When the going got tough, Dalvin Cook got tougher.
Cook, after gaining just 32 yards on 14 carries in the first half of the Vikings' road game against the Bears this past Monday night, ran with an edge in the second half. Facing a formidable Bears defense that was intent on stopping him, Cook, simply put, didn't care. And while his stat line did not rival his two previous performances, Cook's 64 rushing yards in the second half (which gave him 96 yards on 30 carries for the game) was a big reason why the Vikings came from behind to defeat the Bears, 19-13. Over the past three games, Cook has amassed 589 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns. His success has helped Minnesota go from 1-5 to 4-5 with a chance to get to .500 with a win over the Cowboys on Sunday.
Despite missing a game earlier this season with a groin injury, Cook has an eight-yard lead over 2019 rushing champion Derrick Henry in the race to be this year's rushing champion. Cook has catapulted himself into the league's MVP conversation. He currently has the eighth-best MVP odds, according to William Hill Sportsbook. Cook is currently just ahead of Lamar Jackson, last year's MVP. He also has the best odds of any non-quarterback. That shouldn't come as a surprise, as quarterbacks have won league MVP each year since 2013. A former Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson, remains the last non-quarterback to win MVP following his prolific 2012 campaign.
Cook is performing at a level that is comparable to running backs who did win league MVP. Here's a look at what Cook's done so far, and what he is projected to do if he plays the rest of the season.
Cook's 8-game total
174 carries, 954 yards, 5.5 YPC, 12 TD's, 20 catches, 189 yards, 1 TD
Cook's 15-game projection
327 carries, 1,789 yards, 23 TD's, 5.5 YPC, 38 catches, 354 receiving yards, 2 TDs
Cook's projected numbers sit comfortably with the 18 seasons that saw a running back claim MVP honors. His projected rushing total would be the eight-highest total when compared to previous MVP winners. Cook's 2,143 projected all-purpose yards would rank ninth on this list, while his 25 projected touchdowns would be the fourth-highest mark. Cook's 5.5 yards per carry average would be tied for fifth best.
Here's a look at those 18 MVP running backs:
202 carries, 942 yards, 9 TD's, 4.7 YPC, 16 catches, 55 yards, 1 TD
257 carries, 1,527 yards, 17 TD's, 5.9 YPC, 16 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD
127 carries, 597 yards, 8 TD's, 4.7 YPC, 15 receptions, 145 yards, 2 TD's
11-3, NFL champions
272 carries, 1,474 yards, 19 TD's, 5.4 YPC, 22 catches, 106 yards
13-1, NFL champions
289 carries, 1,544 yards, 17 TD's, 5.3 YPC, 34 catches, 328 yards, 4 TD's
285 carries, 1,216 yards, 8 TD's, 4.3 YPC, 32 catches, 473 yards, 4 TD's
11-3 NFC champions
332 carries, 2,003 yards, 12 TD's, 6 YPC, 6 catches, 70 yards
339 carries, 1,852 yards, 14 TD's, 5.5 YPC, 27 catches, 269 yards, 2 TD's
368 carries, 1,697 yards, 19 TD's, 4.6 YPC, 16 catches, 94 yards
380 carries, 1,759 yards, 11 TD's, 4.6 YPC, 67 catches, 555 yards, 3 TD's
288 carries, 1,407 yards, 7 TD's, 4.9 YPC, 62 catches, 631 yards, 5 TD's
13-3, AFC champions
283 carries, 1,486 yards, 9 TD's, 57 catches, 414 yards, 1 TD
12-4, Super Bowl champions
335 carries, 2,053 yards, 11 TD's, 6.1 YPC, 33 catches, 305 yards, 3 TD's
392 carries, 2,008 yards, 21 TD's, 5.1 YPC, 25 catches, 217 yards, 2 TD's
14-2, Super Bowl champions
253 carries, 1,359 yards, 18 TD's, 5.4 YPC, 81 catches, 830 yards, 8 TD's
370 carries, 1,880 yards, 27 TD's, 5.1 YPC, 15 catches, 78 yards, 1 TD
13-3, NFC champions
|LaDainian Tomlinson||2006||348 carries, 1,815 yards, 28 TD's, 5.2 YPC, 56 receptions, 508 yards, 3 TD's||14-2|
|Adrian Peterson||2012||348 carries, 2,097 yards, 12 TD's, 6 YPC, 40 receptions, 217 yards, 1 TD||10-6|
Cook's pace looks most similar to Marcus Allen's 1985 MVP season. Three years removed from being named Rookie of the Year, and two years removed from his dazzling MVP performance in Super Bowl XVIII, Allen rushed for 1,759 yards and gained 2,314 all-purpose yards to lead the Raiders to an AFC West title. Cook is not on pace to match Allen's yardage total, but he already has nearly as many touchdowns as Allen did. His yards per carry average is also 1.3 yards higher than Allen, who touched the ball a whopping 447 times.
