How High Is Dalvin Cook’s Fantasy Football Ceiling in 2019?
Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Dalvin Cook
- Dalvin Cook is electric running back. But how high is his fantasy football ceiling in 2019?
- Ian Hartitz analyzes Cook's 2019 outlook and when you should consider drafting him.
We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2019 season; this is part of that series.
Dalvin Cook has managed to play in only 15-of-32 games since the Vikings drafted him with the 41st overall pick in the 2017 draft, but his ability to impact games as both a rusher and receiver has been tough for defenses of all shapes and sizes to deal with.
Optimism surrounding Cook is rooted in the fact that he enters this season as the undisputed lead back of a talented Vikings team that underachieved in 2018.
Dalvin Cook finally being healthy and locked in as the Vikings featured RB is pretty cool pic.twitter.com/YPckG5e2Gd
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 22, 2019
What follows is a breakdown on Cook’s special three-down skill set as well as what to make of his fantasy football value.
Dalvin Cook Has Been Incredibly Efficient in the NFL
The Vikings’ featured back doesn’t offer the most intimidating combination of size (5-foot-10 and 210 pounds) and athleticism (38th-percentile SPARQ-x score).
Still, all that changes once Cook straps on his shoulder pads and buckles up his helmet. Few running backs in the league possess the types of instincts and pure elusiveness that Cook has displayed to this point.
Minnesota has boasted just the 19th- and 23rd-ranked offensive line in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards per rush in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Still, Cook has managed to work as one of the league’s better overall backs over that span.
- Yards per rush: 4.7 (No. 7 among 43 running backs with at least 250 touches since 2017)
- Rushing yards per game: 64.6 (No. 9)
- Catch rate: 78.5% (No. 11)
- Yards per target: 6.1 (No. 22)
- Touches per game: 17.2 (No. 13)
- Yards per touch: 5.3 (No. 11)
- PPR points per game: 14.5 (No. 12)
The biggest cause for concern with Cook is his penchant for looking for the big play. He ranked 41st in rushing success rate last season, ahead of only Dion Lewis, Isaiah Crowell, LeSean McCoy, LeGarrette Blount, David Johnson and Carlos Hyde.
The good news for Cook’s fantasy stock is that a bad success rate doesn’t necessarily matter if an offense is willing to keep feeding that player; Saquon Barkley ranked just ahead of Cook at No. 40. And there’s reason to believe the Vikings could feed Cook like never before.
This New-Look Vikings Offense Could Be a Run-First Unit
Minnesota has finished with double-digit wins in two of head coach Mike Zimmer’s five seasons with the team. His offenses have flip-flopped wildly between preferring the pass or run, but the more run-heavy teams have been more successful:
- 2014: 7-9 | No. 18 in total rush attempts
- 2015: 11-5 | No. 4 in total rush attempts
- 2016: 8-8 | No. 25 in total rush attempts
- 2017: 13-3 | No. 2 in total rush attempts
- 2018: 8-7-1 | No. 27 in total rush attempts
Correlation doesn’t imply causation. Running the football tends to be a result of winning, not the other way around.
Still, the team’s decision to hire quarterback coach Kevin Stefanski as its new offensive coordinator is more evidence that the offense could get back to running the football. Kirk Cousins posted three of his five lowest-volume games of the season with Stefanski calling plays between Weeks 15-17.
Even more telling was the Vikings’ decision to hire long-time run-game guru Gary Kubiak as assistant head coach and offensive advisor. There’s been little evidence over the past two decades of Kubiak not embracing a lead running back:
Top-12 RBs in PPR per game under Gary Kubiak (now with the Vikings) from 1995-2016 …
Terrell Davis (x4)
Arian Foster (x3)
Steve Slaton (x2)
Clinton Portis (x2)
Average touches per season for Kubiak's RB1: 291
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 1, 2019
Overall, Kubiak has boasted a top-12 rushing offense in rush attempts in 13-of-22 seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator and ranked inside the top-five most run-heavy units in eight-of-22 seasons.
Add it all together and…
Cook Has Serious Fantasy Football Upside in 2019
Helping matters for a potential year three breakout for Cook is the potential for a better group of blockers up front. The Vikings don’t inherently have a terrible offensive line, but they were forced to dig deep last season after a plethora of preseason injuries wrecked their overall depth.
There were four key differences in the Vikings offensive line from 2017 to 2018:
- Starting right guard Joe Berger retired.
- Left guard Nick Easton was lost for the season due to a neck injury suffered in August.
- Center Pat Elflein missed the first two games of the season due to an ankle injury.
- Left tackle Riley Reiff missed three games in the middle of the season with a foot injury.
The departure of Latavius Murray helps clear things up, although third-round pick Alexander Mattison could theoretically be fairly involved. He offers handcuff potential thanks to three-down size (5-foot-11 and 221-pounds) that could lead to plenty of touches if Cook suffers another injury.
Still, I’m hesitant to expect much from Mattison. We already have a decent amount of evidence that the Vikings are willing to feature Cook to a very large extent as long as he’s healthy:
Dalvin Cook has been a three-down back whenever healthy:
Week 1: 78% snaps
Week 2: 57%
Week 3: 73%
Week 1: 80%
Week 2: 68%
Week 9: 57%
Week 11: 88%
Week 12: 59%
Week 13: 77%
Week 14: 86%
Week 15: 61%
Week 16: 75%
Week 17: 93%
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) April 29, 2019
Cook has been anyone’s idea of a top-10 running back when healthy over the past two seasons. Accordingly, he’s the PPR RB10 in average draft position at the time of this writing.
I believe it’s fair to slot Cook anywhere in the RB8-RB12 range. Still, I personally have him below Nick Chubb, who is going later than Cook as of writing.