If you’ve been reading the Wide Left blog so far (and if you haven’t why the hell not?), you will notice that I tell a lot of stories from my previous trips to Minnesota Vikings training camp. There’s a couple reasons for this. One, there’s a lot of time to kill between the end of the draft and the beginning of training camp. Two, I see some really weird shit.
Today, let me take you back to the 2017 training camp where nobody was really high on the Vikings. After the complete dive-bomb that was the 2016 season (5-0 start, Mike Zimmer murdering Muppets, Teddy’s knee exploding, the team plane running off the runway in Green Bay, etc.), the expectations for this group was at rock bottom. However, there were some positives, especially in the backfield.
After the two-year drama of Adrian Peterson getting suspended for child abuse and then wanting a raise after it, the Vikings showed him the door and decided to draft Dalvin Cook after trading up to get him in the second round of the 2017 draft. Cook was probably the most explosive back in the class, but character concerns caused his tumble and with nothing to do but be cold and ice fish in Minnesota, they decided to roll the dice.
As Cook got his first reps in as a Viking, there was a man and his family attending practice. As parents will do, he did his best to make sure the practice seemed interesting to his children.
“Hey, man,” the man said to his son. “That’s Stefon Diggs! That’s your favorite player!”
Things were calm when all the sudden the Vikings decided to run goal line drills. The offensive line still being a complete mess, Cook took a hand off and was immediately greeted by Tom Johnson in the backfield circa 2016 (and eventually 2018). Instead of going down, Cook leaped over the 6-foot-3 Johnson and calmly strutted into the end zone. That’s when the pre-Family Night fireworks began.
“THAT’S DALVIN COOK!!!” The man told everyone in attendance. “THAT GUY’S ELECTRIC!!!! YEAH!!!!”
As his wife’s instincts kicked in to tell him calm the hell down, I took some notes in my head. One, our offensive line was going to be trash. Two, Dalvin Cook is going to be a beast in this league.
Since then, all I’ve done is wait on Cook to rise to superstardom. For the first four games of the 2017 season, it seemed like me and my newfound spirit fan were onto something. He would rush for 354 yards and two touchdowns and even cooked his own meal when he found out a restaurant was closed after his NFL debut. This guy could do it all.
Alas, like most Viking phenoms, his knee would explode on a patch of turf so cursed, the Vikings took it out after Mike Hughes tore his knee in the same area one year later. The road back for Cook has been a rough one as he suffered a hamstring in Week 2 last year and took the entire first half to come back from it. This brought out the torches and pitchforks which was impressive considering Cook is making roughly $21 million less than Kirk Cousins.
Some Vikings fans want Cook out of Minnesota, but I’m telling you — this will be the year that Dalvin Cook will break out. And this time, I mean it.
Why Dalvin Cook is poised for a breakout season
Let’s look at what was working against Cook last season outside of his bad injury luck. While Cook has been seemingly banged up since his days at Florida State, it’s not like he was walking into a perfect offensive situation.
When Cook returned from his injury, the offensive line was devolving into a dumpster fire and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo would rather fantasize about his next pair of Jordans or scribbling nonsense on a chalkboard than call a running play.
When JDF was canned a couple weeks later, Kevin Stefanski decided to give Cook the ball and he responded by giving the Dolphins their worst ass kicking since Ray Finkle kidnapped Dan Marino (Ace Ventura, duh) with 136 yards and two touchdowns.
This performance might be in the new Vikings offensive coordinator’s head as he installed an offense revolving around Cook and the running game (albeit it could have been Mike Zimmer holding a gun to his head). He also brought in Gary Kubiak, who is a running game god that has inspired career years out of the likes of Ruben Droughns, Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson. It’s hard to argue that Cook isn’t better than any of those three.
Even with a new scheme, the offensive line still had to be solved and — what do you know? The Vikings addressed this too. Nobody will confuse this front with The Great Wall of Dallas from the 1990s, but it should be a hell of a lot better with the addition of Garrett Bradbury, putting Pat Elflein at a position he’s actually suited for and Brian O’Neill on the right side. (Riley Reiff and Josh Kline should also be serviceable.)
Just a minor upgrade to what Cook ran behind last year should do wonders as Cook ranked fifth among starting running backs in Pro Football Focus’ elusiveness rating and ninth in breakaway percentage which calculates how many of a backs’ runs go for 15 yards or more. Long story short, if Cook meets his first defender in front of the line of scrimmage instead of behind it, holy shit.
Cook also comes into this year completely healthy and his only real competition is Alexander Mattison, who could be good, but some people thought he shouldn’t have been drafted. If Cook can stay healthy and take advantage of this, it will bring some electricity back to the Vikings offense.