As a high school recruit, Dalvin Cook was one of the most sought after players in the nation.
His recruiting profile lists offers from Alabama, Clemson, Miami (FL), and, of course, Florida State. The Miami native drew comparisons to C.J. Spiller, the former Clemson star, due to his speed and size.
Cook lived up to the hype as a five-star recruit during his time at Florida State. He racked up 4,464 yards and 46 touchdowns on the ground, becoming FSU’s all-time leading rusher in only three seasons. As a junior, he declared for the draft and was widely expected to be one of the top draft prospects.
But then the Combine happened.
After proclaiming himself as the best back in the draft, Cook failed to impress in the annual “Underwear Olympics.” His 7.27 three-cone drill, 4.53 20-yard shuttle and 30 1⁄2 vertical jump all tested in less than the 15th percentile for running backs.
“Can’t be a difference maker.”
Those were some of the phrases thrown around after Cook’s Combine performance. NFL Draft analysts questioned if they were fooled by three years of tape, and those who specialize in analytics proclaimed that Cook could not be an NFL-caliber athlete.
Fast forward to the present day, and it seems like Cook has proved those people wrong.
After being drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Vikings, it did not take long for Cook to establish himself as the premier back on the team.
The Vikings made a splash in free agency when they signed Latavius Murray to a three-year, $15-million dollar deal. The former Raider was expected to come in and be the team’s replacement for Adrian Peterson, who left for New Orleans this offseason. Murray’s deal was far from the most expensive in the league, but the Vikings still paid a good chunk of money at a position that is undervalued in today’s league.
In the Vikings’ first game of the season, Murray received two carries for six yards.
Cook got 22 carries, which he turned into 127 yards. This broke Peterson’s rookie debut record for rushing yards.
Through the first two weeks of the young NFL season, Cook is third in the league with 191 rushing yards. He is fourth overall among running backs with 5.6 yards per attempt, behind only Kareem Hunt, Carlos Hyde, and Derrick Henry.
Oh, and he’s also tied with LeSean McCoy with three runs over 20-yards.
So why is it that Cook, a player who tested poorly at the Combine, is able to find immediate success in the NFL?
For one, Cook’s best traits weren’t something that you could test with a stopwatch.
Anyone who watched Cook play at Florida State for three years knew that his most noticeable trait was his top end speed. Go back and watch FSU’s game versus Clemson in 2016 or Miami in 2015— Cook’s ability to outrun defenders to the end zone is crazy. In the clip below, the Miami linebacker has coverage on Cook coming out of the backfield and has absolutely no shot to make the tackle.
But another one of Cook’s best qualities as a running back, and the reason why he’s finding early success at the highest level, is his vision.
In high school, Cook was a player who bounced a lot of runs to the outside. Because he was a far superior athlete to his competition, the Miami Central star could easily house these plays.
In college, Cook developed immensely as an inside runner, a player who could read the blocks being set up before exploding through the hole. His patience and vision contributed a lot to his success at Florida State, especially when you consider that his offensive line as a sophomore and junior featured many players who were not draft prospects.
However, a running back should also know when to bounce the run outside. Cook scored many times off of this in college, but also showed he can do it in the NFL. In the clip below, Cook nearly scores his first NFL touchdown but was ruled a bit short. Watch as he recognizes that a massive hole opens up on the backside.
Inside zone run. He notices the LB shooting the gap frontside and then cuts it backside. Instincts and explosion.— J.R. (@JReidDraftScout) September 19, 2017
Dalvin Cook is special. pic.twitter.com/4VB3EcOVWe
Funny thing is, he showed nearly an identical reaction in his final year at Florida State.
Florida State’s favorite run play last year was the counter, with tight end Ryan Izzo and an offensive guard as the pulling blockers. The Seminoles were able to score twice off of this concept against eventual national champion Clemson because of Cook’s patience and vision. Watch below as he waits for blocks to be set up before hitting the outside with a burst of speed.
Cook's third TD, the second on a counter run. Blocks: check. Speed: check. Easy. pic.twitter.com/rNivdu87u3— Dakota Moyer (@DakMoyer) June 18, 2017
Certain Combine drills, such as the three-cone and 20-yard shuttle, test a player’s explosiveness and ability to change direction. Running backs who can stop on a dime and juke opponents out of their cleats often find success in these drills.
But Cook is not that type of runner. He is a very smooth runner, beating opponents with superior top end speed and destroying angles of pursuit.
This, of course, does not mean that Cook isn’t without a juke move. An underrated aspect of Cook’s game is his ability to make players miss in tight spaces. Take a look at the clip below, where Cook makes a Florida defender miss in traffic while picking up extra yards.
Counter again. Cook makes UF 33 miss in the hole. Elite talent. pic.twitter.com/guLiTbiBQm— Dakota Moyer (@DakMoyer) June 27, 2017
Against the Steelers in week two, Cook showed his ability to make players miss in confined spaces again. Almost immediately after taking the handoff from the shotgun, Cook is forced to use his quick feet to make a man miss. Oh, and he also picks up some extra yards with good power as well.
Lastly, Cook’s balance was something that no stopwatch or analytics could measure. For a guy with great top end speed, we very rarely saw him step out of bounds even as he was tightroping down the sidelines with players trying to bring him down. His balance, combined with great lower body strength, made it very difficult for collegiate defenders to bring him down.
Just look at this clip from FSU’s game against Florida in 2015. Cook takes a massive hit from future Atlanta Falcons starting safety and first round pick Keanu Neal, a hit that would cause most collegiate players to fumble. But Cook simply regains his balance and gets the first down. Crazy.
Sure, there are players who turned in a better three-cone-drill time than Cook. Some running backs also ran a faster 40-yard dash. But Cook’s vision, patience, and balance are all traits that you cannot measure with a stopwatch.
Cook’s immediate success is no surprise to those who have watched his game evolve over the years.
The only question is, how good can he get?