Whenever a player has some type of red flags, whether for medical reasons or off-field incidents, before an NFL team is willing to pull the trigger, they need pretty strong assurance that those problems are in the past.
The Minnesota Vikings and General Manager Rick Spielman have hurdles and roadblocks they put prospects through and need to truly be sold on the character of a player before they pull the trigger on a selection.
Spielman had a lot of questions for running back Dalvin Cook, who was one of the primary talkers in between the end of Thursday night’s selections and the start of Day 2. Convinced he got the answers he needed to hear, Spielman started making calls Thursday for potential deals when it became apparent Cook was sliding in the second day. When the draft got to a certain point in the second round and Cook was still on the board, he was just too tempting to pass up.
Spielman spoke at Winter Park Friday night, saying that the red flags were minimized and the confidence strengthened in Cook’s ability to be a game-changer in the post-Adrian Peterson era.
“You look at the some of the things in his history, we had no concerns with his medical,” Spielman said. “Our doctors examined him and felt fine from that standpoint. Just like all these players that have things in their background, we spent an extensive amount of time researching that and felt very comfortable after going through everything. In fact, I called him this morning and spoke with him for another 45 minutes, just rehashing everything again. (With) all our scouts and all the processes we go through, in the end, he was a player we felt comfortable with.”
Cook said he appreciated the call from Spielman this morning and that he has learned from his mistakes and wanted to impress upon Spielman that he is ready to be a professional and a player that can become a team leader.
He didn’t know if the words were falling on deaf ears, until he saw that the Vikings had jumped up seven spots to take him.
“We talked about everything,” Cook said. “He got to know me better as a person and I got a good feel from him. The conversation went well and I was just confident about it. I was more eager from him to get to know the person that is Dalvin Cook and for him to know if he drafted me for the Minnesota Vikings that he was getting a guy who would represent the organization the right way – go to war for his teammates every game and help them win football games.”
The lingering issues that dogged Cook, who had a first-round grade by almost any standard for his explosiveness, came as a surprise to his Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher.
If there were problems, he didn’t bring them to the football field. If anything, Fisher said, Cook was a model player and representative of the Seminoles program – more of a leader than a problem child or a distraction.
“I never had an issue with Dalvin,” Fisher said. “He was never disrespectful. He allowed me to coach him hard. He was never late. He was never not on time. He was always really good with other teammates. He affected guys on our team in a positive way all the time. If guys ever had their issues or wasn’t doing the right thing, he was the guy that would talk to a lot of the guys. We never saw the issues that are so-called being out there.”
When it came to his on-field ability, Fisher said that he was almost without peer. Asked if there was a player he coached or coached against that reminded him of Cook, he said comparisons don’t do Cook justice.
“I’m going to be honest with you, you go back and how many long dynamic TD runs this guy had,” Fisher said. “I’ve coached a lot of great backs. Devonta Freeman, who’s an All-Pro in the league right now playing as well as anybody in the NFL – Devonta was a phenomenal player. But, Dalvin is more dynamic because of his home run speed and, from that standpoint, I haven’t coaches against a back or coached a back that was so dynamic that every time he touched the ball, he could score a TD.”
It was his talent that garnered the attention of the Vikings scouting staff, but it was his potential red flags that had them thinking twice. But, after doing all of his due diligence, Spielman was convinced that Cook has matured since his early transgressions threatened to derail his career and he is ready to get to work and take care of business.
With those concerns out of the way, he envisions Cook making a big impression on the Vikings and, more importantly, their opponents.
“I think he has probably woken up a little bit about how important football is,” Spielman said. “I truly believe that he is on a mission coming up here and is going to be a great football player for us. I do believe, honestly, that we trust him and that he will do all the right things – off of everything we’ve been able to research.”
What remains is how does Cook’s skill set translate to the NFL? When the Vikings set their draft board, Cook was high on the list, but the Vikings didn’t have a first-round pick, so they had to wait and see if he would come off the board or leave the option open. When the draft got close enough to get a deal done, Spielman called the Bengals with less than three minutes on the clock and made an offer they couldn’t refuse, landing a player he coveted from the start of the draft.
“We felt that he was definitely one of the top two running backs in this class,” Spielman said. “Not only is he an explosive playmaker with the ball in his hands, as a running back he has great balance and great vision. Watching him catch the ball out of the backfield and the explosive plays he makes our of the backfield is another threat.”
One of the keys for Cook’s performance is that he had a penchant for playing his best games against the toughest opponents, having huge games against teams like Clemson and Miami in the ACC.
It’s one thing for a player to look good on tape. But, when he does it against some of the storied powers of the college game, it gets the attention of scouts. It was that reason that Spielman opted to move up and grab Cook when the opportunity presented itself.
“He was playing in a pretty good conference and when you see him running away from defensive players that have a lot of speed and are at that talent level, that kind of sells you what type of football player he is. I believe you’re going to see that same speed at this level. When you can get a running back, especially that has had the success in the conference that he plays in, that’s a pretty good success rate of how they perform in the NFL.”