Note from the Editor: This article is part of a daily series from new purplePTSD.com author Jerry Carrier, who is assessing the Vikings roster position-by-position. You can click below to see his takes on the receiving corps, as well as many other positions!
Dalvin Cook had 250 rushes for 1,135 yards and 13 TDs in 14 games. His average was 4.5 per carry, all of which is saying something because it’s my opinion that the young RB hasn’t reached his potential yet. Considering the fact that he is coming into the final season of his rookie deal, it’s safe to say that we have to assess exactly what Cook’s ceiling is as it’s been reported that the Vikings have his value pegged at somewhere between $8-and-$10 million, where as Cook and his agent (surprise, surprise) have his value somewhere in the $13-to-$15 million dollar per season average.
If he stays healthy could he top 1,500 yards a season on the ground? He is also a good receiver and had had 53 receptions for 519 yards in 2019 alone. He is one of the best in the NFL as a dual-threat running back, which means that it’s more likely than not that some team will pay him the $14 million he wants.
The question, again, is whether or not the Vikings believe the risk of tethering a cash strapped team to an injury-prone running back makes sense, especially when your offensive coordinator comes from a world/system that is known for churning out amazing running backs… Or rather, a system that is known for churning out amazing efficiency and thus statistics from the running back position.
Case in point; Cook’s relief man and last year’s rookie, Alexander Mattison, had 100 rushes for 462 yards and a touchdown for a 4.6 per carry average. He also caught 10 balls for 82 yards. Mattison could start for half the teams in the NFL, he’s that good, and he hasn’t yet reached his full potential. Look at his role to increase as the Vikings look to find the perfect balance to get Cook through a full season unscathed.
Mattison could also become the Vikings’ most apt draft pick in recent memory should the team and Cook be unable to find a compromise regarding Cook’s contract beyond the 2020-21 season. While Cook has shown that he has talent that rivals any back in the league, there’s also a limit as to how much the Vikings could and should pay a back who has yet to make it through a full season (and missed 16-of-32 regular-season games to start his career).
What you lose in Cook’s explosive abilities with Mattison you make up for with his reputation as a workhorse back. With Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison now running the show on the offensive side of the ball (both of which are disciples of Mike “I create 1,000 yard running backs” Shanahan), it’s hard to imagine the drop off would be that catastrophic should the Vikings need to lean on Mattison fully (either thanks to another injury or because the Vikings weren’t willing to give Cook $15 million a season).
Mike Boone’s 5.6 yards per carry is the best of all the Vikings RBs. He had 49 carries for 273 yards and 3 TDs. I think Boone could also start for a number of teams (and wouldn’t be surprised if that ended up being the case eventually). Despite that, though, he’s clearly didn’t scream RB1 when he was given the opportunity against the Green Bay Packers late in the season last year, although it’s hard to imagine even superstar backs like Dalvin Cook or Ezekiel Elliott doing much in that game, one in which the Packers defensive line (namely defensive end Za’Darius Smith) was blowing up both run and pass plays before the ball was even snapped half the time (I’m speaking facetiously but it often felt that way during that nightmare of a game).
C.J. Ham is a Pro Bowl-caliber FB who is a good receiver as well and is somewhat of a unicorn in the NFL as fewer and fewer teams even have an actual fullback on their roster anymore. While what he does isn’t the sexiest or most obvious, he’s often the one opening holes for Cook especially when it comes to short runs up the middle (as the interior of the Vikings’ offensive line has been a gigantic liability these past few seasons).
In case you’re not getting it these guys are very good. The Viking RB corps is one of the best in football in both quality and depth.
The training camp roster also includes: the veteran Ameer Abdullah who is a decent back (and was one of the best backs in the country whilst playing in college for Nebraska) and can return kicks and punts. After Abdullah you have Jake Bargas; a rookie undrafted fullback, as well as Tony Brooks-James a practice squad player last year. I don’t expect any of these to make the active roster this year. Abdullah could, but he isn’t needed in the backfield, and there are some exciting newcomers who can also return kicks and punts who may usurp him in that role (we’re looking at you, Osborn).
The Vikes will operate a run-first offense this year and with these RBs why wouldn’t you. It will take major pressure off the passing game, eat up the clock when they’re leading and keep the defense fresh. Those are all things that scream ZIMMER!, which is why it’s a bit perplexing that this team hasn’t invested further in the interior of the offensive line via the draft, although the coaching staff has said that they believe the answer to that position group (the offensive guard position to be exact) is already on the roster.
Stay tuned to one of my next pieces as I break down the offensive line as a whole for my thoughts on that!