Dalvin Cook had a bad combine. That is the general consensus among those who follow the NFL draft. I think a more fair statement would be that Dalvin didn’t blow up the combine in ways many thought. I am a film-based prospect evaluator. Combine metrics and landing spots will fill out the picture, but the tape is the cornerstone of understanding a prospect in my opinion. In my pre-combine evaluation process, Dalvin Cook had better tape than all but maybe Joe Mixon among RBs in this upcoming class. So how should we take that into account knowing what we know now from the combine?
What really matters for running backs
When it comes down to it, the most important traits I look for in a running back are the ability to break tackles, (whether it be via power, elusiveness, or both) vision, and durability. If speed was the only thing that mattered, Chris Johnson would have been the best running back of all time. If strength was all that mattered, Jerick Mckinnon and his RB combine-record 32 bench press reps would have surely translated better to the NFL.
Cook has excellent vision and elusive ability. When you watch his tape, it’s incredible to see how he can make successive cuts and have an open lane to the end zone in front of him where he can then put his 4.49 speed to work. He is very dangerous in the open field as well as evidenced by his absurd 11.8 yards-per-reception average at FSU.
When I evaluated Dalvin Cook before the combine, he was a top-3 player on my big board for dynasty prospects. He was elusive, versatile, and fast on film. I compared Cook favorably to one of my favorite players, Jamaal Charles before I knew the athleticism differences. Let’s dive a little deeper into that comparison.
Pre-combine Comparison: Jamaal Charles
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The differences between the numbers that Cook and Charles had really aren’t that far apart. Charles clearly has greater straight-line speed, and that translated to the NFL’s most consistent home-run threat over the past decade. Cook seemingly broke endless quantities of such runs at Florida State, and a 4.49 40-time by no means should prevent him from being able to do just that at the next level (albeit, maybe not at the level Charles has been able to sustain).
When looking at Cook’s speed, some may say it’s not elite. Maybe not the way Charles’ is/was, but Dalvin’s size-adjusted speed score was actually pretty good when compared to the other prospects in this class. Fournette lead the way with a crazy good speed score of 117.06. Other notable prospects speed scores:
Samaje Perine: 99.67
Alvin Kamara: 98.99
Christian McCaffery: 100.29
Dalvin’s score? 103.34
Jamaal Charles scored a 108.68, so from that athletic standpoint, Cook doesn’t quite stack up, but he isn’t a poor performer either.
The vertical jump is a statistic that I find almost irrelevant for running backs. The vert is relevant for defensive lineman because it shows how explosive they can be from a standstill. It also shows how high a receiver or defensive back can get in a jump-ball situation. Running backs, however, don’t start from a stand still and don’t get into many jump-ball situations. However, if you wanted to compare Charles and Cook in this instance, athletically, they are equal.
The broad jump I also think isn’t extremely relevant for similar reasons to the vert. It can help illustrate leg-power for backs, but neither Charles nor Cook are power backs. LeSean McCoy had a sub 9-foot broad jump, and he still makes defenders look silly at this point in his career. The broad jump better measures explosiveness for defensive linemen than for running backs.
22 bench reps is actually an above-average number for Cook, but the only translatable usage for that would be a stiff arm. Linemen are the only positions that should really test the bench press because they are the only players who actually have to push with their upper-body in an actual NFL situation.
Causes for concern
The largest difference in the combine numbers between Charles and Cook is the 3-cone drill. This drill is a good measuring stick for agility as a whole. However, I would like to introduce a new concept in the world of understanding agility: lateral agility vs. vertical agility. I don’t think vertical agility is a real thing, so unless someone else out there stakes his/her claim, you heard it here first. Think of lateral agility as a side-to-side jump cut. LeSean McCoy makes the big bucks because of this agility. Often, you will see McCoy hesitate or come to a complete stop, then utilize his nasty jump-cuts to get around people. Cook doesn’t have that level of side-to-side ability, but he is no slouch in that department.
What he does exceptionally well is cut at full speed without losing any momentum. This is my definition for vertical agility. Unfortunately, this is something that can only really be observed on film. A similar comparison would be to see a wide receiver run an impeccable post pattern and accelerating through the break. Dalvin has superb acceleration, and once he gets up to speed, he isn’t losing any of that in an attempt to make a defender miss. This is the stylistic part of the Florida State product’s game that is most similar to Charles’.
The 3-cone drill combines start/stop ability wit the ability to turn a corner. Cook rarely stops in the middle of a play to completely change directions like say a Le’Veon Bell. This is why I think it is a better practice to measure agility from a film standpoint where lateral and vertical agility are fairly easy to recognize if not quantify.
My biggest overall concern for Cook is his durability. Shoulder issues are something Cook has been linked to, which you can read more about here. Ideally, a 3-down running back should be in the 220 lb range. 210 lbs isn’t ideal for Cook, but plenty of backs have successful careers at that weight. Injuries are hard to predict. My best-practice is that if there is no chronic injury concern, then avoid injury concern altogether.
Injuries are hard to predict. My best-practice is that if there is no chronic injury concern, then avoid injury concern altogether.
When you look on mockdraftable.com, athletically, Cook compares favorably to Chris Ivory. Here is his less-than-inspring spider chart:
Ivory and Cook compare well mainly because they had the same 40-time and the same BMI. That’s about where that comparison stops in my opinion. Ivory is a power runner with limited agility. Their playing styles are nothing alike.
Player profiler best compares the former Seminole to Tevin Coleman. I like this comp better than Ivory, but it’s still not my favorite. Had Coleman done a 3-cone drill at his combine, I don’t think he would have been the closest comparable to Cook. Coleman has always been known as a speed back, not an agility guy. Looking at the RB prospect lab on rotoviz led me to Charles Sims as a comparable prospect, who has similar receiving ability, 40 time, and 3-cone drill. I personally think Sims is an alright comparison, but I would probably prefer the TevCo comparison. Cook doesn’t fit a mold of any previous player well enough to call it a suitable comparison, so we just have to pick similar players and note the differences in their games.
While it may not be fair to compare a player who has never played an NFL snap to the NFL’s all-time leader in yards-per-carry for running backs in the Super-Bowl era, it is useful to use NFL players as a measuring stick. Cook isn’t as athletic as Charles was coming out of Texas, but their playing styles are very similar which I think still makes them comparable. I don’t think to call Cook a poor man’s Jamaal Charles is an insult because Dalvin is simply a less-athletic Charles.
Running backs are perhaps affected more by landing spot than any other position in the NFL draft. If Cook lands on a team with a good offensive line, there is no reason that anyone should believe that he can’t be one of the most productive running back in this draft class.