Los Angeles' reliance on Allen was among the reasons why he won league MVP. The same can now be said of Cook, whose recent tear of success has led to significantly better play from Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has thrown just one interception over the past three games after throwing 10 picks in the Minnesota's first six games. Cook has also continued to improve his chemistry with his offensive linemen, a underrated group of players that includes veterans Riley Reiff and Dakota Dozier, 2018 second-round pick Brian O'Neill, 2019 first-round pick Garrett Bradbury, and 2020 second-round pick Ezra Cleveland.
It should be said that there are several notable seasons by running backs that did not win MVP. With respect to Jim Brown's MVP rookie season of 1957, Gale Sayers' 1965 campaign is arguably the greatest rookie season in NFL history. That year, Sayers scored 22 touchdowns (which is still the NFL rookie record) that included an NFL record six touchdown performance. But it was Brown, not Sayers, who won league MVP honors in 1965, Brown's ninth and final NFL season.
Other memorable non-MVP running back seasons include Eric Dickerson's 1984 campaign that saw him run for an NFL record 2,105 yards. Dickerson's memorable year was overshadowed by Dan Marino's equally remarkable season that saw him throw for then NFL records 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns while leading the Dolphins to a 14-2 record. Over a decade later, Emmitt Smith was passed over by former Packers quarterback Brett Favre despite rushing for a then NFL record 25 touchdowns. In the 2000s, two running backs -- Jamal Lewis and Chris Johnson -- joined the elusive 2,000-yard rushing club but were not named MVP. In 2000, Edgerrin James, who was part of the Hall of Fame's 2020 induction class, led the league with 1,709 rushing yards. He also caught 63 passes for 594 yards and scored 18 total touchdowns.
Priest Holmes, the Chiefs' star running back during that same era, was never named MVP despite averaging 2,188 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns per season from 2001-03. Marshal Faulk, the season before his MVP campaign, became the second running back in league history to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. Roger Craig, the first running back to accomplished that feat, did so the same season that saw Allen win MVP honors.
The reasons why these running backs were not named MVP vary. Sayers, Craig and James were passed over in favor of other deserving players at the same position. Dickerson, Faulk and Holmes were overshadowed by quarterbacks. Cowboys fatigue likely played a role in Smith failing to win a second MVP in three years. The fact that Lewis and Johnson were not household names likely hurt their MVP chances.
As was the case with Allen in '85, Cook is having his big season in a year where where the MVP race is considerably open. Jackson is no longer a favorite to win his second straight MVP. Russell Wilson, the early front-runner, has fallen back to the pack after throwing nine interceptions over a four-game span. The current front-runner, 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes, is having a great but not exceptionally remarkable season by his incredibly lofty standards. Aaron Rodgers, who is off to the best statistical start of his career, and Kyler Murray, who has led the Cardinals' rise to become a serious contender to win the NFC West, may be Cook's biggest challengers. Ben Roethlisberger, whose solid play has been a big reason for the Steelers' 9-0 start, is also in the mix. And don't sleep on running back Alvin Kamara, who has totaled 1,134 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns for the 7-2 Saints.
Cook's MVP chances will be impacted by how well the other players alluded to above perform over the next seven weeks. Additionally, Cook will have to continue to play at his current level to have a chance at ending the stranglehold that the quarterback position has had on the MVP award over the past decade. The Vikings will have to continue winning for Cook to have a significant chance at being named MVP. If those things happen, and if a quarterback fails to separate himself from the pack, there's a real possibility that Cook will add his name to the list of MVP running backs.