Dalvin Cook can make or break the Vikings season

Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings fans are hoping Kirk Cousins can transform their offense, but Dalvin Cook’s health is the biggest issue for the unit.

It’s very clear the Minnesota Vikings defense was good enough to win a Super Bowl last year. That fact made improving the team’s offense the Vikings front office’s number one priority this offseason. Ironically, the return of Dalvin Cook from injury may do more to improve the Minnesota attack than anything they did in the offseason.

In a vacuum, 0.9 yards per carry doesn’t seem like a lot. However, when you put it into context as the advantage Cook had over any other Vikings running back last year it starts to seem pretty significant. Before his injury, Cook was averaging 4.8 yards a carry. The next highest total on the team belonged to Latavius Murray who finished at 3.9.

Cook is everything NFL teams want in a modern running back. He’s a threat to take the ball to the end zone every time he touches it. The former Florida State star has that wiggle that makes a ball carrier hard to bring down. The only thing missing from his game last season was durability.

When he went down with a torn ACL the Vikings offense sputtered in his absence. Ultimately, the team’s inability to move the ball and score in bunches led to the big offseason acquisition of Kirk Cousins. That move will upgrade the team’s passing attack but it will also clog up the Vikings salary cap for years to come. It’s fair to wonder whether or not the team would have felt the need to spend big on Cousins of Cook had enjoyed a healthy and productive season.

At this point, that doesn’t matter. The Vikings have made the decision to pay Cousins like a Pro Bowler. If he’s going to play like one, he’s going to need a lot of help from Cook. He is the only running back with even above-average potential on this roster.

The good news for Minnesota fans is that Cook is reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehab. The team won’t throw him into the fire during OTAs, but he should be in position to get a little bit of work. That bodes well for his chance to be a full participant once training camp begins.

The Vikings would still be smart to be cautious with Cook’s return. He wasn’t the most durable player in college and that isn’t something that usually improves with a transition to the NFL. Cook’s carries need to be managed on a daily basis for the Vikings to get maximum value out of their second round draft pick.

If Cook goes down with another significant injury it’s going to put too much pressure on Cousins and the passing game to make every play. Murray can be a useful short-yardage back, but he isn’t an NFL starter.

If, on the other hand, Cook can stay healthy for a full season he could really serve as a catalyst for the Vikings attack. His presence on the field would give Minnesota a balanced offensive attack. That could lead to a huge year for Cousins, Stefon Diggs and the rest of the Vikings skill players.

Cousins is getting the massive contract in Minnesota, but Cook is the key to their season. Their chance to reach the Super Bowl may well rest on the shoulders of the young running back.

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