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Sell Dalvin Cook Before His Dynasty Price Corrects

Dalvin Cook has had himself quite a start to the season. He’s the No. 2 RB in PPR points and leads the league in rushing. These results are seen as proof that he’s this year’s Christian McCaffrey, ie. an immensely talented RB who’s finally become an elite workhorse. But while Cook is undoubtedly a special talent, he’s one of the easiest sells in fantasy at his current price.

This article will focus primarily on dynasty, but I believe Cook is also a sell in redraft.

The Wrong Profile

If we’re saying that Cook has vaulted into the elite RB tier, then we should make sure he actually fits the new elite RB paradigm. To do that, let’s review Ryan Collinsworth’s findings in his passing game revolution series.1

Ryan has found that modern RB1 gets about half of his PPR value from the passing game. This is a marked difference from 10-15 years ago when only 27-35% of RB1 value came from receiving.

Ryan has also shown that the difference between RB1s and RB2s now comes down to their receiving workloads. RB2s see over 90% of the rushing market share of RB1s, but just under half of an RB1 target market share.

RB1s also see over a quarter of their total opportunities in the form of targets (27.7%), while RB2s see less than a fifth of their opportunities from targets (17.1%).

Therefore, when investing in expensive dynasty RBs it’s strongly recommended that they fit the following profile:

  1. Rushing Market Share: ~51%
  2. Target Market Share: ~15%
  3. Total Opportunity Market Share: ~31%
  4. Market Share of Offense’s Total PPR Output: ~20%
  5. Percentage of Workload from Targets: ~28%
  6. Percentage of PPR output from Receptions: ~49%

So, the key question is: has Cook broken through as a superstar RB1, or is he simply an RB2 who’s put together a strong two-game stretch?

Here’s Cook’s profile through 2 weeks:

    1. Rushing Market Share (RB1 average 51%. RB2 average 46%.)
      1. 63% ☑
    2. Target Market Share (RB1 average 15%. RB2s average 8%.)
      1. 13% ☑
    3. Total Opportunity Market Share (RB1 average 31%. RB2 average 25%.)
      1. 45% ☑
    4. Market Share of Offense’s Total PPR Output (RB1 average 20%. RB2 average 14%.)
      1. 37% ☑
    5. Percentage of Workload from Targets (RB1 average 28%. RB2 average 17%.)
      1. 11% ☒
    6. Percentage of PPR output from Receptions (RB1 average 49%. RB2 average 34%.)
      1. 18% ☒

This is the profile of a complete three-down workhorse … from 1982.

1982 is the last year the NFL average was below the 336 passing attempts that the 2019 Minnesota Vikings are on pace for. In fact, we haven’t seen even a single team hate the forward pass so much since the 1990 LA Raiders, who finished dead last in the NFL with exactly 336 attempts.

We can also visualize the gaps in Cook’s profile by looking at his positional ranks in the NFL Stat Explorer.

Despite being fourth among RBs in total opportunites, Cook is 33rd in targets. And Despite being first in rushing yards he’s just 23rd in receiving yards.

Now, a reasonable person could have some serious objections to my argument that Cook doesn’t fit the current RB1 profile. Because honestly … so what if he doesn’t? He’s clearly a perfect fit for new Vikings running scheme and he’s dominating touches. If the Vikings are a throwback team, why can’t they have a throwback RB1? Moreover, since Cook is dominating the backfield receiving work as well as the rushing work, he instantly fits the profile we’re looking for the second the Vikings start throwing the ball again.

There is truth to these arguments. And I must admit that Cook’s upside is absolutely mouth-watering if the Vikings offense ever returns from the cave in Dark that leads to 1986.2

Unsustainable Efficiency

But the arguments for Cook as a throwback RB1 leave out another serious red flag. It’s not just that Cook’s getting all his work on the ground — he’s also scoring fantasy points with a level of efficiency that’s completely unsustainable.

Take a look at Cook’s Total Expected Points this season compared to last year:

 

For a player who’s supposedly breaking out into an NFL mega-workhorse, the value of his 2019 workload doesn’t really stand out.

Cook topped his 2019 Week 2 workload in 4 of 11 2018 weeks. Even his superior Week 1 workload was still just his fourth most valuable since 2018. And Cook also had more valuable workloads in two of his four games played in 2017.3

Meanwhile, check out Cook’s efficiency this season:

 

As you can see in the chart above, Cook is coming off his second and third best FPOE games of his career. These have been highly impressive outings with amazing highlight runs. But as a result, over 45% of Cook’s PPR production has been a product of NFL-leading efficiency at the position. Forty-five percent! Let that sink in for a second.

