One of the worst things about fantasy football is the amount of luck that factors into weekly matchups. Injuries are always going to be a part of the game, but they seem fairly random. Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook missed Week 3 due to injury and has popped up on the fantasy injury report for Week 4 as well. We likely won’t know for sure if he’s playing until late Sunday morning. Until then, fantasy managers will need to look at all options in case Cook is held out.
Update (10/03/21): Dalvin Cook is active for the Vikings’ Week 4 game against the Browns.
Should you start Dalvin Cook this week?
Dalvin Cook has had a long history of injuries in his time in the NFL, but it’s hard to call him injury prone. Let’s look deeper and see if there’s a pattern, though.
Dalvin Cook’s injury history
For starters, Cook hasn’t played an entire season in his five-year career. He missed five games in 2018, two each in 2019 and 2020, and has already missed one this year. That being said, his injuries usually aren’t related and are often to different parts of his body.
In 2018, Cook missed five games with a pulled hamstring, and a shoulder injury sidelined him in 2019. Then, in 2020, it was a groin injury, and now it’s an ankle injury. None of these seem directly related at all. Instead, it indicates that Cook plays football at the highest level and takes a lot of abuse doing so.
Cook has looked good through two games
Though he’s only played in two games this season, Cook is the RB20 overall in PPR scoring (RB6 – points per game). He has 252 total yards, 8 catches, and 1 touchdown. As expected, when he’s been on the field, Cook’s been dominant. Fantasy managers drafted Cook at the top of their drafts, and at least early on, it has paid dividends.
During the Week 2 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, Cook ran for 131 yards on 22 carries. However, he was tackled low by J.J. Watt and briefly left the game in the fourth quarter. Despite missing a few snaps, Cook returned. After the game, it was announced that he had a mild ankle sprain.
Cook was listed as questionable heading into Week 3 despite missing practice. He was then declared inactive Sunday morning, giving Alexander Mattison a chance to start. With Cook’s injury history and the extra game this year, it’s entirely possible that this was precautionary more than anything else. Nonetheless, Mattison did pretty well in Cook’s absence.
Mattison dominated when given the opportunity in Week 3
Mattison and the Vikings entered Week 3 against the Seahawks with an 0-2 record. Needing a victory to help improve their postseason chances, the team turned to Mattison to get the job done. He delivered.
Mattison finished with 112 yards on 26 carries, adding 6 catches on 8 targets for another 59 yards through the air. Mattison put the team on his back, and he helped lead the Vikings to a convincing 30-17 victory. He was every bit as good as Cook probably would have been, making the decision to bench Cook look like the right one.
Based on this performance, and the status of Cook’s ankle, Mattison might get the chance to do it again in Week 4. If that’s the case, and there’s only one RB to worry about, Mattison is definitely worth a start. But what should we do if Cook suits up? Should you start both or one or the other?
Dalvin Cook is worth starting if he plays in Week 4
Cook practiced in a limited fashion ahead of Sunday’s game, which makes me think he’s playing. He practiced Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday — although not fully each day. This led to him telling the media that he expects to play in Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns.
However, the question as to whether you should start Cook this week is a little misleading. If Cook plays on Sunday, I’m probably playing him. If he doesn’t, the easy choice is to start Mattison.
The real question I have is more about Mattison. Is he worth starting if both running backs play this week?
Should you start Alexander Mattison no matter what?
Mattison’s 2021 Offensive Value Metric (OVM) for the year is 19.09 — the fourth-best among RBs. For clarity, this is better than Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, or Aaron Jones so far this year. Yet, much of this is likely skewed by his tremendous Week 3 performance with Cook out of the lineup.
Mattison has scored a total of 28.5 PPR fantasy points this year, but 23.1 of them came last week. While that’s over 80% of his production, it still shows how talented Mattison is when given the chance.
When Cook plays, Mattison goes back to his change-of-pace role, getting a handful of carries when Cook needs a breather. Between the injury and the lengthened season, I could definitely see the Vikings splitting the carries this week. It may look more like a timeshare than before Cook got hurt.
If you have both, I prefer starting Cook over Mattison. Still, I don’t mind playing both, depending on the other options available. Injuries are piling up, and you may be looking at a decision between Mattison and Ronald Jones, for example, or something similar. In those cases, it might be worth it to roll the dice on Mattison and see if he can carve out a role of his own this week.