Tag Archives: Dalvin Cook

NFL Running in Circles When it Comes to Backs

Another year of football, another year of the NFL running in circles when it comes to running backs. Despite ample reason not to, we see several teams invest heavily in a running back. And almost every time they come to regret that decision. This can hold a franchise back much in the way missing on a first-round quarterback, or any player, can.

Backs Have NFL Running in Circles

No Absence of Evidence

Locking in a player at a position with such a short shelf-life should be enough cause for pause. In a league where the average career length is just 3.3 years, running backs bring up the rear of the position groups at just 2.57 years.

This isn’t just a faceless projection of numbers, either. We have concrete evidence from just this past season of why teams should spread the wealth elsewhere.

Of the top seven backs by salary (the cutoff is making $10 million or more), only Derrick Henry and Alvin Kamara made it through the season unscathed. Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey, David Johnson (woof), and Joe Mixon missed large chunks of the season.

To be fair, three of the top-10 rushers from last season are on this list in Henry, Dalvin Cook, and Ezekiel Elliott who, though he finished fifth in rushing this season, came into camp out of shape and looked a step slow.

Johnson’s contract is the oldest but, just like most of the others, it aged poorly fast. Singed in 2018, Johnson went on to have the second-best season of his career with 1,386 total yards from scrimmage. His rushing average did drop to sub-4.0 per carry.

It would only get worse for Johnson from that point on as he missed time each of the last two seasons and three of his last four. His average rose this season but it didn’t do much good as he missed Weeks 10-12.

More of the Same

McCaffrey (and Mixon in Cincinnati before the arrival of Joe Burrow) is the best thing going in Carolina and the smallish back was rewarded for it. But, after back-to-back seasons with 300-plus touches, he ended up on the shelf.

McCaffrey missed all but three games with various injuries. It was a banner moment for the detractors who said he was too small to last.

Elliott has long been a focal point of the Dallas offense but was once the focal point. But the necessary ascension of Dak Prescott found Zeke on the backburner often this past season.

He also came into camp out of shape and saw second-year man Tony Pollard show some juice in his stead. It’s not too far out there to picture the Cowboys cutting bait after the 2022 season.

Cook was leading the league in rushing for several weeks but missed time causing him to finish second to Henry. The dual-threat back is arguably Minnesota’s best player but he’s missed time in all four of his seasons in the NFL.

Still, he’s seen his carry totals rise each year and surpassed the dreaded “300-carry” mark.

Next Cycle

This should a warning to teams rostering the next batch of extension candidates. The likes of Josh Jacobs in Las Vegas, or Kenyan Drake who was transition tagged by Arizona but will be looking for a new deal this offseason.

We haven’t even touched on Saquon Barkley, who’s gone from playing a full slate as a rookie to missing 14 games two years later.

What are these teams to do? Jacobs is the second-best player for the Raiders and has missed time in both of his seasons in the NFL. Drake has been a part-time player since college and proved why so he’ll likely move on. Plus Arizona has Chase Edmonds to at least share the load.

But the Raiders are in a tough spot seeing as how there could be changes at the quarterback position.

It matters what kind of changes come. A rookie passer means a rookie contract at the game’s most expensive position. Any high-priced running back better be on a team with one of those otherwise it gets tricky filling out a roster with quality.

It’s also why Mixon isn’t talked about more in this piece. Carolina, Minnesota, and Tennessee all have quarterbacks making some decent coin. How long can they make it all work?

Easing the Burden

It’s not just Mixon that is out of focus for us, it’s also Henry and Kamara. Henry has been disproving critics all along just given his size and running style. But he’s led the league in rushing each of the last two seasons, increased his rushing production for the third straight season.

He also joined elite company by going over 2,000 yards on the ground. The only knock is he doesn’t catch a lot of passes limiting him; a scary thought.

Kamara’s usage is why the Saints aren’t drawing ire here. He has never carried the ball even 200 times; keeping him well away from the 300-carry mark. But he has 100-plus targets in all but one season, 2019 when he missed two games and still had 97 looks come his way.

Even here we see our pattern popping up. Kamara has never been used like a true “feature” back and he still was forced to miss time from getting banged up.

NFL Running in Circles with Backs

Larry Johnson was a big topic well before his tweets made the rounds. Over a two-year span during the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the Chiefs gave Johnson 752 carries. In one of those years, he had a whopping 416 carries.

Just like with David Johnson, Larry would sign an extension with the Chiefs before the 2007 season only to miss half of that campaign. He never started more than 12 games or appeared in more than 14 (which happened just once) again after that and was out of the league following the 2011 season.

Todd Gurley came out of college with bum knees but he and Leonard Fournette might be the poster children for not drafting a back high let alone giving him a monster deal.

Gurley will be on his third team next season. Fournette will be playing in the Super Bowl for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but he split that job this season, preserving him some.

We have this conversation all the time. You don’t pay running backs. So, sorry to Aaron Jones. You’ve had back-to-back incredible seasons. He still shouldn’t crack the $10 million-per-season threshold.

We know what straw stirs that and every drink across the NFL and it isn’t the running back. Not anymore. Teams would be better served reloading yearly at the position and cutting bait. Because, so far, the risks have far outweighed the rewards.

