Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook are amazing Fantasy Football talents capable of serving as a No. 1 running back for your team. They're also injury-hampered disappointments who may have cost you opportunities at Fantasy glory over the last two seasons.
As soon as I dove into my 2019 draft prep, I immediately downgraded both backs because of their missed games. Through two seasons, Fournette has missed 11 games and Cook has missed 17.
But it wasn't fair of me to consider the bad without the good. Fournette and Cook both provided some strong Fantasy production when they did play. And entering August, both are healthy and expected to hold significant roles with their respective offenses.
I decided to give both a fresh look and make a call on which one I would draft first -- and when I would draft him.
Fournette's right hamstring cost him eight 2018 games and limited him in another. As a rookie he dealt with ankle sprains and quad issues (and a suspension) that limited him to 13 matchups. His last year in college was partially wiped out because of a significant ankle sprain.
Cook missed five 2018 games and was very limited in another because of a hamstring strain. That came a year after Cook suffered a torn ACL that ended his rookie season after just four games. Cook had shoulder tears and an ankle sprain that cost him two games in three years of college.
If Vegas had odds on them playing 16 games, you'd bet the house against it happening. Totally natural -- neither one has played more than 13 games in a year as a pro or as a college player. It can't be ignored and it should be baked into their draft value.
Size-wise, talent-wise, role-wise, these guys are different.
Fournette has 18-plus carries in 16 of 24 career games (including playoffs). Only half of the eight matchups he didn't have 18 carries in did he fail to get 15 or more touches. Fournette has steadily averaged 2.8 catches per game throughout his career and has 12 touchdowns from 3 yards or closer. In fact, only three times in two seasons has Fournette seen a teammate rush for a short-yardage score when he's available. That's his gig.
Out of 15 games, Cook has run the ball 16 or more times on just five occasions (two in 2017). Everything else has been between 9 and 13 totes. Where Cook made up for it, at least last season, was as a receiver. He averaged 2.8 catches per matchup in 2017 but saw that rise to 3.6 last fall. Cook has 15-plus touches in 7 of 15 career matchups. As for short-yardage touchdowns, Cook has only one from three yards or closer and yielded to a teammate for that rushing role two times in games he was available to play.
However, it's worth noting the Vikings threw five touchdowns from short yardage in 2017 and 2018 when they could have handed off to Cook. Minnesota has a total of 13 receiving touchdowns from three yards or closer in the last two years with or without Cook -- Jacksonville recorded four with one being caught by Fournette.
Unless the Jaguars new playcaller (who was Cook's old playcaller) opts to take to the air with Nick Foles and forget about Fournette, he should have a sizable edge on Cook in this category. Minnesota may continue limiting Cook's touches as it did late last season (two of seven games with 15-plus carries, one 20-touch performance), but that might depend on how quickly Alexander Mattison comes along in training camp.
This one's not even close.
Fournette has come through for 11-plus non-PPR points in 71 percent of his 21 games (15 of 21) and 15-plus PPR points 62 percent of the time (13 of 21). In 2017 he finished as a top-10 Fantasy running back despite missing three games!
Cook hit 10-plus non-PPR points at a 60 percent clip (9 of 15 games) and had a hit rate of 40 percent in 15-plus PPR points (6 of 15).
If you consider this with the workload data, there's a pretty clear picture of who has the higher upside.
Schedule: Based on my projected strength-of-schedule for both backs, the Jaguars have a nominally better slate of opposing run defenses ahead of them than the Vikings. In large part it's because of the trio of tough NFC North run defenses I expect Cook to battle with (yes, even the Lions).
Offensive line: Both units were brutal last year, receiving negative run-blocking grades from Pro Football Focus. But only Minnesota ranked in the bottom 10. Jacksonville's line dealt with a ton of injuries while the Vikings had a lot of iffy big men from the get-go.
Minnesota's addition of center Garrett Bradbury instantly improved its front five. Picking up guard Josh Kline should provide stability and depth. It's an improved line for sure. Jacksonville has most of its line back to full strength (left tackle Cam Robinson started training camp on the PUP list) and added Jawaan Taylor at right tackle on Draft Day. Both lines have the potential to be good, but Jacksonville's might hit the top 10 if they stay healthy and the tackles play better than expected.
Backups: Unless the Vikings acquire someone else, the rookie, Mattison, is in line to fill in for Cook if/when he gets hurt. Mattison isn't a burner but is a capable pass catcher and a physical runner. Fellow back Mike Boone and even Ameer Abdullah (remember that guy?) could handle some reps, too, but Mattison is the must-draft in Round 10-plus if you take Cook.
Jacksonville's backup situation isn't as clear. They added three veteran running backs whose names make you cringe: Alfred Blue, Thomas Rawls and Benny Cunningham. They also drafted rookie Ryquell Armstead, who's a physical runner like Fournette. My hunch is that they'll turn to a committee if/when Fournette gets hurt, potentially Armstead on running downs and Blue in passing situations. I wouldn't feel great starting either of them.
If you're taking the risk with either of these injury-concern running backs, the pick should be Fournette. He's performed better and more consistently than Cook, he's missed fewer games, he's got a better schedule and potentially a better offensive line, plus he's pretty much the first choice on his team at the goal-line.
Honestly, the only reason why he's not a first-rounder is because of his susceptibility to injuries. And because there's that dark cloud hanging over his helmet, the only way I'd move on him in Round 2 is if there were no running backs left that I liked and I knew a receiver/tight end I wanted would definitely make it back to me in Round 3.
So if we're playing it safe, I feel best about Fournette in Round 3.
The same can be said for Cook. I'd follow the exact same plan with him as I do Fournette -- if he's the last remaining running back in late Round 2 who I like and the pass-catchers in Round 3 are going to be good, I'll take him. But if I had my preference I'd roll with Cook in the third round. And I will add Cook has a more appealing handcuff than Fournette.
The injury concerns are real. Either one of these guys could pop something and miss serious time. But Fournette's upside gives him an edge I'm willing to trust over Cook.