How Dalvin Cook Demonstrates the Importance of the Combine

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Some of the best running backs in the NFL had underwhelming Combine performances. For running backs, it seems, the Combine is not the best predictor of how college running talent will project into the professional game. This is particularly true of zone runners, where vision and the ability to laterally change direction is more important than raw athleticism.

Dalvin Cook has excellent vision, and is great at one-cutting at the line of scrimmage to turn the play upfield, or cutback. He fits a zone-blocking scheme in the NFL perfectly. His underwhelming combine has done nothing to sway my projection for him. Much was made about Cook’s vertical jump of 30.5”, but elite zone runners in the NFL put up similar numbers in their respective combines. Jamaal Charles had a vertical of 30.5”. LeSean McCoy had a vertical of 29”.

Cook’s three cone drill, universally accepted as a good indicator of lateral agility, did not affect what I had seen on tape either. His time of 7.27 seconds ranked in the seventh percentile for running backs. (Charles ran a 6.80 / 89th percentile and McCoy ran a 6.82 / 86th percentile) Yet I know from tape that Cook can skilfully cut to subtly change direction and find a crease.

A disappointing three cone drill was not overly surprising. Indeed, the drill validated an observation I had when watching tape: Cook has difficulty when completely changing direction. Initially, I noted this as an anomaly in my scouting notes. The general narrative surrounding Cook pre-Combine was that he could change direction at will, at any speed. It is something that I subscribed to after watching a few of his games.

However, when I watched more of Cook’s games I saw occasions where he had to redirect, and I witnessed his issues doing so. Cook takes unnecessary steps in these situations, causing him to lose his footing or get tackled.

The Miami tape was the first warning sign for me. Here Cook – instead of following his fullback for the first down – decides pre-snap to cut this run back for a potentially bigger gain. In a 3rd and 3 situation, with the game tied and in the first quarter, perhaps Cook should have decided to stick with the ‘safer’ decision. However, his decision to take a risk with the aim of a more fruitful outcome is not the issue here. The penetration from Miami’s defensive tackle Kendrick Norton (#7) poses a situation where Cook needs to redirect around the defender. Cook slows down and takes unnecessary, added steps, resulting in him slipping to the turf behind the line of scrimmage.

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Against an SEC team, there was an example of how this impacts him in the open field. Florida State is down 28-13 to Ole Miss, facing a 1st and 10 in the third quarter. Here, Cook almost reaches a halt, as he takes two or three added steps to try and redirect past his man. The result is Cook being tackled with relative ease by linebacker Terry Caldwell (#21). These added steps need to be eliminated from Cook’s game. Also present in the clip is Cook’s tendency to relinquish to the tackler, choosing to stop his feet rather than consistently churning his legs and trying to fight through contact. In college, Cook may have gotten away with this sloppiness – still managing to make defenders miss. In the NFL, defenders are just going to take him to the ground.

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The combine three cone drill confirmed that I was not, in fact, mad – despite the number of people claiming Cook could change direction at will, all over the field.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

“Wait, wait… right THERE!” How I felt watching this Dalvin Cook issue.

It reassured me that my evaluation was accurate and reaffirmed the importance of sticking to one’s own convictions, rather than being influenced by the surrounding noise. The two plays highlighted are not the sole examples: Dalvin Cook has trouble when redirecting. He takes unnecessary, added steps which hurt his game.

This article was inspired by scouting work done for the Inside the Pylon Draft Guide. Matty is scouting running backs, cornerbacks, and safeties. To ensure electronic delivery on April 1st and to get $5 off, pre-order your copy today at ITPdraftguide.com and use the promo code “DRAFTME17″.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @mattyfbrown. Check out Matt’s other work here, such as the West Virginia Mountaineers’ Red Zone Creativity and the Seattle Seahawks’ red zone woes.

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