Entering the final year of any contract always makes a running back a potential risk to threaten a holdout. Therefore, it was no surprise when Adam Schefter reported that a source told ESPN that Minnesota Vikings’ running back Dalvin Cook would be the next holdout and would not be participating in any more team activities until he receives a “reasonable extension.”
The instant reaction, understandably, focused on Cook, but it also has huge ramifications on the outlook for second-year running back Alexander Mattison in 2020. Let’s take a look at Mattison’s potential as the Vikings’ starting running back in 2020, both from an on-the-field and fantasy football aspect.
What does Cook’s holdout mean for Mattison?
Mattison’s potential impact in 2020
If Mattison is the Vikings’ starter in 2020, he will have big shoes to fill. Last year in 14 games, Cook rushed for 1,135 yards on 250 carries (4.6 yards per carry) with 13 touchdowns, adding another 519 yards on 53 receptions (9.8 yards per reception) with an impressive catch rate of 84.1%. However, Mattison also returned impressive numbers in 2019, with 462 rushing yards (4.62 ypc) and 82 receiving yards (8.2 ypr) with a catch rate of 83.3%.
The positive for Mattison is that he graded out extremely strong when it comes to Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric, where he finished as the sixth-best running back in the 2019 season. OSM defines an individual player’s contribution to the overall offensive success of a team, taking into account elements he has control over. In contrast, Cook ranked 23rd according to OSM in 2019, having been ranked 40th in 2018.
In terms of their OSM on a per week basis, Cook managed an OSM over 20, which is considered to be at least “good,” just once all season. Mattison, on the other hand, had an OSM over 20 twice in just the four weeks he had enough carries to qualify, with one of those weeks going over 30, which is considered “very good.”
Mattison’s OSM advantage over Cook is based on a couple of areas, with the biggest being that he faced eight men in the box on 10% more carries than Cook (34% compared to 24%). He also spent significantly less time behind the line of scrimmage, 2.72 seconds on average compared to 2.9 for Cook.
The final place that Mattison outperformed Cook was in terms of efficiency, which is a measure of total yards covered divided by the number of rushing yards gained. However, both Cook and Mattison had an efficiency above four, placing them both in the bottom-20 at the position.
Mattison also has an advantage over Cook when it comes to his athleticism entering the NFL. Mattison came out of Boise State with a relative athletic score of 6.85 thanks in large part to a “great” explosion grade after an impressive broad jump. In contrast, Cook’s RAS was just 4.66 with “poor” grades when it came to his explosion and agility, and not a single trait was graded as either “great” or “elite.”
Mattison’s contribution last season is impressive given the limited opportunities he received. He was only on the field for more than 30% of the offensive snaps twice in 13 games, and in one of those two games, he only saw eight touches, despite playing 48% of the snaps. The positive of that Week 13 game was that Mattison pulled in four of his five targets for 51 yards, demonstrating his usefulness in the passing game, as well as putting up solid stats for the year carrying the ball.
What does this mean for Cook’s and Mattison’s fantasy football value?
There is a lot to undress about the current situation when it comes to fantasy value for both Cook and Mattison. Given that Cook was entering the final year of his contract, there was already some question marks about his future. The Vikings are projected to have around $30 million in cap space in 2021, assuming the cap continues to grow at its current rate. Given the concerns over the potential the salary cap could actually regress in 2021, and the fact Kirk Cousins is counting over $30 million against the cap, would have made it difficult for the Vikings to extend Cook regardless.
Cook’s fantasy value
That would have left the fantasy value of both Cook and Mattison in a strange position. With there being a good chance of Cook moving on next offseason, investing heavily would leave you at risk of him ending up in a less favorable situation when the 2021 season starts. Realistically, with a first-round pick value in start-ups, investing heavily was really the only way to own Cook.
The problem now is the entire future is uncertain. The collective bargaining agreement means that Cook needs to report for training camp, or he loses that all-important final accrued season. If he does report, and he is on the field, then he is a top-10 back in 2020 with very little question around it. In 2019, aided by the seventh-best offensive line by adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders, his fantasy point differential was 15% in non-PPR and 12% in PPR formats. Those numbers were good enough to place him in the top-10 running backs in terms of FPD last season.
With all of this in mind, investing in Cook is a risky proposition that has high upside but also has the potential to end in disaster. Given that he is now moving past the peak age for running back production and has never played a full season in his career, he is a player I am moving behind the likes of Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders when it comes to ranking running backs for dynasty purposes.
Mattison’s fantasy value
The latest news regarding Cook’s holdout is going to send Mattison’s value in dynasty leagues into a massive upwards surge. Prior to the news, he was being taken anywhere between the ninth and 13th round in dynasty start-up drafts alongside other backups and handcuffs. That value should now surge up into the fifth to the seventh round range, negating some but not all of the value.
Mattison’s fantasy point return last season was somewhat underwhelming, with his fantasy point differential -16% in non-PPR and -14% in PPR formats. However, that underperformance was largely driven by a lack of opportunities to score touchdowns, as he scored just one all season. Mattison saw just 28.9% of the carries inside the 20-yard line, 23.0% inside the 10-yard line, but just 8.3% inside the five-yard line. If Cook is not on the field in 2020, Mattison should see those numbers increase next season.
We have already seen that Mattison is a talented player. In terms of his pure rushing ability, his OSM ranking of sixth is extremely impressive in his rookie season. If he now gets more opportunities behind a top-10 offensive line, which is returning four of its five starters from last season, then we could see Mattison have the opportunity to establish himself as a top-10 running back in 2020 and beyond.