It’s been a weird week and a half. Eric Berry was signed to a long term deal (yay!). Jamaal Charles was (dry heaves)... Jamaal Charles was (bursts into incomprehensible sobs)... Jamaal Charles was (runs into wall attempting to bring the sweet relief of unconsciousness)... you know what, you know what happened.
I’ve also found myself at a transition point professionally, as I’ve left behind my law firm and ventured out on my own (for now). And my son turned 11. That’s TWO YEARS FROM BEING A TEENAGER. So again, it’s been a weird week and a half.
I’ve got a whole new fun offseason series ready to go (defending your indefensible takes) and we’ll dust off the mailbag soon. But for now, I can’t write about anything other than running back in honor of one of the greatest football players I’ve ever seen no longer being a Chief. Life comes at you fast, so let’s try to adapt by talking about a guy a lot of people want to see replace 25: Dalvin Cook.
I’ll be doing plenty of these Know Your Draft Crush articles (hopefully) prior to the draft, and my main goal is to completely ignore any other scouting reports out there (which should be easy, considering I don’t follow college football) and give you my own take after watching the player on the wonderful site Draft Breakdown. I know nothing about these guys until I start looking at their tape. We’ll start with Cook, and start with the obvious: the dude has an exceptional burst.
Cook really accelerates when he gets some open field in front of him, constantly forces defenses into "chase." Does get caught here though. pic.twitter.com/YNw01RNqjj— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 3, 2017
While Cook gets caught from behind (well, sort of, the secondary player took a good angle and had something of a head start, and is also a guy who ran a 4.38 so... yeah) on this play, this is a good example of the way Cook accelerates when he sees open field in front of him. He has the unique ability to outrun bad (or even “not so bad”) angles around the edge and explodes through the hole in a way that consistently left college linebackers in the dust. He doesn’t QUITE have the top-end gear of Charles, but he’s definitely got burner speed for a back and gets there quickly.
Another thing to like about Cook is that he’s not a guy who is just sprinting ahead as fast as he can constantly. He generally demonstrates a good understanding of blocking schemes and varies his speed in order to “see” the defense and allow his guys to get into place. He THEN accelerates and goes hard after whatever hole he finds. He also does a good job making defenders’ movement work against them and finding the open space on the field.
Cook seems to run with a plan in mind, does a good job setting up blocks and adapting to where defenders crash. Plus, he's just very quick. pic.twitter.com/DJ4oz0x7VN— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 3, 2017
Cook’s vision is definitely ahead of the curve for a faster running back. As we’ve talked about time after time here, vision is (in my opinion) the absolute most important trait a running back can possess. When you’ve got a runner who sees where the angles are and has the patience to exploit them, he doesn’t need to be a burner. Jamaal Charles was brilliant at this, and when combined with his track speed it made him wildly difficult to defend. I can’t put Cook in that category for respect reasons, but he definitely shows some of that same “goes to the right place and gets there faster than anyone else” we saw for nearly a decade from JC.
One thing to note, since the comparisons to Charles are going to be inevitable, is that Cook isn’t built the same way Charles is. While he weighed in at the combine at 210 pounds (similar to what Charles weighed later in his career), Cook stands 5’10”, three full inches shorter than Charles. He’s built in a much sturdier way than Charles was coming out of college, and is really “thicker” than Charles is even now due to the height difference. That’s a big deal when you’re thinking about a runner’s endurance and ability to handle a hit.
Cook is never going to be a “move the pile” back, to be clear. A real weakness of his is that he doesn’t have great “wiggle” when defenders get near him (bending his body away from would-be tacklers, something JC was better at than anyone) and can definitely get stopped in his tracks. However, he’s shifty and possesses exceptional balance, which allows him to run away from tackles a guy his size shouldn’t be able to run away from.
This is how you get tough yards as a smaller guy: wait for the block, explode through the hole, show balance through arm tackles. pic.twitter.com/mUTnjpHhkS— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 3, 2017
I don’t think Cook would replace Spencer Ware as a goal line back, but he’s got enough functional strength and balance to make it work when he’s navigating traffic. His patience and vision give him an edge running up the middle as well, though he’s definitely a guy you want to have at least decent blocking for. when going up the gut.
Another plus trait for Cook is his receiving ability, which is an absolute must in Andy Reid’s offense. Cook is close to exceptional in this area and can do things other running backs just can’t do.
Cook is definitely a plus as a receiver. Adjusts very well to an underthrown ball on a go route here (many WR's don't do well with this). pic.twitter.com/rr5ybzcE6a— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 3, 2017
Most running backs don’t have the speed to get separation on a go route, so that takes this play off the table entirely. However, more impressive to me is the fact that when the ball is badly underthrown (after Cook gets great separation), Cook is able to adjust to it in the air and make the catch without any trouble. There are plenty of receivers, even in the NFL, who don’t do a good job adjusting to the ball in the air. Cook demonstrated this ability multiple times due to the fact that his quarterback’s accuracy was... well, inconsistent is the kind way to put it. He also generally did a nice job snatching the ball out of the air while on the run. He also makes sharp cuts in routes and can get separation quickly out of the backfield. His ceiling as a receiver is very much up there with the best backs in the league.
So after talking about the positive, there are a few negatives when it comes to Cook. His pass protection was, at best, shaky the majority of the time. I couldn’t quite tell if it was a lack of willingness on his part or a lack of understanding of technique and assignment. He did put his body in harm’s way more than a few times to try and protect the quarterback, so I’m leaning towards the latter. He’s going to have to clean that up at the NFL level, because pass protection is wildly important when the defenders are bigger and faster. It’s the principle weakness in his game at the moment.
Of course, there’s also the issue of strength. As I discussed earlier, Cook shows a willingness to lower his head and drive, but he generally doesn’t see much success when he does so. And he doesn’t have that same wiggle Charles possessed to lean his body away enough to prevent defenders from getting a solid grip on him, so he won’t break as many tackles that way. That’s a big difference between him and Charles.
Overall, the Jamaal Charles comparisons are going to be inevitable. The key is thinking about Charles when he came out of college, not as we’ve seen him the last 6-7 years after developing different skills in the league. When you make THAT comparison, Cook comes off very favorable. And even when you compare him to the Charles we know and love, Cook doesn’t get blown out of the water the way most backs do. His combination of vision, acceleration, cutting ability and balance at least keep him in the conversation to be a worthy comparison. We also got to see him play a number of very, very good defenses last year, and he looked a cut above all of them (which is a big deal in figuring out if his skillset will translate at the next level).
I’m not big on taking running backs in the first round, or even the second round. But if the Chiefs called Cook’s name during the draft I wouldn’t be upset. He’s that impressive.
Oh, and on a final note, Cook looked far and away his most comfortable as a runner in blocking schemes you may recognize.
This setup look familiar? It should. Cook's best running fits right in with what the Chiefs run blockers do best. pic.twitter.com/bj2nA6aia6— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 3, 2017
It’s awfully tough to not think about what that would look like with LDT and Travis Kelce leading the way, isn’t it?