The Minnesota Vikings were decidedly classified as a run-first offense in 2014 when head coach Mike Zimmer took the reins of the franchise. Zimmer is of Parcellsian descent and thus fancies his team philosophy on [usually] rambunctious defense and a run-oriented offense that splashes in deep passes.
For these reasons, Dalvin Cook is the ox of Minnesota’s offensive scheme. Zimmer mostly missed out on the tail-end of Adrian Peterson’s prime as the future Hall of Famer was beset by legal woes during Zimmer’s rookie season and injury in 2016, his final season with the Vikings. Sandwiched in those campaigns was 2015. Peterson won his final rushing crown and – surprise, surprise – the Vikings made the playoffs with a staunch defense and average quarterback play from second-year youngster, Teddy Bridgewater.
Every year that the Vikings have produced a prolific rushing attack under Zimmer, Minnesota has reached the postseason. This season, 2020, was the outlier as the Vikings went 7-9 due to a slew of defensive injuries. But it was because Cook was so dominant that the team went on a season-saving win streak after their Week 7 bye.
In subpar rushing seasons (outside of 2020), the team flounders and fails to reach the postseason. Some pinpoint this tendency as an odd-even year bout with inconsistency. Realistically, though, the every-other-year habit is attributable to the ability to run the football. Remember the rushing weapons in 2014, 2016, and 2018 – mainly Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, and Latavius Murray. Quite the skill-drop from Adrian Peterson and Dalvin Cook.
Cook is the breadwinner for the Vikings offense. And he’s doing it at a wickedly impressive clip.
Thru 43 Careers Games, More Yards Than…
Although hindered by injury since his entry into the NFL four years ago, Cook has played in 43 career games. During that span, he has tabulated 4,936 yards from scrimmage and 36 total touchdowns.
Among historical peers, Cook has more yards from scrimmage and touchdowns than these players in their respective first 43 games: Marshall Faulk, Thurman Thomas, Jerome Bettis, Franco Harris, Shaun Alexander, Melvin Gordon, LeSean McCoy, Steven Jackson, Eddie George, Alvin Kamara, Tony Dorsett, Christian McCaffrey, and Ricky Williams.
Oofta. Pretty good company, eh? Well, Cook has out-produced these notable players. And, this should be considered extremely noteworthy because many rebuttals to “today’s stats” invoke the “it’s a passing league” argument. That will not work on a running back.
Even With Injuries, Still More Productive Than…
If one is in the camp that “first 43 games” is cherry-picked and therefore disregards Cook’s injuries, there is follow-up evidence. By age 25 – regardless of games played – Cook has notched more yards from scrimmage than O.J. Simpson, Franco Harris, Eddie George, Gerald Riggs, Derrick Henry, Joe Mixon, Roger Craig, Nick Chubb, and Corey Dillon. Again, that is not a per-game metric. It is gross amount of yards gained by the end of the player’s age-25 season.
The Vikings have a special commodity with Cook. He is not a plug-and-play halfback as might be the case for players such as Devin Singletary in Buffalo, James Conner in Pittsburgh, or Chris Carson in Seattle. Cook is a dynamic slasher-style tailback that can also bulldoze defenders.
For Now, Contract Worth It
And that is why the Vikings front office unleashed the big bucks into Cook’s personal treasury. Veteran quarterbacks in the NFL seem to get at least $20 million per season at a bare minimum for those passers that are at-best-average performers. Think Case Keenum in Denver after leaving the Vikings in 2018.
Running backs are not like that. The current standing with running-back payouts is a tiered setup. General managers do not throw $15 million per year to halfbacks just because it’s “hard to find a good running back.” That is the mentality for quarterbacks. Rushers fall onto the scale in a fashion that is more aligned with capitalism. The best-of-the-best tend to get $12-$15 per season. About 4-5 players are deserving of that salary – Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, and healthy versions of Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey.
Cook belongs in the satchel with those names. He proved it in 2020 – indisputably. He registered 17 touchdowns on 1,918 yards from scrimmage in 14 games.
That is why he inked the five-year, $63 million deal last autumn. His statistical output in 2020 confirmed the efficacy of that decision, and his historical pace shatters that of some lofty peers of yesteryear.