What history says about Dalvin Cook after his 2020 workload

(Photo by Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports) Dalvin Cook
(Photo by Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports) Dalvin Cook /

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook was a vital part of the team’s offensive success in 2020.

After the first three weeks of the 2020 season, the Minnesota Vikings were sitting with a disappointing 0-3 record less than a year after making it to the divisional round of the playoffs.

A significant factor in the Vikings stumbling into the season had to do with the lack of touches for running back Dalvin Cook. During Minnesota’s first three games of the year, Cook had the ball in his hands just under 18 times per matchup, and unsurprisingly, each contest resulted in a loss for the Vikings.

Then came Week 4, when Minnesota earned their first win of the season over the Houston Texans. Cook finished this matchup with 146 total yards and two touchdowns on 29 touches.

Did the Minnesota Vikings work Dalvin Cook too hard in 2020?

Following the Vikings’ bye, Cook went on to average 29 touches per game between Week 8 and Week 15. With their running back becoming the primary part of their offense, Minnesota went 5-3 during this stretch, and they climbed their way back into the NFC playoff picture.

Despite the lack of involvement early in the year, Cook ended up finishing with 1,918 total yards and 17 scores on 356 touches. Adrian Peterson and Ted Brown are the only other running backs in Vikings history to end a season with more touches than the amount Cook finished with in 2020.

With his heavy workload during the past season, some have been concerned about how durable the Minnesota running back can be for the team in the future. These concerns are completely fair to have considering the recent history of running backs that have had a similar workload to what Cook had in 2020.

From 2014 to 2019, eight different running backs finished a season with at least 350 touches. Of these eight, only Ezekiel Elliott was able to end the following year with at least 350 touches.

The other seven running backs averaged just 148 touches in the season that came directly after the year in which they had their hands on the football at least 350 times (excluding Le’Veon Bell missing the 2018 campaign due to a contract dispute).

Of these eight running backs, all of them (even Elliott) saw their total yards from scrimmage decrease in the season that came right after the year in which they finished with at least 350 touches. So Cook ending the 2021 campaign with fewer total yards than the amount he had in 2020 seems like a safe bet to make.

At the same time though, let’s not just automatically assume the Vikings running back will follow the path of this recent trend. Each player is unique in their own way and Elliott is an example of someone who has shown that it’s possible to remain productive at a consistent level even with a heavy workload.

Since 2005, eight players who had at least 300 touches and 1,900 total yards in a single season went on to gain at least 1,800 total yards during the very next year. So the type of workload Cook had in 2020 isn’t exactly a death sentence.

This isn’t to say that Minnesota should continue to pound their top running back into the ground next season. The Vikings can go right ahead and give Cook a similar workload to what he had in 2020 if they want. But a smarter approach that includes a slight reduction in his touches (as little as two less per game) could be something that benefits both the team and the talented running back in the long run.