The defending NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry and Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook have maintained a correspondence with each other as two of the league’s most prolific rushers were neck and neck for the league rushing title this season.
Ten rushing yards was all that separated Henry and Cook through 10 games this season in what was one of the most contentious rushing title races in nearly a decade. Henry ran away with what will be his second consecutive rushing title in the final stretch of the season, but ahead of Cook by 220 yards, the chase was officially called before Sunday’s regular-season finale.
Cook received news his father, James Cook, died Tuesday night and immediately flew to Miami to be with his family. He was ruled unavailable for the Vikings’ Week 17 matchup with the Detroit Lions, officially ending his 2020 campaign where he finished with 1,557 rushing yards.
Henry was asked in his Wednesday press conference about winning his second consecutive rushing title given Cook’s circumstances and pivoted to offering his condolences to Cook and his family.
“Me and Dalvin talk a lot throughout the season — always encouraging each other,” Henry said. “I told him I’m praying for his family and sending my condolences. It’s bigger than football. It’s his dad. Very sad and feel for him and his family. Prayers for his family.”
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Henry Surpasses Cook in Yards From Scrimmage
Cook was the league leader in yards from scrimmage (1,918) entering Week 17 however, Henry supplanted Cook by putting up 250 rushing yards against the Texans on Sunday. Henry finishes the regular season with 2,027 yards, becoming the eighth player to surpass 2,000 rushing yards in a single season.
Cook’s quest for a 2,000-yard season will have to wait another year. Cook, in the healthiest season of his career, averaged 137 all-purpose yards per game and finished with the third-most touchdowns in the league (17) by a non-quarterback.
Cook weathered the heaviest workload of his career after the Vikings’ 1-5 start to the season, taking 30.3 touches per game, willing Minnesota to five wins in six games wins and back into the playoff hunt despite considerable struggles on defense this season.
The Vikings struggled down the stretch, losing three of their final four games of the season as the defense could not recover from losing Eric Kendricks for the rest of the year. Coach Mike Zimmer recently admitted this year’s defense is the worst he’s ever had in his coaching the Vikings, allowing the fourth-most (27.5) points per game.
The offense, with the help of Cook, posted the sixth-most yards in the league (467.2), becoming the first Vikings offense to rank in the top 10 in yardage since 2009.
What to Expect in 2021
Minnesota is anticipating the return of Pro Bowlers in Kendricks, fellow linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive end Danielle Hunter to help reinforce a defensive unit that started just two 2019 starters by the final game of the season.
Free-agent nose tackle add Michael Pierce, who opted out of the season due to COVID-19, will become a vital incoming piece to a defensive interior that struggled to stop the run in 2020.
The Vikings will need to address the defensive and offensive interiors either in the draft or through free agency, although, it will be difficult given the lack of expected cap space.
Minnesota may be forced to part ways with several veterans this offseason. Safety Anthony Harris and linebacker Eric Wilson enter free agency while tight end Kyle Rudolph and left tackle Riley Reiff are candidates to either be cut or take a pay cut.
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Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.