Dalvin Cook started 2017 on fire. He piled up 127 rushing yards in week one vs. the Saints. Then he delivered 64 yards and over five yards per carry vs the Steelers in week two. In week three, Cook destroyed the Bucs with 97 rushing yards and 72 more via the air. Then he tore his ACL in the week four matchup vs the Lions. While a short sample size, Cook wasted no time displaying his talent as he was the NFC’s leading rusher before his injury.
Cook was the Vikings lead man right out of the gates in 2017, earning 79 percent of the team’s running back carries through the first three weeks. After his injury, Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray split touches. McKinnon signed with the 49ers this offseason, leaving Murray as Cook’s only real threat for touches. Murray proved he was a solid option last season, and it would not be a surprise to see the Vikings use Murray to ease Cook back into a full workload. However, Cook is reportedly ahead of schedule and is a full participant at training camp. Assuming he’s healthy, Cook is more talented than Murray and should be one of few running backs with a shot at 300+ touches.
Strength of Schedule
Strength of Schedule is always a controversial metric when used to make predictions about players. However, Warren Sharp has developed a method that examines efficiency and takes offseason transactions into account. Sharp has the Vikings facing the 15th-easiest rushing schedule in 2018. While this is only around the league average, Cook does get to play three below average rushing defenses in the first four weeks, with the 49ers in week one, the Bills in week three and the Rams in week four. He also gets the Packers in week two, who just lost their middle linebacker for the season. Expect Cook to start fast in 2018.
The offensive line remains the Vikings biggest vulnerability entering the season. Pat Elflein and Mike Remmers are both dealing with early camp injuries, and the Vikings don’t have much proven depth. Pro Football Focus ranked the offensive line 22nd in 2017. However, the group has fallen down the ranks to 28th in PFF’s 2018 rankings. With only Remmers having a grade higher than 50, the offensive line is a concern for Cook’s fantasy outlook. The hope is that the group again plays better as a unit than the individuals project.
Game script is a significant factor when projecting running backs in fantasy football. Simply put, teams run more when they have the leads late in games. Last season, the Vikings were one of the best teams in the league at having a late lead and generating a positive game script for their backs. In 2018, that trend is likely to continue. The Vikings are favorites in 12 of their 16 games this year, including all eight home games. Assuming the Vikings are the high-quality team most people expect this year, Cook should be among the league leaders in fourth quarter carries.
Cook’s talent, volume, and projected schedule and game script are all positive factors for his outlook. Assuming Cook is healthy, and the offensive line can again be an average unit, he should be one of the best running backs in fantasy football. Cook is currently being drafted in the early second round as the 10th running back off the board.