We know that efficiency regresses to the mean. And we know that rushing–the only type of work Cook is seeing these days — is far less efficient than passing. So while Cook has been delivering as an elite RB1 with over 27 points per game this season, he’s being set up by his offense to be a mid-level RB2 with under 15 points per game.

Cook entered 2019 with 15.4 FPOE over his entire 15 game career. He’s since added 24.6 FPOE over Weeks 1 and 2.

His efficiency is going to come crashing down to earth. The only question is when.

Skyrocketing Price

Don’t get me wrong — Dalvin Cook is likely to have a productive and useful fantasy season. But we still have to factor in price, which is often the key to winning in dynasty — particularly at RB where prices can swing violently.

And Cook’s price has absolutely skyrocketed. In redraft he’s likely to fetch elite value in trades:

And in dynasty his value is even more outrageously inflated:

This level of bullishness on Cook can only be supported if the Vikings start passing the ball at much higher levels just in time to replace the massive fall-off in efficiency that we know is coming.

Meanwhile, Cook’s current price creates the following choice: you can either bet on the Vikings to quickly modernize their approach, allowing Cook to fit the archetype of the modern RB1 before his efficiency turns him back into a RB2. Or you can flip him with little-to-nothing added for Christian McCaffrey or Alvin Kamara who are the archetype of the modern RB1.

Better Options at the Same Price Point

Ryan has specifically identified McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara in his offseason work, because they’re effective through the air and their offenses prioritize targeting them. And through the first two weeks of 2019 they’ve continued to show the exact profile we’re looking for:

  1. Rushing Market Share (RB1 average 51%. RB2 average 46%.)
    1. McCaffrey – 83% ☑
    2. Kamara – 63% ☑
  2. Target Market Share (RB1 average 15%. RB2s average 8%.)
    1. McCaffrey – 20% ☑
    2. Kamara – 16% ☑
  3. Total Opportunity Market Share (RB1 average 31%. RB2 average 25%.)
    1. McCaffrey – 41% ☑
    2. Kamara – 33% ☑
  4. Market Share of Offense’s Total PPR Output (RB1 average 20%. RB2 average 14%.)
    1. McCaffrey – 31% ☑
    2. Kamara – 18% ☐
  5. Percentage of Workload from Targets (RB1 average 28%. RB2 average 17%.)
    1. McCaffrey – 33% ☑
    2. Kamara – 30% ☑
  6. Percentage of PPR output from Receptions (RB1 average 49%. RB2 average 34%.)
    1. CMC – 43% ☑
    2. Kamara – 54% ☑

The only potential red flag for either player is Kamara’s 18% PPR Market Share.

Kamara was right at the RB1 average in Week 1 with a PPR MS% of 19.5%, but was only at 15% last week with Teddy Bridgewater playing most of the game. This is troubling for a player who hit 26% in this metric a year ago. Undoubtedly, the Saints offense will continue to be less explosive without Brees. And if Kamara is taking a smaller piece of a smaller pie, it could be disastrous for his fantasy output.

However, we’re talking about dynasty here. Unless you think that Drew Brees is never coming back and/or the offense will never be more productive than last week, Kamara remains a far superior option than betting on Cook to maintain his rushing efficiency in an outdated offense. 

And of course, I can’t move on without reiterating the fact that some in the dynasty community now value Cook straight up over McCaffrey, which is just bananas. I have no words.

Conclusion

I’ll leave you with one more quote from Ryan:

More than raw opportunity or PPR scoring, what we’re really looking for is evidence that a coaching staff gets it. Whether or not a player is the current lead-back in his offense, what’s most important is that his coach is utilizing RBs in the passing game.

On the one hand, the Minnesota coaching staff does get it. They’re using Cook in the passing game on a fairly high percentage of their passes. But a high percentage of Vikings passes is still not very many passes.

Who knows, maybe this offense will start passing more and fully unlock Cook. If so, he should be valued as one of the top players in dynasty. But he’s already valued as one of the top players in dynasty, so why wouldn’t you bank your profits and let someone else bet on Mike Zimmer’s team to start running a modern NFL offense?

Image Credit: Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Dalvin Cook.

  1. I do hope this is just a review because Ryan’s articles are worth their weight in gold.  (back)
  2. Come to think of it, they may have taken the tunnel that goes to 1953.  (back)
  3. Not included in the chart for visual purposes.  (back)

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