One of the top running backs in the NFL and fantasy football, Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook projects to be an early pick once again as his 2022 fantasy outlook rivals the top players in the game. With the NFL season and fantasy drafts closing in, what is Cook’s fantasy outlook in 2022, and could he prove to be a value at his current ADP in fantasy football drafts?
Dalvin Cook’s fantasy outlook for 2022
For the first time since 2018, Cook failed to top 1,500 scrimmage yards and double-digit touchdowns in a season. However, it would be unfair to say his campaign was a “disappointment.” Cook’s down years are career seasons for most backs in the NFL.
Playing in 13 games, Cook rushed 249 times for 1,159 yards (fifth-most) with six rushing touchdowns. This was a significant drop as Cook had found paydirt 29 times on the ground in 2019 and 2020. Cook simply had fewer opportunities.
Despite recording a career-high 71% of the red-zone carries, Cook saw just 45 carries inside the 20-yard line compared to 64 the year prior (14 games). It was the lowest he had seen in three seasons, with 26 carries inside the 10-yard line and just 15 inside the 5-yard line. In 2019 and 2020, 19 of Cook’s TDs came from inside the 5-yard line (47 attempts).
Cook was still involved in the passing game, which helped his PPR upside. He recorded 34 receptions on 49 targets (27th amongst RBs) for 224 yards with no touchdowns. Averaging 106.4 yards per game, Cook was fourth in the NFL in total yards but 16th in fantasy points and 11th in points per game. The lack of scores drastically hindered his per-touch upside as he finished 45th amongst the 55 RBs who recorded 100 touches or more (0.73 PPR/touch).
Cook will look to bounce back in 2022
Cook is one of the most talented backs in the NFL. With 17 games of 100+ rushing yards since 2019, Cook is always a threat to take over a game so long as the script allows. The only question for Cook is not talent. It’s availability.
It is well documented that Cook has yet to play in an entire season. He tore his ACL in his rookie season after playing in four games. He then missed five games in 2018, two in both 2019 and 2020, and four in 2021 due to an ankle sprain and a torn labrum in his shoulder.
As a general rule, when I make projections, I never have someone listed to play in all 17 games. Until injuries no longer exist, it’s a safe bet to assume someone will miss time. Cook is no different, and if drafting him in the first round, know that history suggests he could miss multiple games in 2022.
Even when acknowledging this, Cook’s upside still makes him worthy of his high ADP. Since 2019, Cook has averaged 20.7 PPR/game while finishing as an RB1 in 56% of his games and an RB2 or better in 88% of his active games (41). I get missing Cook for a game or two is frustrating. But personally, that’s a risk worth taking to get the other 14-15 games of elite-level production.
How the Vikings’ depth chart impacts Cook’s fantasy projection for the season
The Vikings were active this offseason, primarily on the defensive side of the ball. They signed Za’Darius Smith to a three-year deal, added DT Harrison Phillips, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Chandon Sullivan, and re-signed CB Patrick Peterson. They even used their first two picks in the 2022 NFL Draft on their secondary, selecting hard-hitting Georgia S Lewis Cine in Round 1 and Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr. in Round 2.
Offensively, the guys on the field will seem familiar to Vikings fans. Kirk Cousins is back for another year. TE Irv Smith Jr. is primed for a return after missing last season with a torn ACL. And WRs Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are ready for another go-around. The OL, ranked 24th by Football Outsiders and = 24th in adjusted line yards, will look a bit different.
The offensive line should be an improved unit in 2022, but it is not the most important change
Christian Darrisaw starts at LT but should have a new partner at guard with Ed Ingram out of LSU (pick No. 59). Mason Cole signed a three-year deal with the Steelers, leaving Garrett Bradbury as the likely starting center despite the team declining his fifth-year option. Jesse Davis, signed from Miami, is projected to start at RG. Thus, Brian O’Neill and Darrisaw are the only returning starters from last season. Given the way they played in 2021, this should be a good thing so long as they gel quickly.
The most important addition was not a player but a coach. The Vikings moved to the 21st century, replacing Mike Zimmer with former Rams OC Kevin O’Connell as the team’s hew head coach. This is a vertical league, and the Vikings needed a coach with an offensive mindset.
O’Connell helped the Rams finish ninth in total offense (372.1 yards per game) in 2021, ranking second in plays of 50-plus yards (10), fourth in yards per play (5.98), and eighth in offensive touchdowns (51).
Minnesota should be a more explosive offense if Cousins performs up to his standards
This is what I am the most excited about for the Vikings. They have the talent to be explosive with Jefferson, Thielen, Smith Jr., Cook, and even Alexander Mattison. Yet, they were restricted by a conservative offense. We should see a more diverse playbook from a formation standpoint which should open the field, leading to more explosive plays.
It should also be an offense that allows Cook to get in space more often, which is where he is at his most dangerous. While the Rams have shied away from targeting their RBs (12.6% target share ranked 32nd in 2021), Cook should maintain a floor of around 45 targets as Cousins likes to check the ball down. Plus, the Vikings do not have the same WR depth as the Rams did, opting not to sign anyone in FA and waiting until the sixth round (pick No. 191) to draft a receiver in Jalen Nailor of Michigan State.
With a new offensive mind calling plays and a new number on his jersey (No. 4 instead of 33), Cook could once against be a top-five RB in fantasy. He has a legitimate shot at the RB1 spot if he stays on the field. A first-round pick based on ADP, Cook is a high-floor/high-ceiling running back to build a team around in 2022.
Cook’s ADP for 2022
Despite the new Minnesota Vikings offense look, Cook’s role is as secure as the No. 1 RB on the depth chart. While Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler battle it out for who would be the next man up, fantasy managers are bullish on Cook as one of the few with legitimate RB1 overall upside.
With fantasy drafts firing off at a record pace, Cook currently is the RB6 in PPR, coming off the board with an ADP of 8th overall. It’s actually the first time in a few seasons Cook has been outside the top five overall picks, making this a possible value.
The talent of Cook is undeniable, and it’s also why we see him bounce around in drafts. His ADP of 8 is just the average, as I have seen him going as the RB3 overall in some leagues and in others sliding to the end of the first. Outside of Taylor, virtually every RB this year in the first round comes with some level of question. Can Austin Ekeler keep up the insane scoring rate? Can Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry stay healthy? Will Najee Harris see a drop-off in efficiency without the massive target volume? Can Cook still thrive while not in a run-first offense?
I feel this is why we see there is no set order for the running backs outside of Taylor and McCaffrey going first and second. If I am toward the back-half of the first, Cook would be on my shortlist of targets, especially if I want to go RB/RB or RB/WR to start my draft. The floor is there for him to be a top-12 RB for the year with the upside of a potential top-3 with an 18 to 20-plus opportunity upside in 2022. If the touchdowns come back, Cook will return value at his current ADP.