Jets Warned to Avoid the ‘Shiny Object’ & Pass on 4-Time Pro Bowler

Robert Saleh

Getty New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh during the 2022 regular season.

When asked about veteran free agent running back Dalvin Cook, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh didn’t say no.

During the June 9 press conference, Saleh told reporters that “we’ll turn the stones over on that one.” This was considered somewhat significant at the time, being that the Jets HC totally shut down the idea of signing wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins after a similar question on May 31.

Since then, rumors and speculation have swirled surrounding Cook to the Jets, featuring betting odds and some flirtatious activity on social media. Having said all of that, is Cook a worthwhile addition for Gang Green?

The answer could depend on cost, although Jets X-Factor film expert Michael Nania has been notably outspoken against the veteran signing. “NY Jets fans are overlooking the harsh reality about Dalvin Cook,” Nania headlined a recent article on June 22, in which he broke down all the analytics on the former star running back’s performance over the past couple of years.

His argument — backed by a ton of statistical evidence — is certainly worth taking a look at.

Jets Film Expert Warns Against Dalvin Cook Signing

Nania’s warning stemmed from several areas of diminished play:

  • Rushing efficiency in 2022 — namely expected points added (EPA) per rush, defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) and rush success rate.
  • Cook’s age (28 in August) and its correspondence in his declining performance.
  • His 1.29% fumble rate per touch since 2019 (sixth-worst out of 31 running backs with a minimum of 500 touches over that span).
  • His 19 dropped passes since 2019 and 10.1% career drop rate.
  • His bad pass protection numbers and receiving metrics.
  • And his durability concerns (2022 was his first full NFL season of his career).

The first bullet point was probably the most key, although the entire article is very informative.

“Over the past two years, Cook has shown significant signs of decline even if his box-score stats still looked impressive on the surface,” Nania explained while discussing his recent efficiency as a rusher. “The 2022 season saw Cook rank near the bottom of the league in most of the important analytics for running backs.”

Nania acknowledged that Cook registered 1,173 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last year while also noting that he should have done far better based on the analytics.

“Here are some of Cook’s rankings in 2022 among 42 running backs with at least 100 carries, according to NFL Next Gen Stats and Football Outsiders,” Nania relayed. “EPA (Expected Points Added) per rush: -0.20 (39th). DVOA: -10.8% (36th). Rush success rate: 48% (33rd).”

“Metrics like EPA and DVOA are far more accurate than raw yardage when it comes to measuring a player’s impact on his team’s chances of winning the game,” he went on. “The disparity between Cook’s yardage totals and his EPA/DVOA rankings suggests he recorded a lot of empty yardage and was not nearly as helpful to his team as his raw counting stats might suggest.”

Nania also detailed the Minnesota Vikings offensive line’s running blocking grades, which ranked third according to Pro Football Focus during the 2022 regular season. In short, Cook has benefited from his surroundings the last year or two while struggling mightily in several areas.

Michael Nania’s Conclusion on the Jets’ Pursuit of Dalvin Cook

Again, Nania goes into far more detail on every topic listed above, but each point branches back to one overarching theme — Cook is not the playmaker he used to be.

The Jets X-Factor film analyst concluded that “the Jets need to avoid being enamored by the shiny object” in the case of Cook, reasoning:

“If you weed out the noise and focus on who Cook really is as a football player at this stage of his career, I just don’t see how he makes the Jets a better team. The Jets should stay the course with their young running backs. Every player in the Jets’ backfield is on the upward side of the running back career arc and [Joe] Douglas should keep it that way. Rely on runners whose best days are ahead of them, not behind.”

Over the course of his career as the Jets general manager, Douglas has definitely followed Nania’s philosophy. Not only did he release the excessively overpriced Le’Veon Bell — a Mike Maccagnan signing — the first chance he got, but he’s also drafted a new half-back in every offseason rather than pursue veteran starters in NFL free agency.

The Jets current RB room is made up of Breece Hall, Michael Carter, Zonovan Knight, 2023 draft pick Israel Abanikanda and rookie UDFA Travis Dye — all under the age of 25.

A Cook signing would deviate from that strategy in a major way. During “The Rich Eisen Show” on June 8, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that the former four-time Pro Bowler “is not coming in [to an organization] for $4-5 million,” hinting that his preferred price tag could be much higher.