In this installment of Fantasy Football Versus, I will be comparing two “do-it-all” running backs with the potential to garner the majority of their team’s carries in 2017. They are the Detroit Lions’ Ameer Abdullah and Minnesota Vikings’ rookie rusher, Dalvin Cook.
Both team’s are heading into next season with the goal of finding their next franchise running back. The Lions have had a RBBC (running back by committee) approach for the last two seasons while the Vikings are about to go through their first season without Adrian Peterson since they drafted him in 2007.
The Lions boast a worthy duo in Abdullah and fifth-year man Theo Riddick out of Notre Dame. Both have shown the ability to run between the tackles and are capable of excelling in the passing game, as well. While splitting time with Riddick at the start of 2016, Abdullah was very efficient as he racked up 101 yards on the ground (5.6 y/c) to go along with 57 yards and a touchdown through the air in a little over a single game. After Abdullah went down against the Titans, power-backs Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington were thrust into the spotlight as the Lions tried to sustain some semblance of a run game for the remainder of the season.
Since Cook is a rookie, we do not have any prior professional stats to glance back on but we do have his decorated collegiate career to take a look at. In the final three years of Cook’s career, he managed over a 1000 yards in each, including 1691 and 1765 in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Cook saved his best season for last as he averaged over 135 yards per game with 19 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 488 yards and a touchdown through the air in ’16.
As for Cook’s competition within the running back room, the Vikings acquired former Raiders starting back Latavius Murray and still have former third-round pick Jerick McKinnon on the roster. Murray has been a serviceable starer for the last several years while McKinnon has seldomly flashed when given the chance.
So, what does this all mean for fantasy football purposes?
Well, it’s always a good idea to stay away from running backs who find themselves in a crowded backfield. After all, the goal is to maximize opportunities with players who are in preferable situations (i.e., not a lot of competition, will be the focal point of the offense, have a great offensive line, etc.) It will be tough to put a ton of confidence in Abdullah from the very beginning of the season. I am worried the Lions will give Zenner or Washington opportunities they don’t necessarily deserve while still trying to split time for Riddick and Abdullah evenly. The offensive line also took a hit when OT Riley Reiff left for divisional rival Minnesota and, unfortunately, the Lions aren’t known for trying to inflict their will on their opponent through a ground-and-pound approach.
However, Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is one of the craftiest coaches in the game and always finds a way to get everyone involved while sustaining a level of success that may let fans have more confidence than most in Abdullah. I believe this is one of those situations where if the ground game isn’t working right then Abdullah will find his money in the passing game and vice versa.
Splitting time isn’t always the end of the world either. Abdullah will have fresher legs and Theo Riddick can do enough damage to leave defenses feeling defeated leaving Abdullah to take advantage.
Lastly, with Matthew Stafford being the gunslinger he is, plus the additions of tight end Michael Roberts and Kenny Golladay in this year’s draft, I expect things to be opened up quite a bit as defenses will have to respect Stafford’s arm over anything else.
In Dalvin Cook’s case, he has the opportunity to lay claim to the lion’s share of the carries if he is able to outperform Murray and McKinnon in training camp. I don’t believe this will be the tallest task for Cook given his incredible talent. My only worry here is that the Vikings didn’t invest money into Murray to just let him ride the pine. Murray will probably get a decent amount of carries to start the year but I fully expect his load to deteriorate as the year progresses. Cook is a much more talented back and that will become evident sooner than later.
I cannot see Jerick McKinnon being a viable option to cut into Cook’s workload, either. He is a freak athlete who can do some crazy things but he hasn’t shown the ability to put it all together and with the Vikings using their top pick on Cook, I think the sun has set on his chances to be a significant contributor in Minnesota.
Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford is not the same type of player as Stafford is so opposing defenses won’t have to key on the pass as much as those playing the Lions. Bradford was one of the most accurate quarterbacks on the deep ball and in general from the 2016 season but there was a point where his average pass only traveled five yards down field. You can’t open up a bag of chips nonetheless an NFL defense with that kind of approach.
It should have been music to Cook’s ears when he heard the Vikings used their next pick on Center/Guard Pat Elflein out of Ohio State. Elflein was one of the highest rated linemen in the entire draft and will be an immediate upgrade to their horrendous. And remember where I said former Lions OT Riley Reiff ended up? Oh yeah, it was in Minnesota, where he will instantly upgrade one of their tackle positions. In terms of who has the better offensive line situation, Dalvin Cook just might win this one.
So who is the back I would feel most confident in having this upcoming fantasy football season?
Well, although I find this to be a close contest, my gut tells me that Dalvin Cook is the guy to have between these two. Both are extremely capable of scoring points in a variety of ways, Cook wins out due to his favorable backfield situation and his lack of any significant injuries up to this point.
I’d love to get Cook or Abdullah with a late round flier, possibly in the 10-12th round range, regardless of Standard or PPR rules.
What do you guys think? Did I get this one correct or so you disagree? Let me know what you think in the comments below.