Through 9 weeks of the season, Dalvin Cook has undoubtedly been considered an enormous fail for fantasy owners across the globe. He was a shoe-in first round pick, and his lack of availability, and production when he has played, has set many fantasy owners back and forced them to turn to the waiver wire for solutions.
In Sunday’s victory over Detroit, one play changed the entire outlook on him for the rest of the season.
Dalvin Cook’s 70 yard run set the NFL world on fire. Suddenly, Cook is atop everyone’s lists of players to pick up, players on the rise, etc. He reached a speed exceeding 22 MPH, the fastest ball carrier in the NFL on any play in 2018. He also looked capable catching the football, though fantasy owners and Vikings fans would’ve liked to have seen him do a little bit more after the catch. What’s really interesting is that Cook and Mike Zimmer stated after the game that Cook didn’t even reach his top gear on that run.
So what does this mean? Is Cook once again a weekly must-start for fantasy owners? Is he a viable play in daily-fantasy? Not so fast.
It’s not just the fact that Latavius Murray is on the roster. It’s the fact that Latavius Murray looks like a more potent ball-carrier than perhaps at any point in his career. A good football team doesn’t just drastically reduce touches for a skill player who’s moving well with the ball. Without a doubt, the Vikings also know they have to ease Cook back into the mix, even coming off a bye.
Fantasy writers talk all the time about certain running backs being touchdown dependent. That might be the case for Murray going forward. For Cook, his value will depend on two things: how many catches he gets, and how many big plays he generates. He can’t be expected to have a 70+ yard run/reception each outing, but it’s not unreasonable for him to have multiple plays netting more than 20 yards.
Both running backs also have two wild cards that will play a major factor here. First, how much respect will Kyle Rudolph get as a pass-catcher? His ability to make linebackers think twice about playing the run vs. covering him will dictate how much downhill action comes from opposing linebackers. He needs to be a stronger weapon in Minnesota’s offense. Second, will the offensive line continue to progress? It’s clear that Pat Elflein’s return brought significant improvement to the offensive line across the board, most notably rushing. Brian O’neill has also been outstanding in his rookie season. Tom Compton also needs to be a little stronger when Minnesota runs the ball, though he is a far better pass protector than what Danny Isidora has shown here.
My advice to fantasy owners: play Cook and Murray with caution. It’s not that they aren’t talented players, and it’s certainly not that they’re in a bad offense, they’re actually in a really good one. At this point however, there is zero reason to believe this won’t be a committee backfield. The organization will want the healthiest and freshest version of Dalvin in the playoffs, and Murray’s strong season can allow that to happen.