Less than two months after they parted ways with Adrian Peterson, the Vikings traded up twice in the 2017 draft to select Florida State running back Dalvin Cook in the second round and Ohio State lineman Pat Elflein in the third round, as part of the zone running scheme they wanted to build under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Cook’s promising rookie season was curtailed by a torn ACL, Shurmur left to be the Giants’ head coach after the year and hamstring issues caused Cook to miss five games in 2018. That turned out to be a year where the Vikings struggled to establish a running game behind a shaky offensive line and coach Mike Zimmer fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.
With Cook healthy this season, though, he’s second in the NFL in rushing through 11 games. The Vikings have doubled down on their zone scheme, drafting center Garrett Bradbury in the first round and installing the outside zone runs the Broncos and Texans used under Gary Kubiak. They have one of the lightest offensive lines in the league, General Manager Rick Spielman said in his bye-week media session on Tuesday, but “a lot of that was based off, what are we going to be?”
“When you’re going to be the philosophy of an outside zone run team, those guys have to be able to really move laterally,” he said. “They have to be able to make plays at the second level and sustain blocks at the second level. They have to get out on the screen game and our screen game is as effective as it’s ever been.”
The Vikings have been able to put Cook in the zone scheme he ran at Florida State, and he’s averaged 4.8 yards per carry this season.
“As far as his vision, his patience to set up the blocks, he’s going to keep working laterally and the burst and balance he has through the hole. And he’s not a 6-[foot]-2, 230, 220-pound back, but he has tremendous strength and balance. The thing that makes him unique, that makes the great running backs unique, is the ability to create on their own.
“I don’t know what the stat is, but I can imagine he’s one of the top backs in the league as far as getting yards after contact, or making people miss, especially when he gets in space. He just has a unique trait like that that I don’t think you can coach. I think it’s something you’re born with.”
Cook will be a free agent after next season, at the same time quarterback Kirk Cousins’ contract is set to expire. Asked if the Vikings would consider a new deal for Cook or keep looking for young running backs instead of signing him long-term, Spielman said, “I think that’s a great offseason question.”
The Vikings were one of the 25 teams at the workout the NFL set up for former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at the Falcons’ practice facility last Saturday, Spielman said.
The general manager would not discuss whether the Vikings attended the workout after Kaepernick’s camp moved it to an area high school following disagreements with the NFL about how it would be handled, though the Vikings have not been one of the teams reported to have attended the relocated workout.
“The Colin Kaepernick situation, you know, it was sprung on us last week. We’re always going to do our due diligence,” Spielman said. “We were one of the teams that were down there for the workout, but we just treated it like any other workout. We cover hundreds of workouts all year, from colleges to the pro days we bring in here, and it was just another opportunity for us to cover another workout.”