Dalvin Cook declares for NFL Draft, tape shows he's top running back in 2017 class

A day after earning Orange Bowl MVP honors, Florida State junior running back Dalvin Cook formally announced his decision to enter the 2017 NFL Draft.

And in what projects as a loaded 2017 running back class, Cook is the cream of the crop and the best prospect at his position. LSU's Leonard Fournette is a physical freak and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey has outstanding run instincts, but Cook is the complete package with the athletic profile and mental makeup to be an impact performer in the NFL.

When evaluating the running back position, there are two main criteria that translates to the NFL: can you navigate, and can you create? And Cook is above average in both areas. He has excellent patience to allow his blockers to do their job and then times his burst to maximize each run. If defenses give him a crease, he has the vision to find openings and athletic gifts to explode through them, making it look easy due to his feet, balance and spatial awareness.

Cook is extremely elusive whether in space or tight areas, showing exceptional body control and instincts - movements that are either in your DNA or not. He also has the fifth gear to turn on the jet pack and breeze past defenders, posting 10 runs over his career of at least 50 yards.

Almost as impressive as his running skills, Cook is a reliable receiving option, finishing his career with 79 career receptions. He shows the hand-eye coordination and soft hands to secure and create after the catch, doing some of his best work on wheel routes.

NFL comparisons are always a tricky exercise. In today's current NFL, Cook has similar traits to Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs and Devonta Freeman of the Falcons. However, the best comparison might be to a former player, who also happens to be a Pro Football Hall of Famer: Marshall Faulk.

Florida State is a football factory with several talented running backs that have gone from Tallahassee to the NFL. However, Cook might be the best the Seminoles have ever produced. He owns two best rushing seasons in school history, including a FSU-record 1,765 rushing yards in 2017, and leaves the program with almost every rushing record.

Cook has similarities to Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. USATSI

A running back has been drafted in the top 10 each of the past two seasons, and Cook is one of the top 10 players in the 2017 NFL Draft. However, NFL scouts do have some concerns that could keep him from landing as high as his talent warrants. In fact, there are three main areas of worry:

  • Pass protection. Cook is tough and effort isn't a question, but he makes too many mistakes due to inconsistent timing, technique and awareness.
  • Ball security issues. Cook has fumbled once every 63.8 offensive touches (below average number) the past three seasons, including a career-high six fumbles in 2016.
  • Long-term durability. Cook doesn't have ideal body armor for the position and enters the NFL with a history of shoulder issues, including multiple surgeries. The medical portion of the NFL combine will be the most important step of the predraft process for Cook.

Based on ability and game film, Cook is the top running back prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft. And as long as medical staffs are comfortable with his long-term durability, Cook should be the first running back drafted in the 2017 class. Although his final draft grade isn't as high as Ezekiel Elliott in last year's class, Cook is very close and projects as an impact weapon in the NFL from Day 1.

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