It was the worst kind of October Surprise for the Minnesota Vikings and Dalvin Cook.
A torn ACL in a Week 4 loss to the Lions ended his rookie season prematurely, creating a huge hole in the backfield with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon given shovels to fill it in.
Surprise, surprise: Neither has been able to make it a one-man job.
First to step up was McKinnon, who went off for 95 yards rushing and a touchdown and caught six passes for 51 yards in a 20-17 victory over the Bears in the first whole game without Cook.
He continued that run throughout October, finishing the month with 61 rushes for 261 yards (4.3 yards per carry), three rushing touchdowns and 20 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown.
In the five games since October’s end, though: 46 rushes for 127 yards (2.8 yards per carry), zero rushing touchdowns and 13 receptions for 96 yards and one touchdown.
Coincidentally (or not), that’s when Murray got going – improved confidence in his surgically repaired ankle is likely to have had a major effect.
The former Oakland Raider has received 15 or more carries in each of the last seven games and rushed for 68 or more yards in each of the last four.
Even better yet for his fantasy owners: Murray has four touchdowns in the last four games.
The problem for Murray and McKinnon owners: Both players have carved out definitive roles that will limit the other’s value in fantasy.
Murray runs between the tackles and consumes the goal-line carries. That makes him the better play in standard scoring leagues and earns him FantasyPros’ ranking of the 14th-best back in standard moving forward. That role limits him in PPR, dropping him to No. 18.
McKinnon is the pass-catching back and the guy who gets the ball on the edge, making him much less valuable in standard than PPR. He checks in with FantasyPros as the No. 13 back in PPR and No. 19 in standard rest of season.
The result of their efforts is a ground game that’s having a historic turnaround: from last in the NFL in 2016 to sixth this season (122.8 yards per game). It also included seven 100-yard rushing performances by the offense during this eight-game win streak.
But neither back has eclipsed 100 yards rushing since Week 7 vs. Baltimore when Murray rushed for 113. It marks the only 100-yard rushing effort not done by Cook this season.
It creates a situation where both are worthy starts, but neither one is considered elite like Cook.
Verdict: Trust Murray in standard scoring. You can and probably will start McKinnon in either format and Murray in PPR, but it says more about the running back landscape than their production.
Want to talk more fantasy football? E-mail Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or heckle him on Twitter @mike_e_nelson.