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Dalvin Cook Shouldn’t Be Scapegoated For Vikings’ Rushing Woes

Cook deserves some blame, but it’s not all his fault.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

On March 9th, Darren Wolfson reported that at least one team had made a trade offer to the Minnesota Vikings for running back Dalvin Cook. Thenceforth, there’s been a bevy of cryptic tweets and fan-made mock trades that have been circulating the internet centering around the four time Pro-Bowl running back. However, the Minnesota Vikings have shown no intention of trading Dalvin Cook this offseason.

It’s a bit odd that an analytically-driven general manager like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is content with keeping an aging running back on the same deal. There’s a compelling argument to be made that the Vikings would be better off trading Cook. Minnesota could get a Day 3 pick in a draft where they don’t have a lot of picks, and they’d save some money in the process by offloading Cook’s contract. It would also clear the way for Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler to get more carries.

So why haven’t the Vikings moved on from Dalvin Cook? Like it or not, Dalvin is an integral part of the Vikings offense. The Vikings plan on having Kirk Cousins be the starter in 2023, and Minnesota needs to maintain the threat of the run game in order to set up the play-action passing game Kirk loves so much. By keeping Cook, the team thinks they can get him back to playing at a high level like he was under those Kubiak influenced run-first offenses.

Dalvin Cook didn’t look like the elite running back of years past, but let’s not forget that he is still one of the better running backs in the league. Regardless of how you feel about Dalvin Cook and his contract, there is an undeniable talent gap between him and the rest of the running backs on the roster. The notion that the Vikings can simply trot out a running back by committee featuring Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler expecting elite results is unrealistic.

In 2022, Cook ranked 6th in rushing yards ahead of guys like Christian McCaffrey, Travis Eitienne, and Aaron Jones. The Vikings’ running backs were fairly effective in getting to second level. They ranked 13th in the league in 2nd level yards. Football outsiders describes this as: “Yards which the team’s running backs earn between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries.”

Run blocking has been the Vikings achilles heel in 2022. Minnesota’s RBs were stuffed behind the line of scrimmage on 24% of run plays, the highest rate of any team in the league. The Vikings also ranked dead last in power success, at 54%. Power success is the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. This means, the Vikings were the worst in the league when it came to converting on third or fourth and short when running the ball.

These stats suggest that even though the Vikings offensive line did not run block particularly well, the running back group led by Dalvin Cook did their best to make something out of nothing. It shows that Dalvin Cook shouldn’t be the primary scapegoat for the Vikings ground game woes. He definitely deserves some blame, but the run blocking wasn’t doing Cook any favors, and Kevin O’Connell could’ve done more to help aid the run game by having more tight ends on the field at the very least.

The addition of one of the league’s best blocking tight ends in Josh Oliver should help alleviate some pressure off of Cook. Opponents are going to do everything in their power to stop Justin Jefferson, so expect to see an increase of 12 personnel (1 RBs, 2 TEs) next year with the Vikings relying on the ground game a bit more to counter that. If you want to take a deeper dive into the schematics, I suggest reading this article by Rob Searles.

Granted, there is some risk in keeping Dalvin Cook. If he doesn’t play up to his contract in 2023, there won’t be any teams interested in trading for his albatross of a contract. At that point, the Vikings may have little choice but to release Cook and eat the remaining dead money on his deal. On the contrary, if Dalvin Cook ends up performing like the player we all know he’s capable of being, then the Vikings will be rewarded with another year of high-end running back play.

Personally, I think it’s a risk worth taking. Sure, there may be a team out there that is offering you a Day 3 pick for Dalvin, but the Vikings just cleared up a ton of cap space by releasing some long time veterans and restructuring Kirk’s deal. The Vikings aren’t in salary cap hell, and they certainly won’t be anytime soon. So there’s no harm in seeing if you can increase Dalvin’s productivity and trade value by getting some better run blockers in front of him.