How Effective Is Dalvin Cook Playing Through Injury?

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings are in a familiar situation with Dalvin Cook. After dislocating his shoulder in the 28-24 win over the Detroit Lions, Cook’s status for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints is uncertain.

Cook told reporters after the game that he would be good to go against the Saints, but O’Connell offered a more cautious approach. The long-term repercussions of letting Cook play through an injury in Week 4 could alter the running game for the rest of the season. But it could also be a minor issue that Cook brushes off to have a big game in London.

So how has Cook performed when playing through injury? And can the Vikings afford to give him a week off to rest?

It starts with how Cook initially injured his shoulder. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Cook tore the labrum in his shoulder during his freshman year at Florida State. Then head coach Jimbo Fisher said Cook put his hand down at the wrong angle, and Cook was on the shelf before his college career started.

The injury occurred in March, so Cook had plenty of time to recover for the season. He burst onto the scene during his freshman year, running for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns while catching 22 passes for 203 yards.

Cook took another step forward in 2015, running for 1,691 yards, 19 touchdowns and catching 24 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown. But the injury bug bit again the following season and required surgery. Once again, Cook was injured during spring practice. However, he fully recovered to run for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns with 33 catches for 488 yards and a touchdown.

That performance solidified him as a high draft pick, but concerns over his shoulder and his character helped him fall into the second round. After the Vikings traded up for Cook, he landed the starting job in training camp and ran for 354 yards and two touchdowns before tearing his ACL on Oct. 1, 2017.

Once again, Cook had plenty of time to recover, but his convalescence didn’t go as smoothly as before. Cook injured his hamstring after two games in 2018 and tried to come back after missing Week 3. A Week 4 matchup with the Los Angeles Rams was a disaster. Cook ran for 20 yards on 10 carries before aggravating his hamstring.

He missed the next four games before returning in Week 9 against the Detroit Lions. In that game, Cook ran for 89 yards on 10 carries, but he averaged just 4.3 yards per carry over his next four games.

Through all this, Cook’s shoulder wasn’t a problem until he suffered an A/C joint sprain against the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 15, 2019. He missed the next two games before returning for Minnesota’s playoff run. Unfortunately, he wasn’t effective. Cook averaged only three yards per carry before the San Francisco 49ers bounced the Vikings in the divisional round.

Cook’s next injury came when he strained his groin in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 11, 2020. However, he had two weeks to recover before facing the Green Bay Packers. Cook erupted for 163 yards and three touchdowns in that game and scored another touchdown on a screen pass. That set off a stretch where Cook ran for 100 or more yards six times in the final eight games.

Cook suffered another lower-body injury against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 19, 2021, and missed the following week against the Seattle Seahawks. He came back in Week 4, which was too early. Cook ran for just 34 yards on nine carries in a loss to the Cleveland Browns before sitting out the following week against Detroit. However, he returned two weeks later to run for 140 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Carolina Panthers.

His final injury before this season happened in San Francisco on Nov. 28, 2021. Cook was carted off the field after dislocating his shoulder. Still, he returned 10 days later while wearing a harness to keep his shoulder in place. The injury didn’t stop Cook from shredding the Pittsburgh Steelers, running for 205 yards and two touchdowns. However, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry over his final three games.

Cook has a lengthy injury history, but O’Connell has to be poring over it before Sunday’s game in London. If Cook plays, will he be the explosive running back the Vikings have come to love? Or will playing him extend the risk of injury and leave the backfield shorthanded?

For this, we need to break it down by the situation. Cook’s injuries at Florida State are irrelevant here; both occurred way before the start of the season. With plenty of time to spare, Cook was one of the most dominant backs in college football. But he doesn’t have that luxury this time around.

During his NFL career, Cook’s injuries can be broken down into two categories – upper body and lower body. Taking a page out of hockey’s book, Cook’s stats from the game after suffering an injury are significantly higher when it comes to his shoulder due to any of his lower-body ailments.

Another thing to consider is that Cook has missed at least one game after every game he’s suffered in his career. There may be other games where he has been banged up, but he’s had time to recover. In those instances, Cook has recovered faster from his shoulder injuries than his lower-body injuries.

If Tom Pellissero’s report of Cook not wearing a shoulder brace against the Lions is true, Cook’s injury could have been as common as forgetting to defrost chicken before dinner. If the harness holds the shoulder in place, there shouldn’t be an issue. Cook has played through shoulder injuries dating back to college.

Ultimately, it’s up to O’Connell to decide if it’s worth the risk this early in the season. A win against the Saints would put Minnesota at 3-1, so it’s a big game. But Alexander Mattison has proven himself to be a capable fill-in when Cook is on the shelf.

Therefore, O’Connell may hold his star out and hope he returns stronger than ever when the Vikings come home to face the Chicago Bears.

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