Week 10 Primetime Moneymakers: Smash-Mouth Football

Granted, we didn’t get a preseason. But this season is absolutely flying by. We’re already in Week 10 and the playoff picture is taking shape. Kansas City is once again looking like the class of the AFC and really the entire NFL. That’s because the NFC is a clouded mess. Three to four teams can make a legitimate claim for best in the conference.

Another 2-1 week brings us to 8-8 on the season. Still not great but it has been a climb from the sub-.500 basement we were in. We are still struggling to nail down these totals, but that is secondary to calling winners. As usual, there is more money to be made and if anyone is going to lay claim to it it might as well be us.

Smash-Mouth Football On Tap in Week 10 Primetime Moneymakers

Indianapolis Colts (5-3) at Tennessee Titans (6-2)

Spread: Titans +1

O/U: 48.5

The Indianapolis Colts (4-4 ATS) come in allowing the fewest total yards (second in rushing and third in passing) in the NFL anchored by Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner. They are also third in defensive DVOA (second in run defense DVOA). Boasting superb line play on either side of the ball, they might struggle against Tennessee middling run defense but they should give Philip Rivers plenty of time in the pocket. He had seemingly regained his form, throwing six touchdowns and zero interceptions in the two games before his dud in Baltimore in Week 9. Those other secondaries are closer to what the Titans have been.

We saw a stingy Chicago Bears defense take Derrick Henry away last week and the Titans (3-5 ATS) still came away victorious. Ryan Tannehill got the job done, throwing two touchdowns with no picks. That brings him to 19 touchdowns with only three interceptions. Henry was held to just 68 yards on 21 carries last week and 75 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers three weeks ago. An ominous sign with him facing his toughest test. Tennessee only has 10 sacks on the season so they’ll need Malcolm Butler, trade deadline-acquisition Desmond King, and the recently-activated Adoree’ Jackson to tighten things up on the back end.

This is a battle for AFC South supremacy but it’s only the first act. These two teams will face each other in two weeks so this one could put the Titans in the driver seat of the division. The Colts only victory over a team with a winning record was against the Bears. The Titans have two such wins, but one of them was also the Bears. That makes this essentially uncharted territory for both teams with a slight edge going to the Titans. Is their victory of the inconsistent Buffalo Bills convincing enough? They also almost knocked off the Steelers. Take the home team getting no respect from Vegas. Also (reluctantly) take the under as both offenses could struggle.

Baltimore Ravens (6-2) at New England Patriots (3-5)

Spread: Patriots +7

O/U: 43.5

What a matchup this would be if it were 2018. As it stands, the Baltimore Ravens (4-4 ATS) should be looking at this as a tune-up. The Ravens have been highly-scrutinized for their offensive struggles despite having the exact same record through six games as last year. That’s because they’ve fallen from having the top-ranked offense in DVOA in 2019 to 23rd here in 2020. Both phases have regressed but it’s Lamar Jackson’s passing that’s suffered the most. His touchdown rate came down from the unsustainable level of last season while he’s throwing picks at the highest rate of his career.

You’d have to go all the way back to 1994 to find a New England Patriots (3-5 ATS) team that was 3-5 through eight games. Cam Newton has regressed as the season has gone on, though he had somewhat of a bounceback against the lowly New York Jets a week ago in primetime. This is easily the stiffest challenge of Newton’s tenure in New England. His offense is already 24th in DVOA and 28th in passing DVOA. 

New England was hit the hardest of any team by COVID opt-outs; mostly on defense. It has shown. They rank 10th in yards thanks to ranking fifth against the pass. They’re 21st against the run. Sounds like the perfect recipe for Jackson and Co. to get things back on track, which is strange to type about a Bill Belichick-led Patriots team. Jackson has always given the Patriots defense some issues anyway. But in this state, a Baltimore win feels inevitable. Take the Ravens and the points. The under is also tempting but having been burned on several matchups like this, hard pass

Minnesota Vikings (3-5) at Chicago Bears (5-4)

Spread: Bears +2.5

O/U: 43

It hasn’t been the season most envisioned for the Minnesota Vikings (5-3 ATS) but they haven’t given up. They’ve won two games in a row, have an offense ranked seventh in DVOA, and have the league’s leading rusher in Dalvin Cook toting the rock. The Vikings have rightfully limited Kirk Cousins’ exposure. They’ll need to jump out to an early lead if they are to keep this all up. Cousins is 0-3 against the Bears as a member of the Vikings.

Chicago (5-4 ATS) is in the midst of a three-game losing streak. If they are going to avoid their second losing streak in as many seasons (and protect their streak against the Vikings) they will need a few things. First, figure out the ground attack as Minnesota is slightly worse at defending the run. They were already struggling to run and David Montgomery is out this week with a concussion. Could we see a Cordarrelle Patterson revenge game? Second, figure out how to protect Nick Foles. Minnesota was already vulnerable to the pass and is set to be down Cameron Dantzler at corner. 

Matt Nagy is 4-0 as a head coach against Mike Zimmer. His team has a better record too. Still, the dam feels about ready to burst. Despite all of that, the pick is the Bears plus the points. It’s not all sentimentality (admitted Bears fan here). Cook has struggled against the Bears as much as Cousins has. A one-game reprieve from the recent doldrums right before the bye is a very Bears thing to do. The under is, again, the reluctant play. Chicago suppresses their own offense even better than they do opponents. Hard to see Lazor fixing it all in one week.