Three games into the 2019 season, Dalvin Cook has become the face of the Minnesota Vikings. And the mascara.
Cook is the Vikings' best player, athlete, stratagem and blemish-obscurer. After filleting the Raiders en route to 110 yards and a touchdown on Sunday in the Vikings' 34-14 victory, he's on pace to rush for exactly 2,000 yards and embarrass 200 linebackers this season.
He is the first Viking in franchise history to rush for 100 yards or more in the first three games of a season, and he is averaging a rather silly 6.6 yards per carry. "We're riding his coattails,'' receiver Adam Thielen said. "And I expect that to continue.''
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins called his team's run-first approach "unique'' to the modern NFL, but reminded that this offensive scheme has highlighted the skills of Arian Foster and Terrell Davis, among others.
Cook has far to run before he can be compared to the greats, but athletically and stylistically he is their peer. Strong enough to break tackles with force and fast enough to score untouched from anywhere on the field, Cook on Sunday displayed the kind of darting and dashing moves that could make him the NFL's most productive and replayed back this season.
He entered Week 3 leading the NFL in rushing. After three games in 2012, Adrian Peterson had rushed for 230 yards. Cook is 145 yards ahead of that pace, although Peterson's pace accelerated dramatically later in the season.
Aesthetically, Cook is already challenging Peterson, who ran with such aggression that he was sometimes his own worst enemy, seeking contact even in the open field.
Cook made five tacklers miss on one run on Sunday, and sometimes he makes such dramatic cuts that there are no defenders there to make miss.
Cook, like Peterson, can make big plays against a defense stacked to stop him, while also creating space for his teammates.
Here's what Vikings fans should have learned from 2012: Giving Cook the ball is not conservative.
When Peterson carried the ball in 2012, the Vikings had a much better chance of breaking a big play than when Christian Ponder threw it. While Cousins is better than Ponder, that is the template for this Vikings' team.
In the first quarter, the Vikings faced second-and-17. They handed it to Cook. He ran for 13.
Later in the quarter, the Vikings faced third-and-18. They threw a screen to Cook. He gained 18.
On the first play of the second quarter, Cook ran for a touchdown on second-and-1. A couple of minutes later, Cook converted a third-and-2 with a 12-yard run.
In the third quarter, the Vikings faced second-and-15. Cook ran for 15. Later in the period, a penalty left the Vikings with first-and-11. Cook ran for 25.
The Vikings knew they were getting a superior athlete when they drafted Cook. They couldn't have been sure about his character. In his third season, through spectacular games and long rehabs, he has earned the reputation of an exemplary teammate.
"I was always this player,'' he said. "I try to figure things out and try to grow on people. I'm a caring guy and I like to see my guys have success. That's the type of guy I've always been. I try to grow on these guys. I think over these past three years, whether I was out there or not, I just [grew] on these guys and they see the type of work I put in and the type of player I try to be for this team. I come to the locker room with my hat on and ready to work every day. I think it don't go unnoticed with these guys.''
On a day the Vikings honored their 1969 team, Cook simultaneously paid homage to the shifty Chuck Foreman and the physical Peterson. "You had Chuck come through this thing, you had AP, those are some household names,'' Cook said. "So to be a part of those guys ... that's great.''
Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • email@example.com