Well, Well, Well. Dalvin the WR.
You wanted newfound offensive innovation for the Minnesota Vikings. You got it.
At the very least a tease, Vikings halfback Dalvin Cook was used as a wide receiver at minicamp this week, a departure from the norm of the Mike Zimmer era.
Cook, 26, is Minnesota’s bellcow RB1 dating back to the 2017 season. He replaced future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson five years ago.
On the bellcow part of Cook’s repertoire, the Florida State alumnus is “one of the few” tailbacks featured in the NFL as an every-down commodity. Over the last few years, most NFL teams pivoted to an RB hodgepodge, designed to use players on their rookie deals and then cut ties in favor of the next new shiny rookie. It’s more affordable. The Denver Broncos have used this technique for 20+ years. Ballclubs get away with not breaking the bank on a single running back, instead employing a couple of cheap editions.
But not the Vikings.
Cook is the league’s fourth highest-paid running back, earning $12.6 million per year via annual average salary. Only Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, and Alvin Kamara make more money.
Vikings fans only know Cook’s skillset through the lens of a Mike Zimmer-led offense. The tide may be turning as Kevin O’Connell struts into Eagan with new offensive plans.
Case in point? Auditioning Cook for some WR snaps. This is new. In 2019, Cook had a marvelous campaign through the air — Kevin Stefanski was in charge of playcalling then — stabbing 53 balls out of the air for 513 receiving yards. But the emphasis on Cook in the passing game diminished when Stefanski left the Twin Cities for Cleveland.
As evidenced by one single showing, though, O’Connell might be channeling some Stefanski thinking. In the aftermath of Cook catching some passes at minicamp, he seemingly embraced the idea or is at least along for the tease, tweeting this on Wednesday:
Cook the WR, indeed.
Tossing Cook on the edge of the line of scrimmage from time to time would make sense in a league evolving to ever-present pass-happiness. Young offensive coordinators want to throw the pigskin, and guess what — the Vikings hired a youthful offensive coordinator to guide the ship in February. If the Cook-WR stuff comes to fruition, the hire of O’Connell can be directly attributed.
Too, increasing Cook’s WR workload would allow his partner, Alexander Mattison, to take care of the battering-ram duties. Mattison is not a prolific receiver — like Cook can be — so asking him to pick up the gritty yards would be sensible inside a new Vikings offense.
This could all be a summer decoy, indicating to opponents that Cook will assume hybrid duty — and then simply not doing it. But that cynicism is probably a longshot.
Cook seems poised to experience a role tweak, one that fits his talents wonderfully.
His brother James, who was just drafted by the Buffalo Bills with Stefon Diggs and Case Keenum, is expected to fill an RB-WR role. Perhaps the older brother will follow suit.
Overall, this is an example of stark contrast to the way Minnesota used to do things. They’d hand the ball to Cook 25 times, play some defense, and hopefully win the game 24-17. However, one can surmise more offensive ingenuity is coming.
This is just the start.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).