If early indications are to be believed, Dalvin Cook's career high of 519 receiving yards from 2019 might be in jeopardy this year.
Cook lined up in bunch wide receiver sets in multiple formations at the Vikings' first OTA practice open to reporters on Tuesday, according to The Athletic's Chad Graff. It's too early to know whether or not that's something the Vikings will actually employ during the regular season, but it's at least interesting that they're experimenting with it in May.
When asked if he'll be able to do more as a receiver in Kevin O'Connell's offensive scheme, Cook was hesitant to reveal any plans.
"I don’t want to just sit up here and tell y’all everything," he said. We’ve got to wait and see. We got Green Bay Week 1, so we’re gonna wait and see."
But Cook couldn't help himself completely.
"Seeing something new from Dalvin? Yeah. I’m working my tail off, I’m grinding. I’m putting in all the work I need to put in. So, yeah. Expect the unexpected, if that’s what you want to call it."
On Wednesday, Cook played into the buzz by tweeting out a video of one of his best catches from last season, a 17-yard gain on third-and-9 late in a victory over the Steelers. That catch wasn't just a simple dump-off out of the backfield, it was a play where Cook ran a route up the seam and held on through contact.
Cook has always been a capable receiver. He caught 79 passes for 935 yards in three years at Florida State, including 488 yards as a junior. He then reached at least 40 catches and 300 receiving yards in every season from 2018 to 2020, including a 53-catch, 519-yard season in 2019. But Cook's receiving numbers last season (34 catches, 224 yards) were his lowest since his injury-shortened rookie season.
Getting Cook more involved in that area of the game would seem to make a lot of sense for O'Connell and the Vikings.
On a basic level, it's another way to get the ball into the hands of one of your most dynamic playmakers, potentially with more space to operate in than when he gets the ball on a running play. Plus, Cook turns 27 in August. He has 1,200 career touches in the NFL and has dealt with all kinds of various injuries. Making him more of a dual threat player, perhaps even lining him up in the slot or out wide at times, could be a way to increase his value as he ages.
Cook is such a talented player and athlete that it's not difficult to envision him running good routes out of bunch formations or other splits that don't require him to start in the backfield. His burst, change-of-direction ability, and physicality could all translate to route-running. If Cook's hands are up to par, he could be a real weapon in the passing game. The Vikings could also utilize the ability to motion him out of the backfield and make defenses scramble to adjust.
It's something to keep in mind heading into training camp this year.
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