The Minnesota Vikings lost arguably the top weapon of their offense in Dalvin Cook, so what players need to step up to help replace him?
I don’t usually cuss, but I may have let one slip after Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook went down in Week 4 against the Detroit Lions. Seeing the young phenom’s knee buckle on replay was as deflating as last year’s end of the season letdown following a five-game win streak to start the year. In fact, both cases were devastating to the point of denial.
But, a week has passed since Cook’s injury and the denial has turned to acceptance. Basically, I have accepted the fact that Cook is not coming back to the Minnesota Vikings this season. No miracles are happening with an ACL tear. A sad reality, albeit true.
So, I have no choice but to move forward. To embrace who the Minnesota Vikings have healthy on the roster. I must say, thinking about the likes of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen definitely makes me feel better, yet I struggle getting excited about any other names on the offense. I mean, out of the trio of Cook, Diggs and Thielen, the rest of the Vikings running backs, wide receivers and tight ends have been what seems like non-existent.
Knowing this, it’s clear the Vikings need more offensive players to step up in Cook’s absence. To take advantage of the opportunity of getting touches that would have went to the rookie. As matter of fact, if Minnesota wants to make a run at the playoffs, there’s no doubt a couple players need to make bigger impacts.
Luckily, there are guys on the roster capable of making the most of this opportunity. With that, let’s look into three of those guys destined to step up without Cook:
1. Kyle Rudolph
Where has the Vikings star tight end been? Through four games, Rudolph only has 10 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. At this rate, he would finish with 40 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns. This is far below the career-highs in catches (83), yards (840) and targets (132) that he put up in 2016.
While he’s a Sam Bradford favorite, there’s still concern as to why he’s not producing with backup Case Keenum. Usually, a tight end serves as a safety blanket and that hasn’t held true under Keenum, although I’m not sure who’s to blame. Of course, Diggs and Thielen are reliable wideouts, but there’s still room for Rudolph to have more chances. With Cook down, there definitely should be more targets coming his way. Yet, “should” is the key word there.
Now, if Bradford returns against the Bears, I expect Rudolph to be the first beneficiary of his return. The Cook injury just makes him an even greater focal point, especially if the run game struggles with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.
Yet, without Bradford, Rudolph has to find a way to produce. The Vikings need him more than ever and having three active, pass-catching threats on the offense is only going to create problems for defenses. Essentially, Rudolph has a chance to be a real difference maker now, even though he should have been all along.
Obviously, the Vikings need a running back to step up and replace Cook in the backfield. In my view, Murray gets the first crack at the starting job and is the one to watch in the next couple of games.
Even so, McKinnon has the higher ceiling and when you’re replacing someone like Cook, I think you want to pull for the guy with the most upside. Don’t get me wrong, McKinnon is no Cook, but he is a more dynamic back than Murray right now.
This isn’t really a knock on Murray, but rather a sign that no one should be convinced that he’s healthy enough to perform like the Pro Bowl player he was in 2015. Not to mention, the player that rushed for 12 touchdowns just last season. He’s coming off ankle surgery and recently told the media that he isn’t quite 100 percent.
In my opinion, that’s a huge red flag that he came back too early. In that case, McKinnon is going to have step up at running back. Arguably, his biggest strength is catching the ball out of the backfield, something that really helps an offense. Ideally, he could put up just as good receiving numbers as Cook could given an identical role. The huge difference is whether he can produce on the ground.
Even though he had a career-high 43 catches in 2016, he averaged only 3.4 yards per carry and has struggled getting anything going on the ground in limited action this year. Yet, maybe his fortune changes in a bigger role with a better offensive line in place. McKinnon definitely has the ability as he rushed for 4.8 yards per carry in his rookie season when he helped replace an injured Adrian Peterson.
Regardless, no running back is going to replicate what Cook gave the Vikings, but McKinnon has the best chance to make the biggest impact from the backfield.
Finally, the wild card of the bunch. Michael Floyd.
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As many already know, Floyd is coming off a four-game suspension and is likely going to earn the third-string receiver role. Trust me, I was pulling for last year’s first round pick Laquon Treadwell, but he looks like a bust more and more each day. Additionally, the way Floyd played in training camp and the preseason got fans, coaches and players excited for his return from suspension.
Altogether, Floyd can step in right away and deliver a spark to an offense that just lost one in Cook. Only time will tell if the Minnesota native can actually deliver that spark, but he can likely do better than the five catches Treadwell has through four games.
The sixth-year veteran has a 1,000 yard season under his belt, along with two 800 yard seasons, so he definitely has the ability to add a lot to the offense. Physically, he still has the makings of someone that could become a star in the league.
In the end, it may just come down to whether he can stay away from trouble off the field. If so, the Vikings could have the most dynamic top-three receiver set in the NFL. That alone would help take some of the pressure off Minnesota’s offense from losing Cook.
Rudolph, McKinnon and Floyd are going to be relied upon to step up and make plays in the absence of Cook. If they don’t, Minnesota may be in for a long rest of the season. Let’s hope the latter doesn’t prove true. Skol Vikes!