When making their picks for offensive rookie of the year, fans will be hard-pressed to find a more qualified candidate than Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. He has all the tools to establish himself as an elite back right away: elusiveness, power, pass-catching and all-around play-making ability.
That being said, the obvious pick at the beginning of the season does not always end up being the guy who wins the award. Look at last year. Ezekiel Elliott was everyone’s slam dunk choice but his teammate Dak Prescott was the one crowned at season’s end.
With that in mind, let us take a look at the cases against and in favor of Dalvin Cook.
Why he won’t
Starting off negative, there are a few major things working against Cook. The most prominent of these is the nature of Minnesota’s offense. While fellow rookie backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey both play for teams who finished in the top half of the league in rushing yards a year ago, Cook wound up on one that heavily favored the pass. There was not a team in the NFL that rushed the ball less and for fewer yards in 2016 than the Vikings. In fact, seven players in the NFL had more yards on the ground by themselves than Minnesota had as a team.
Part of that issue was the Vikings’ lack of depth at running back. Adrian Peterson was injured most of the season and try as they might, not much production came from the duo of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon. That problem has presumably been remedied by the mere addition of Cook and Latavius Murray, who figures to spell Cook in 2017.
The problem that has not been remedied, however, is the offensive line issues. The Vikings will trot out five new starters this year, several of whom have little to no game day experience. While it is possible they surprise and create lots of space for Cook, it seems early on like a dubious position to throw a rookie running back into. Much of Cook’s rushing yards will likely have to come from him making plays on his own.
It also cannot be understated the performance Kareem Hunt put on Thursday night in New England. He came in with little to no fanfare, won the starting job in Kansas City and then produced 246 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in his NFL debut. That is the type of production one would expect from Le’Veon Bell, not a third-rounder out of Toledo. Hunt leapt to the top of everyone’s ballot with that showing.
The final potential nail in Cook’s campaign coffin is the way the award has changed in recent years. Traditionally, rookie of the year has been a running back award. In recent years, however, that trend has changed in the same way the MVP award has: in favor of the quarterbacks. Only three of the last ten top offensive rookies have been running backs. Five have been quarterbacks. With such a quarterback-heavy 2017 draft, the top of the heap may simply be too crowded.
Why he will
Cook does have several factors going in his favor. For one, the change in the NFL style of offense benefits Cook more than any other rookie running back. The top running backs (Elliott, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson) are dual threat players. They run the ball and they can catch it out of the backfield. Cook is that type of player.
Plus, he has the benefit of being the clear-cut number one in Minnesota. While McCaffrey is also a dual-threat player, he is listed at number two on the depth chart and Fournette, though the starter, is not the receiver Cook is. Hunt is the only other rookie with the benefit of both. This automatically sets him up to be near the top of all rookies in touches, especially with Sam Bradford as his quarterback. Bradford loves throwing to his running backs and at times, he gets into the pattern of checking down too much. His occasional hesitance to throw downfield will benefit Cooks’ numbers immensely.
Furthermore, with regard to the rookie quarterbacks, there is quantity but there may not be quality. 10 quarterbacks were drafted back in April but truthfully-speaking, four really factor into their team’s plans at the moment. Only one, Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer, is slated in to start immediately. Two first-rounders, Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky and Houston’s Deshaun Watson, figure to start at some point in 2017 but perhaps too late to make an impact in rookie of the year voting. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes will likely spend 2017 watching Alex Smith take every meaningful snap.
Edit, 2:13 p.m. CT: Watson has already replaced Tom Savage at quarterback in Houston.
There is no Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton in this draft who was named the starter on draft day. All of the quarterbacks are major projects. That means the running backs are the favorites entering the season, and Cook may very well top that list.
My pick at the moment is Hunt, but that is largely due to his outstanding debut. Cook to me has usurped Fournette and is the runner up in my book for the award. An exciting performance from Cook in week one could vault him to the top of the list.
Edit, 2:15 p.m. CT: Then again, maybe I am back on Team Watson.
Who do you like for Offensive Rookie of the Year? Tweet us @cover32_MIN
Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for cover32/Vikings. Follow him @samc_smith