And even after a 3-1 start to the season, the offense still has plenty to improve upon.
However, there’s an important element to the Vikings offense that is missing, one Minnesota analyst says.
Dalvin Cook Missing His 5th Gear
“I am concerned that Dalvin Cook might be close to being cooked — as far as [the Cook] we knew,” Zulgad said. “He’s still a contributing player, and I think he certainly brings things… but Dalvin had that special gear, fairly close to what Adrian Peterson had — foot in the ground and you’re gone. I don’t see that gear now. I’m not surprised. He’s aging and for his position, wear and tear wise, and with how much the dude has been hurt.”
In four games this season, Cook has 72 touches for 326 all-purpose yards. He’s averaged 4.4 yards per carry and 70 rushing yards per game. All good measures.
But the biggest indicator: Cook’s longest play from scrimmage is just 16 yards. Cook has yet to break free beyond the second-level of defenders, where he once seemed to kick it into his final gear.
“I still think he has first through third possibly fourth gear, but he used to have that fifth gear. I don’t see it. I’m afraid it’s not short-term. I am fearful that it’s wear and tear and the guy’s has been hurt a lot,” Zulgad added, saying that the “next gear” he’s looking for from Cook wasn’t there in Week 1, the healthiest any team or player will be entering a new season.
Dalvin Cook Behind in Important Metric
Cook is facing fewer loaded boxes in his career, yet has been less effective.
In 2020, when he trailed only Derrick Henry in rushing yards, Cook posted a 0.81 rushing yards over expected (RYOE) per attempt, per NFL Next Gen Stats. The league’s top rushers every year can usually create nearly an extra expected yard per attempt by Next Gen’s metric. Henry posted a 1.1 ROYE per attempt when he went for over 2,000 rushing yards in 2020. Johnathan Taylor posted a prolific 1.48 ROYE per attempt as the league’s leading rusher last year.
In 2021, Cook posted a 0.34 ROYE, still a sign he was turning his opportunities into more.
But this season marks the first time in his career that Cook is in the red. Cook, the league’s fourth-highest paid running back on a $12.6 average annual salary, is currently posting a -0.51 ROYE. He’s getting half a yard less than expected.
Sure, one big run could quickly move the needle more in Cook’s favor, but beyond the numbers and looking at the eye test, Zulgad has a point that Cook doesn’t seem to have that breakaway speed seen in the past.
And the problem lies where Cook’s contract gets increasingly more expensive after the 2022 season. Cook’s average cap hits for the first three years of the contract he signed in 2020 is $7.2 million. But entering the final three years of the deal, Cook is due $14.7 million a year, per Over The Cap.
Cook is still a fine running back entering the twilight of his career, but he is not worth a top-five salary if he doesn’t find that fifth gear.
The Vikings could very well reach a crossroads with Cook in the offseason — either asking him to restructure or searching for a trade partner.