How Viable of a Dalvin Cook Replacement is Alexander Mattison for Vikings?

Alexander Mattison

Getty Alexander Mattison could be poised to replace Dalvin Cook as the Vikings' starting running back.

Following ESPN’s report that Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is set to hold out from all team activities, a frenzy of commentary flooded social media feeds.

If Cook does hold out beyond the preseason, many suggested backup running back Alexander Mattison and the rest of the running backs room would suffice. They recently met for player-only workouts as they begin to prepare for the season with or without Cook.

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Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon wrote in May that a big commitment to Cook would be “ill-advised” not only due to his health concerns and the fact Mattison showed promise in his rookie season, rushing for 460 yards on 100 carries. Pro Football Focus found Mattison performed similarly to Cook as a runner in 2019:

“Mattison averaged the same 4.6 yards per carry last season as Cook did; he generated 3.2 of those yards after contact (compared to Cook’s 3.0), broke tackles at almost the same rate (0.18 per carry compared to 0.19) and gained a first down or touchdown on 19% of his carries compared to Cook’s 21.4%.”

The combination of Mattison, Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah averaged 4.9 yards per carry, according to ESPN’s Courtney Croone, but there are more things to consider other than yards on the ground.

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Mattison Leads NFL Running Backs in Breakaway Percentage

Sending Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills secured Cook as the centerpiece of the Vikings offense. Cook and Diggs accounted for 49 percent of the Vikings’ total offensive yards last season and were the Vikings home run hitters.

With Diggs gone and the potential of Cook holding out, game-breaking plays could be hard to come by for the Vikings offense, but a recent Pro Football Focus stat found Mattison may have a knack for moving the chains. 

Mattison had the best breakaway percentage among running backs in the NFL, meaning Mattison gained 42.7 percent of his yardage on designed runs of 15 yards or more. This shows that while Mattison was able to hit the second level of the defense often he also was stopped short frequently. His single touchdown last season also shows he wasn’t able to capitalize in the open field and find the end zone like Cook has.

In the end, the breakaway percentage (which could prove inflated in Mattison’s case) is an indicator that Mattison has the patience and vision to perform well in the Vikings’ zone running scheme, but his speed may be what keeps him from becoming a home run threat like Cook.

Cook’s Advantage as a Pass-Catcher

Dalvin Cook

GettyDalvin Cook has proven to be one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL.

While Mattison is a serviceable replacement to keep the Vikings offense moving, Cook’s ability as a receiver is second-to-none among Vikings running backs.

According to Pro Football Focus, Cook ranked first among running backs in yards after the catch per reception at 11.3. Cook’s 519 receiving yards in the 2019 regular season ranked second on the Vikings as he’s proven to be a viable pass-catcher as well.

Cook has also proven to be a more elusive back than Mattison, which is one of the few metrics that set a running back’s value apart from his offensive line and scheme.


Follow Trevor Squire on Twitter: @trevordsquire

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