5 Scheme Fits for Free Agent Running Back Dalvin Cook

The rumors were true. Dalvin Cook‘s time with the Minnesota Vikings is over. Cook was released on Thursday, NFL Media reported. Now that Cook is a free agent let’s look at five teams who could sign Cook based on scheme fit and need.

SIS provided all the data in this article. 

5 Fits for Dalvin Cook

Is Cook a Gap or Zone Runner?

Cook was fifth in the league in rushing attempts behind zone blocking for Mike Zimmer’s Vikings in 2021. In Kevin O’Connell’s first year in Minnesota last season, the Vikings had the second-highest carry percentage (74 percent) behind zone blocking. Cook was second in the league in rushing attempts behind zone blocking last season.

Two different coaching staffs gave Cook most of his rushing workload behind a zone-blocking scheme. 

The best landing spots for Cook would be contending teams with zone-heavy schemes where Cook could carve out a significant role.

Miami Dolphins

In Mike McDaniel’s first year with the Miami Dolphins, they were 18th in the league in rushing attempts behind zone blocking but eighth (67.9 percent) in carry percentage. 

San Francisco, where McDaniel coached before Miami, was sixth in the league in carry percentage behind zone blocking last season. The Dolphins would be a strong scheme fit for Cook, which is one of the reasons Miami has been among his rumored destinations.

Cook is a far more accomplished runner than veterans Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert. The Dolphins are a contending team with an already dangerous offense. Cook could enter opening day as the Dolphins’ lead runner if he signs in Miami.

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys moved on this offseason from offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, whose offense ran behind zone blocking 62.8 percent of the time last season. We can expect coach Mike McCarthy to continue deploying a zone-heavy scheme. 

Dallas also released long-time Cowboy Ezekiel Elliott, leaving Malik Davis or Ronald Jones II in a position to take on Elliott’s vacated grinder-back role. 

The Cowboys are a contending team in the NFC, and McCarthy has expressed his desire to run the ball to keep his defense off the field. Tony Pollard is a talented back deserving of primary runner duties, but he needs someone to take on a significant workload during an entire season. 

Cook would be a considerable upgrade over Davis or Jones for that role. The question is whether Cook wants to be a secondary runner.

>> READ: Cowboys Expected to Run More in 2023

Los Angeles Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers used zone blocking 61.8 percent of the time last season. Moore, now the Chargers’ offensive coordinator, led a Cowboys’ offense that used zone blocking at a 62.8 percent clip in 2022. 

The Chargers’ offensive line isn’t quite as strong as the Cowboys’, but Los Angeles still has a top-10 caliber unit at full strength.

From a personnel standpoint, the Chargers’ backfield is in a similar position to the Cowboys’. Dallas has two middling runners behind Pollard on the depth chart, and Los Angeles has the same type of situation behind Austin Ekeler

Just like Dallas, Cook would be a considerable upgrade for the Chargers as a complementary runner behind Ekeler. Los Angeles is a second-tier contender, similar to Miami and Dallas. However, barring an injury to Ekeler, Cook would be relegated to a complementary role in Los Angeles.

Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos had the fifth-highest carry percentage (68.9 percent) behind zone blocking last season. This offseason they also hired coach Sean Payton, whose 2021 Saints ran zone blocking 58.2 percent of the time. 

Payton is among the greatest offensive minds of his generation. If Denver signed an accomplished zone runner like Cook, it’s reasonable to expect Payton would adjust his offense to get the most out of his talent.

The Broncos added two significant pieces to their offensive line in RT Mike McGlinchey and OG Ben Powers in free agency, which will aid their run game. RB Samaje Perine was signed in free agency to play a sizable role in Denver’s backfield. 

That said, Javonte Williams’ health status is still in doubt, at least for early in the season. If Cook signed in Denver, he could be the team’s primary runner while Williams is still on the mend. If Cook plays well, he could keep that primary runner role when Williams returns.

The Broncos are a borderline fit for Cook’s services. We gave them the edge over the Chicago Bears and Washington Commanders, who deploy zone-heavy schemes with crowded backfields that Cook could rise to the top of. 

However, both teams are rebuilding with young quarterbacks. The presence of Payton and Russell Wilson makes the Broncos an easier sell for a veteran like Cook. That said, Cook might be interested in facing Minnesota twice a year as a Bear.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs ran the ball behind zone blocking at a similar clip to the Cowboys and Chargers last season at 62.6 percent. Kansas City is among the league’s most pass-centric offenses, but as we saw in last year’s Super Bowl, coach Andy Reid will dial up the volume in the run game for certain matchups.

Isiah Pacheco played well down the stretch last season, but it’s too soon to lock him in as a reliable headliner on a contender. Jerick McKinnon was brought back, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and isn’t the dynamic athlete he used to be. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a failed first-round pick and isn’t reliable.

The Chiefs are the league’s measuring stick, making them the primary destination for veterans searching for a Super Bowl ring. Cook will turn 28 this August. If his primary interest is winning, the Chiefs are a better fit than the Bills (46.3 percent zone rate) for Cooks’ services.

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