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Watching Dalvin Cook run for long touchdowns and wear out defenses every week is a refreshing sight, considering the NFL has become a passing league over the last decade, with passing records seemingly broken every year. Cook's brilliance on the ground is a refresher to football before the passing revolution, even though the Minnesota Vikings star running back is much more than the typical old-school bruiser.

Cook can do it all at running back, starting with his ability to read the gaps and find the second level quickly, but he's also an excellent pass-catching back out of the backfield. The Vikings don't have to rely on a two-back system -- even though Alexander Mattison is an excellent No. 2 back -- thanks to the brilliance of Cook. The NFL running back hierarchy began with Derrick Henry at the beginning of the season, but Cook is slowly beginning to capture the throne, running his way into the MVP conversation with one of the best starts for a running back in years. 

Russell Wilson was the early-season favorite for MVP, with Patrick Mahomes significantly closing the gap in recent weeks. Cook deserves to be in the mix thanks to his incredible start, leading the NFL in five rushing categories despite only playing seven games. The Vikings star running back is on pace to have the best season for a player at his position in over half a decade.

Dalvin Cook
BAL • RB • #33
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In this week's "By The Numbers," we take a look at Cook's hot start and where he ranks with the greatest running backs of all time through seven games.

2020 NFL leaders

Rushing yards

  1. Dalvin Cook -- 858 (7 games)
  2. Derrick Henry -- 843 (8 games)
  3. Josh Jacobs -- 588 (8 games)
  4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire -- 586 (9 games)
  5. Todd Gurley -- 584 (9 games)

Rushing touchdowns

  1. Dalvin Cook -- 12 (7 games) 
  2. Todd Gurley -- 9 (9 games) 
  3. Derrick Henry -- 8 (8 games) 
  4. Kyler Murray -- 8 (8 games) 
  5. Cam Newton -- 8 (8 games) 

Yards per rush

  1. Kyler Murray -- 7.1 (8 games) 
  2. Miles Sanders -- 6.1(5 games)
  3. Dalvin Cook -- 6.0 (7 games) 
  4. Lamar Jackson -- 5.9 (8 games) 
  5. Nick Chubb -- 5.9 (4 games) 

Rushing yards per game

  1. Dalvin Cook -- 122.6 (7 games) 
  2. Derrick Henry -- 102.4 (8 games) 
  3. Miles Sanders -- 86.8 (5 games) 
  4. Nick Chubb -- 83.8 (4 games) 
  5. Raheem Mostert -- 75.8 (4 games) 

Yards from scrimmage

  1. Alvin Kamara -- 1,036 (8 games) 
  2. Dalvin Cook -- 1,031 (7 games) 
  3. Derrick Henry -- 924 (8 games) 
  4. Stefon Diggs -- 813 (9 games) 
  5. Clyde Edwards Helaire -- 810 (9 games) 

Cook also leads the NFL in rushing first downs (48), and his 25 rushes of 10-plus yards also rank first in the league. Over the last two games, Cook has rushed for 369 yards and totaled six touchdowns. That rushing yardage is a team record through two consecutive games, beating Adrian Peterson's mark of 366 yards (which he did in 2007 and 2012). 

Cook's 12 rushing touchdowns through his team's first eight games of the season are tied for the eighth-most in league history since 1950 (Jim Brown has the record with 16). Of the 32 players in league history that have 10 rushing touchdowns through their team's first eight games, only Cook and John Riggins have played fewer than eight games (both played seven). Playing just seven games makes Cook's numbers when on the field even more impressive. 

Since Cook played just seven out of a possible eight games, here's where he would stand on most rushing yards through a player's first seven games (since 1950). His 858 rushing yards would be tied for 13th in league history with Walter Payton but far behind O.J. Simpson's record of 1,025 in 1973, which came during his 2,000-yard season (in just 14 games). 

Does Cook have a legitimate argument for MVP? We can look at the last two running backs to win the award as a potential benchmark for the Vikings star's performance to see if he has the elite resume to enter the conversation. Here are Cook's numbers against the last two MVP running backs -- LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson  -- through seven games.

  1. Dalvin Cook: 144 carries, 858 yards, 12 TD, 1,031 yards from scrimmage
  2. Adrian Peterson (2012): 136 carries, 632 yards, 3 TD, 787 yards from scrimmage
  3. LaDainian Tomlinson (2006): 150 carries, 656 yards, 6 TD, 959 yards from scrimmage

Peterson finished with 2,097 yards -- the last running back to rush for 2,000 yards in a season -- with 12 rushing touchdowns and a league-high 2,314 yards from scrimmage. He averaged 131.1 yards per game in that 2012 season. Tomlinson finished with 1,815 rushing yards and an NFL-record 28 rushing touchdowns, averaging 113.4 yards per game. He finished with 2,323 yards from scrimmage and 31 touchdowns on the season, also an NFL record. 

Cook's is on pace to rush for 1,838 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns in 15 games. That would give him the most rushing touchdowns in a season since Tomlinson had 28 in 2006 and would sit in a tie with Emmitt Smith for the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in a season. No player has rushed for 1,800 yards in a season since DeMarco Murray in 2014 and only Peterson and Chris Johnson have eclipsed 1,800 yards in a season since Tomlinson in 2006.

Is Cook the best back in the NFL? Let's see where he ranks amongst rushing leaders over the last two seasons.

Leaders from 2019-present

Rushing touchdowns

  1. Dalvin Cook -- 25
  2. Derrick Henry -- 24
  3. Aaron Jones -- 21
  4. Todd Gurley -- 21
  5. Christian McCaffrey -- 20

Rushing yards

  1. Derrick Henry -- 2,383
  2. Dalvin Cook -- 1,993
  3. Ezekiel Elliott -- 1,929
  4. Nick Chubb -- 1,829
  5. Josh Jacobs -- 1,738

Rushing yards per game

  1. Derrick Henry -- 103.6
  2. Dalvin Cook -- 94.6
  3. Nick Chubb -- 91.5
  4. Christian McCaffrey -- 84.8
  5. Josh Jacobs -- 82.8

Yards from scrimmage

  1. Christian McCaffrey -- 2,766
  2. Dalvin Cook -- 2,685
  3. Derrick Henry -- 2,670
  4. Ezekiel Elliott -- 2,587
  5. Alvin Kamara -- 2,366

Cook is definitely a top-three back in the league at the very least. Whether he is better than Henry or McCaffrey is up for debate, but this is a discussion that didn't even exist at this time last year. Credit goes to Cook from evolving from good to great over the past year-plus. 

If the Vikings were able to go on a second-half run and make the playoffs (they are two games behind the Rams out of the final playoff spot), they will certainly be aided by the dominance of Cook on the ground. Cook is on pace to have the best season for a running back in over half a decade; in a passing league, that's significant. 

Wilson and Mahomes are the clear favorites for MVP, but Cook certainly is right up there with them. The more Cook produces over the final eight games, the better his chances are at becoming the first running back since Peterson to capture MVP honors -- and quite possibly the last running back to win the award.