Robert Saleh’s recent comments about Dalvin Cooks reek of delusion
Accordingly, the team has gradually decreased Cook’s playing time. Over his past four games, Cook is averaging 8.5 offensive snaps and 3.8 carries per game. He hasn’t received more than four carries in a game since Week 5. The Jets seemed to be admitting they whiffed on Cook.
But Robert Saleh‘s recent comments suggest Cook’s role may be taking a turn.
Speaking to the media on Friday, Saleh said “Getting [Cook] more of a role is definitely a priority.” Saleh spoke at length about how he believes Cook is starting to ramp up after having some time to “get his legs underneath him.”
"His legs are alive, he's starting to see the field the way we know he can see the field. Getting him more of a role is definitely a priority."
Robert Saleh on Dalvin Cook: pic.twitter.com/QvnLoozzMy
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) November 17, 2023
The Jets cut Michael Carter earlier this week, which opens up more snaps and touches for the running back room. However, the initial widespread belief was that most of these touches would be absorbed by Breece Hall and rookie Israel Abanikanda.
Carter was the Jets’ third-down back, so his exit allows for Hall to get the boost in passing game opportunities he has long deserved. As for Abanikanda, the Pittsburgh product provides speed and explosiveness that the aging Cook clearly does not have left in the tank at this stage of his career. Saleh has stated that the Jets’ decision to cut Carter had largely to do with their desire to start getting Abanikanda involved in the offense.
If the Jets believe in Abanikanda enough to dump Carter, why would they suddenly start giving Cook more touches when he’s been a poor player all season? Giving more touches to Cook that could instead go to Abanikanda doesn’t seem to make much sense when Abanikanda is the higher-upside option, especially considering his floor can hardly go much lower than Cook’s 3.1 yards per carry this season.
Cook did just have his best game of the year, which is what prompted Saleh’s gushing praise about the veteran running back. Cook averaged a season-high 6.5 yards per carry against the Raiders as he ran for 26 yards on four carries. Cook had gains of 10, 9, and 7 yards in the contest. He ran well, reading the field effectively and making some nice cuts to get outside.
While Cook certainly looked solid in Las Vegas, it’s absurd for Saleh to claim that Cook has officially turned his season around because of one game where he had three good plays. It was his first positive performance of the season after eight consecutive games in which he essentially made zero impact.
A four-carry, 26-yard outing hardly alters Cook’s entire body of work this season. Among 56 qualified running backs (min. 40 carries), Cook remains 51st in yards per carry (3.1), 49th in yards after contact per carry (2.3), 55th in rushing yards over expected per carry (-1.3), and 54th in expected points added per carry (-0.35).
Is Saleh being serious here? Cook’s “legs are alive” because he had three good carries even though he remains one of the absolute worst running backs in football? It sure sounds like Saleh and the Jets are fishing for reasons to justify their investment in Cook.
Perhaps Saleh is just waxing poetic here and nothing will change about Cook’s role. But to say it is “definitely a priority” to give more of a role to a player who is one of the league’s worst players at his position is an outrageous statement that should concern Jets fans.
If Cook continues to stack consecutive performances of similar quality to the game he had in Las Vegas, then the Jets can start having conversations about increasing his role – especially if Abanikanda has growing pains and Cook is outplaying him. We’re talking about at least two more good games in a row, though (or one outstanding game against Buffalo this week). Until we see Cook do that, the Jets should keep Cook’s role exactly where it is.
Cook began this year with eight consecutive games where he failed to run for more than 4.0 yards per carry. He was the only running back in the NFL to do that (min. two carries in each game). It would be foolish to write those games off due to recency bias, citing the fallacy that Cook just needed time to heat up.
The Jets have a running back on their own roster who proves that hypothesis is nothing more than wishful thinking. Breece Hall returned from an ACL injury right before the season and he is third-best in rushing yards over expected per carry among running backs with at least 10 carries. Heck, Cook’s injury wasn’t even to his lower body. He was recovering from shoulder surgery.
If you’re healthy enough to be on the field, you should be producing. Maybe you can get a few weeks of slack to reach peak condition after an injury, but it shouldn’t take Cook 11 weeks to ramp up after shoulder surgery.
In fact, there is no way Saleh actually believes what he’s saying when he makes that claim because the Jets signed Cook for the exact opposite reason – to start the season fast while Hall ramped back up from his ACL injury (much worse than a shoulder injury). Now Saleh is moving the goalposts in November to say Cook needed time to ramp up.
Hopefully, for the Jets’ sake, Cook continues playing as well as he did against Las Vegas. This sputtering offense needs as much help as it can get. If Cook wants to pull out a shocking second-half breakout, it is welcomed by all means. Better late than never. He did look juicy on his runs in Vegas and it would benefit the Jets greatly if he continues running that way.
But if the Jets are smart, they will wait to see more from Cook before expanding his role beyond the two to four carries per game he’s been getting. Investing stock into him because of one good game with three good plays would be delusional, most likely leading to plenty more wasted carries like the ones he’s been providing for the vast majority of the season.
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