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Florida State football running back preview: Dalvin Cook and wildcards

The most complete preview of Florida State’s running backs.

Dalvin Cook is the best running back in Florida State history. That doesn’t mean the most accomplished, or the all-time stats leader, but rather the best — the combination of talent and accomplishment that denotes the best, and the obvious answer to the question of "what Florida State running back would you take for one game? One season?"

SB Nation’s Bill Connelly tells the tale of how Cook’s 2015 season showcased his greatness while hinting at more.

In theory, Cook might be healthy, too. He would rip off 40-yard runs in 2015, limp to the sideline with a re-aggravated leg, then come back in and rip off another 40-yarder. Against Wake, Miami, and Louisville, he carried 46 times for 479 yards and five touchdowns.

Here's the list of players who carried at least 225 times last year and averaged better than 9 highlight yards per opportunity:

1. Cook (231 carries, 10.1 highlight yards per opp)

That's it. No one else averaged better than 8.9, and among power-conference backs, Fournette was second in this sample at 6.8. Cook was absurdly explosive despite the limp. And if having two fresh legs allows him to better skate out of trouble, that's even better. He was stopped for a loss a lot, especially in the bowl game (18 carries, 33 yards). But still, he averaged 7.4 yards per carry for the season.

How he does it

Cook is a combination of top long speed and elite acceleration. He’s one of the fastest backs in the country north of 200 pounds and he reaches that top speed immediately, while many bigger backs with good speed take time to reach it. The combination of traits makes him deadly.

But he’s not just a speed back. Cook has transformed himself into a solid inside runner, showcasing the ability to set up blocks, be patient and put his head down and take four or five yards as opposed to constantly attempting to bounce a play outside as many speed backs are wont to do. That patience and vision have revealed themselves more over the course of his career. Cook is also very strong for his size, a trait many analysts gloss over. He may not run defenders over, but his ability to slip arm tackles and run through gang tackles is quite good.

Look how Dalvin Cook accelerates immediately after breaking a tackle.

About the only part of his game that isn’t a plus are his hands. Cook can catch, but he’s not near the weapon in the passing game that he is in the run game. Perhaps that will change in 2016.

College football’s best?

He might not only be the best back in Florida State history, but Cook may also be the top back in the country in what might be the best year for running backs in two or three decades, with the likes of Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb, Royce Freeman, Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon, Marlon Mack, Wayne Gallman, Elijah Hood, Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and others toting the rock.

Pro comparison: Jamaal Charles

Cook is about 10 pounds bigger than Jamal Charles and is probably a better prospect, but the similarities are too strong to ignore. Most specifically the acceleration and balance. It’s not enough to make a defender miss in a confined space. The truly special plays happen after that because Cook ramps back up to top speed in his first couple steps. Both Charles and Cook share this quality.

Cook’s ability to make people miss in tight spaces is special. His acceleration is even better.

A backfield is more than one back

While Florida State’s offense will revolve around Dalvin Cook, and FSU is likely incapable of greatness if he gets hurt, the Seminoles’ rushing attack will likely need more than one guy. But while Cook may be the best in the nation, it will take others exceeding expectations for FSU to have the title of the best running backs in the nation.

Player Pos. Ht, Wt Yr Recruit Rushes Yards TD Yards/ Carry
Dalvin Cook RB 5'11, 213 Jr. 5 star 231 1683 19 7.3
Jacques Patrick RB 6'2, 231 So. 4 star 63 314 5 5
Johnathan Vickers RB 6'1, 228 Jr. 3 star 23 111 1 4.8
Ryan Green RB 5'11, 204 RJr. 4 star
Amir Rasul RB 5'10, 196 Fr. 4 star
Freddie Stevenson FB 6'1, 241 Sr. 3 star 3 9 0 3
Gabe Nabers FB 6'3 244 Fr. 3 star

Ryan Green, who has seemingly been in the program forever (recruiting class of 2013) is somehow only a junior after taking a redshirt. His path to being potentially the top backup at running back has been a long one. Green has always had good talent (speed being the chief among them), but has never been able to stay healthy for an extended stretch. He moved to corner to help the team in 2015, but was injured before the season and redshirted, moving back. Green had a promising spring and showed more physicality than he had previously.

If 230-pound sophomore Jacques Patrick can run with the tenacity that Green showed in the spring, he could easily be the No. 2 back. Patrick is imposing and has reshaped his body some this offseason, hopefully unlocking better quickness and conditioning. Some big backs naturally run big, some have to develop the skill and some never are able to do it. Florida State needs Patrick to pound defenders, not to try and play small ball with a big man’s skill set. Sources say the staff wants more toughness out of him. His playing time is partially dependent on his running style this year. It is worth noting that Patrick has excellent hands for a big back and could be used some on third down.

Amir Rasul is a speedster out of South Florida and while he appears buried on the depth chart, Jimbo Fisher has rarely if ever redshirted his skill position players. Rasul should at least get to play in mop-up duty and special teams, if not more.

At fullback, Freddie Stevenson is a good, but not great player. The former linebacker is now around 240 pounds and has steadily improved over the last three seasons. He also has sure hands, hauling in nine passes in 2015. Behind him is Gabe Nabers, perhaps the most physically imposing fullback type (6’3, 244) that Florida State has signed in a decade or more.