Dalvin Cook Blending Elusiveness, Strength and Vision During Remarkable 10-Game Stretch

Photo Credit: Tim Heitman (USA Today Sports)

The Vikings are running out of superlatives to describe Dalvin Cook.

Heck, even Cook himself seems bored with the recent accolades.

When asked about his recent NFC Offensive Player of the Week award, Cook appeared weary over having to acknowledge another individual honor. Throughout the season, he’s looked to deflect a lot of the praise toward his offensive line as his 1,415 all-purpose yards have helped the Vikings to a 7-3 record.

“Greatly appreciate it,” he said. “Good accomplishment.”

Odds are, he’s not done having to answer questions about his career-best season.

Barring something unexpected, Cook will hit the 1,000-yard mark with nine yards in Sunday’s game versus Denver, another milestone in his incredible breakthrough campaign.

After two seasons affected by injuries, Cook claims his body feels great, and the game tape supports it. The league’s rushing leader has only gotten more punishing and more elusive as the season has progressed.

“I always knew that he was a terrific runner,” said head coach Mike Zimmer, “but I think the other two things, how hard he runs and that the first person typically doesn’t tackle him, has been really impressive. And then the other part is when he gets the ball in space, people can’t catch him. He just has that extra gear. Those two things.”

It’s a rare mix of speed and power that makes Cook equally likely to either slither between two tacklers or simply run through them as if they were bowling pins.

His first two receptions in Sunday’s win at Dallas typified that.

After getting stuffed for a one-yard loss on his first touch of the game, Cook leaked out into the flat on 2nd and 11, took a short pass from Cousins behind the line of scrimmage, surged past three Cowboys in pursuit, then dragged corner Chidobe Awuzie and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch across the first-down line.

On the next play from scrimmage, Cook made a catch in virtually the same spot, broke away from sure-tackling linebacker Sean Lee, flew around defensive back Xavier Woods and bowled over Awuzie, who facemasked Cook in the process of the tackle.

Speed. Power.

“It’s hard for me to articulate because I don’t find him to be like a jitterbug like some of the running backs who can really shake you,” said Cousins, “and yet, it seems that the first person in the open field really struggles to bring him down single-handedly. Whatever the word is for that trait, he’s got it. He’s shown it play in and play out and many times when a defender matches him to the flat and I kick it out to him, you just kind of expect that guy not be able to wrap him up because of how consistently he’s shown that he doesn’t go down with that first guy. He many times turns what would be a 2-yard gain in the flat to a 12-yard gain. What an asset to have as a quarterback to know you have a guy like that as a third option on a play.”

Per Pro Football Focus, Cook’s 16 avoided tackles on passing plays are the most of any running back in the NFL. His contributions in the passing game have elevated him to second in receiving yards amongst NFL running backs behind Austin Ekeler, not to mention second on the Vikings in receiving yards, now ahead of the injured Adam Thielen. Cook leads all NFL players with eight games over 100 yards from scrimmage.

On the ground, he’s second in the league in runs of 15 yards or more and tied for first in runs of 10 yards or more. His 50 first-down carries leads the NFL, and his 672 yards after contact comes in third.

If there’s a common thread linking Cook’s ability to slice through front sevens and sneak around defensive backs, it’s his vision. The third-year running back has developed a sixth sense for what holes to hit, what angles to take and when to make the cut that gets him into the open field. Think back to Week 8, when he covered 68.6 yards to complete a 31-yard reception, the sixth-longest distance a running back has traveled on a reception this season, according to Next Gen Stats.

“You got to play the whole field when you’re talking about playing against the Minnesota Vikings,” Cook said. “There’s a lot of field that you’ve got to cover. I think that’s where my mind be at, just making sure my mind is open to the whole field and not just locked in on one particular thing. It could be something where you just got to accept that you’re going to take two to three yards and go back to the huddle. But it’s some runs that you can always think will pop out, some 80-yard runs and you’ve got to take advantage of those. I try to have my mind open to the whole field, and it comes back to field vision.”

As Cook explains, field vision comes down to instinct in many cases, but sometimes that instinct has to kick in before the ball is even in his hands.

“I just take a picture before I get the ball in my hands and kind of see what type of leverage he’s giving me,” he said. “Once I get it in my hands, it’s in the zone from there. I kind of put myself in place to break those tackles before I even get the ball in my hand. So I take a picture of how he trying to stop me and the way he’s trying to position his body and I do the total opposite.”

Speaking of vision, Cook’s first 10 games are a fulfillment of the vision Zimmer, Gary Kubiak and Kevin Stefanski dreamed up during the offseason. The offensive line looks better… because of Cook. The passing game looks better… because of Cook. And the defense is on the field less… because of Cook.

“As far as a leader, I try to lead by example,” Cook said. “I try to do it by my play. I try to go out there and make plays, and try to make other people better. I think that’s being a great teammate right there.”