the lights, the bigger his game. - Lance Zierlein
  • Can turn the smallest of openings into huge gains. - Chris Burke, SI

Speed / Acceleration

  • Sufficient long speed to outrun defenders. Angle-changing speed. Elite acceleration ensures consistent big-play potential - PFF
  • Has run-away gear around the corner he keeps tucked away for special occasions. - Lance Zierlein
  • He has the straight-line speed to outrun most and gets from 0 to 60 as quickly as any back in the country. - Drafttek
  • Flashes a fifth gear once he hits the second level to breeze past defenders - 10 career runs of 50+ yards. - Dane Brugler

“Has the straight-line speed to outrun most and gets from 0 to 60 as quickly as any back in the country.”

Power

  • Cook has a surprising amount of physicality and ability to finesse for more yards after contact. He will break tackles, but his game isn’t to power through opponents. The power he does have compliments his elusive traits well. He’s willing to lower his shoulder and challenge with physicality. - Joe Marino
  • Cook lacks the power that you may find with some running backs in this year's draft. Flashes ability to finish with authority but makes business decisions at times. - Lance Zierlein
  • Runs with better-than-expected toughness between the tackles to blow through arm tackles. - Dane Brugler
  • Lacks ideal body armor to be a consistent hammer. Not the type of power back who will drop his pads and move bodies with leg drive. - Dane Brugler
  • Has enough size to drive through tackles, but his apparent desire to do so comes and goes. - Chris Burke, SI
“Greedy redzone runner who can cash those checks”

Decision-Making / Style

  • Aggressive north/south runner, rarely looks to bounce plays outside - PFF
  • Not always a tough inside runner. Can be early to bounce it outside rather than plant and go downhill. Needs to become more comfortable between the tackles - Lance Zierlein
  • Not always searching for big play. Rarely takes losses, keeps the offense ahead of the chains - PFF
  • Greedy redzone runner with ability to cash those checks. - Lance Zierlein
  • Nose for the end zone, holding the school-record with 46 rushing touchdowns. - Dane Brugler
  • He has excellent patience to allow his blockers to do their job and then times his burst to maximize each run. - Dane Brugler, cbssports.com
  • Darting style allows him to escape defenders who show gap commitment too soon. - Lance Zierlein
  • He does not waste a lot of energy in the backfield. When a play calls for him to run between the tackles, he’ll find his spot and start pushing forward for yardage as soon as he possibly can. - Chris Burke, SI
  • Cook's feel for the position also makes it so that he can improvise on the fly. If his initial gap closes up, he’ll find an alternate route without backpedaling or hesitating. - Chris Burke, SI

Receiving

  • He’s an outstanding contributor as a receiver. He runs great routes with proper timing and is a natural hands catcher. He has shown the ability to track and catch the ball vertically. Cook is a dynamic threat out of the backfield who can create yards for himself after the catch. - Joe Marino
  • He also has very good hands and displays the traits that could make him an excellent route-runner out of the backfield. He wastes minimal steps coming in and out of his breaks where he shows off his explosion. - Drafttek
  • Above average ballskills as a pass-catcher (79 career catches) due to his hand-eye coordination and hands. Will have the occasional drop, focusing on the run after the catch instead of the catch. - Dane Brugler
  • Suffers from focus drops out of backfield. - Lance Zierlein

“Will have the occasional drop, focusing on the run after the catch instead of the catch.”

Pass Protection

  • He is an adequate pass protector who gets his work done. He remains balanced when absorbing contact and fulfills assignments. He can improve diagnosing pressure but finds work and isn’t over-matched. - Joe Marino
  • Pass protection isn't a strength of his. He tends to pick up the correct assignments, but his technique is something that will have to improve immensely. -Drafttek
  • Willing blocker in pass protection, but makes too many mistakes due to inconsistent timing, technique and awareness. - Dane Brugler

“He tends to pick up the correct assignments, but his technique is something that will have to improve immensely”

Ball Security

  • Biggest concern: Ball security - fumbled 14 times in 763 touches - PFF
  • Ball security concerns with 12 fumbles the past three seasons (six in 2016), averaging one every 63.8 touches on offense. - Dane Brugler
  • Weaknesses: ball security—he fumbled a dozen times as a Seminole. - Chris Burke, SI
  • Ball security issues with 13 career fumbles. - Lance Zierlein
“Ball security issues with 13 career fumbles”

Scheme Fit

  • Great fit in an outside zone scheme, best using his instincts to pick lanes and athleticism on the move - PFF
  • Flourished in zone, gap and power schemes at FSU - Lance Zierlein
  • There is no situation in which Cook looks uncomfortable... He can run whether the QB lines up in shotgun, pistol or under center, and he can be trusted as a pass catcher out of the backfield. - Chris Burke, SI

Overall

While Cook had some off-field and injury issues that made him fall out of the first round, he may be the best overall back in the draft. He’s got some coachable issues with fumbles and pass protection to clean up, but he also has the vision, speed, elusiveness, and play-making ability that aren’t coachable.

What’s more, he seems to rise to the occasion and performs best in big games, and when the game is on the line - something great players always seem to do.

Poll

Who was the best RB in the 2017 draft?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    Dalvin Cook
    (2414 votes)
  • 18%
    Leonard Fournette
    (628 votes)
  • 5%
    Christian McCaffrey
    (200 votes)
  • 5%
    Joe Mixon
    (200 votes)
  • 0%
    Alvin Kamara
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone Else
    (27 votes)
3473 votes total Vote Now