Here’s why I have some hope for Dalvin Cook despite my relentless criticism of his game
If you have followed me at all in recent weeks/months, you know I am not a huge fan of this move. I’ve written multiple articles cautioning that Cook is no longer the player you might think he is when you hear his name or Google his box-score stats. I won’t harp on the details again – just go ahead and read those articles if you want a refresher on my specific reasoning for being skeptical about Cook.
Simply put, based on everything I gathered from watching his film and researching his analytics down to the most specific details, I concluded that Cook was not a player I thought the Jets would benefit from adding. Now, here he is.
I’m aware of how outlandish my Cook takes are perceived to be amongst Jets fans. And I totally get it. Feel free to disagree – vehemently so, if you please. I’m just some guy on the internet with an opinion, and I know the methods I take to arrive at those opinions are unorthodox. So I’m willing to live with it if I come to a conclusion that is unpopular.
My only goal as an analyst is to make sure my opinions are backed up by strong research. I’m never going to blurt out a take without having evidence to back it up. Whatever the research leads me to is what I’ll believe in, and in this situation, a pessimistic outlook of Cook is what I’ve arrived upon, so I’m going to stand by it.
But at the end of the day, being right is not my concern. I’ve been wrong many times before and I will be wrong many times again. I’d love to be wrong in this scenario. Hopefully, Cook has an excellent season and helps the Jets win a championship. I’ll be rooting for it.
While I will be rooting for Cook now that he is officially a Jet, I still struggle to find reasons for optimism. I haven’t discovered many convincing reasons to feel good about Cook’s outlook going forward. I’m someone who needs cold-hard evidence to believe in something. And, for Cook, I just haven’t seen that evidence yet.
That is… except for one thing.
I’ll remain skeptical of Cook until he proves I shouldn’t be – what I’m about to reveal does not erase my concerns. But while researching Cook further, searching for reasons to be optimistic, there was one sliver of hope that called out to me. And I’m hanging onto it as the sole reason to believe this thing might just work out despite my laundry list of concerns.
Dalvin Cook has an established track record of playing his best football early in the season.
This is what I’m clinging to: Throughout his career, Cook has shown a strong tendency to start seasons hot and gradually taper off as the year goes on. That makes him an ideal fit for the needs of this Jets team.
Take a look at Cook’s career averages in yards per touch by month:
- September: 5.38
- October: 5.24
- November: 5.19
- December: 5.16
- January (regular season): 3.52
- Playoffs: 3.37
For perspective: In 2022, the league average for RBs was 4.92.
Each month, going all the way into the playoffs, Cook’s yards per touch goes down. He peaks in September and gradually declines over the next three months. When New Year’s Day arrives, he runs into a brick wall. In seven career January games (4 regular season, 3 playoffs), Cook has averaged a ghastly 3.44 yards per touch.
These trends held up in the 2022 season – his mid-year drop-off was even more significant than usual.
Through October, Cook was producing at an above-average level, averaging 5.12 yards per touch and 4.92 yards per carry (the league average YPC for RBs was 4.40). Between November and December, he was down to 4.81 yards per touch and 4.22 yards per carry, making him a slightly below-average producer in both categories. Then, across three January games (2 regular/1 playoff), Cook struggled mightily, averaging 3.43 yards per touch and 3.54 yards per carry.
For what the Jets need right now, this could be the perfect trajectory.
The uncertainty surrounding Breece Hall is the main reason New York signed Cook. We still don’t know when Hall will return to action, how long it will take him to be one-hundred percent of who he was last year, or even if he’ll be ready to play in Week 1.
Considering these questions, the main thing the Jets need from Cook is for him to start the year fast so they can patiently wait for Hall to return to peak condition. And based on Cook’s career trends, he might be the right man for the job.
Perhaps that is the Jets’ plan. Run Cook into the ground while his legs are still working, and in the meantime, either have Hall start the season on the PUP list or keep his snap count low while gradually increasing it. Then, just before Cook runs out of gas, turn the bell-cow duties back over to a fresh and healthy Hall, giving the offense a huge boost for the stretch run.
In theory, this all sounds great. I hope it works out this way. If Cook gives the Jets a good stretch of games to start the year, followed by Hall returning to the lead role looking like his old self, the Jets will have achieved the dream scenario. Cook can then step back into a smaller role that keeps him fresh down the stretch, hopefully preserving his effectiveness.
But I’m still concerned about whether Cook can make a truly positive impact when considering his limitations. Throughout his entire career, Cook has been highly prone to fumbles, drops, and poor pass-blocking. There’s no reason to think these weaknesses will suddenly go away in his seventh season. Can Cook be productive enough as a playmaker to overcome the negative impact he will likely make in those areas?
Back in his prime years, he was able to do that, but in 2022, he did not, ranking as one of the NFL’s least efficient running backs in most meaningful categories. That made him a net-negative player overall. Now aged 28 and coming off back-to-back seasons of declines in efficiency, it’s fair to wonder if Cook will run the ball effectively enough in 2023 to overcome his deficiencies in other areas.
My concerns are already well-documented, though. That is not what we are here to address. This article is about optimism from an infamous Cook critic. Admittedly, I feel slightly better about Cook’s outlook having learned about his propensity for starting seasons off fast. That’s what the Jets need from him.
The ideal scenario is that Cook makes his impact by racking up breakaway plays at an extremely high rate. He’s got to be a home-run hitter, and a great one at that.
Down-to-down consistency might not be Cook’s forte at this point of his career (he got stuffed frequently in 2022 despite a solid OL and facing a very low rate of loaded boxes – from his film, I’m concerned his quickness is declining). But in 2022, he still displayed elite breakaway speed (third-fasted top speed of any RB, 21.68 mph) and elite big-play ability (most yards per breakaway run among qualifiers, 28.7). The Jets need him to not only replicate that in 2023, but expand on it even further – for the first few weeks, at least.
With fresh legs at the start of the year, a newly repaired shoulder, no wear-and-tear from preseason or training camp, and the motivation of competing for a championship alongside Aaron Rodgers, the perfect outcome features Cook being one of the league’s best big-play machines to start the year, making him an efficient rusher even if he struggles with a high rate of stuffs or mediocre short-yardage success.
The Jets also need to pray that Cook can somehow find a way to minimize his fumble, drop, and blocking woes. If he can even be league-average in those areas, it’s a win. That way, he can be a legitimate weapon whose impact is not limited by his struggles in the less-heralded facets of the position.
Time will tell if Cook can prove me wrong. I hope that is the case. Because if it is, it probably means the Jets had an outstanding year. Cook’s typical seasonal trajectory would fit perfectly into the Jets’ ideal roadmap for the 2023 season. It would smoothly set up a passing of the baton to Breece Hall at mid-season – prepping the offense for a playoff push late in the season.
That’s the dream scenario. Will it come true?