Sometimes for the Secret Superstar series you need to go way, way under the radar. For the Vikings it would have been easy to go back to banging on the Erin Henderson drum, or remind people what a great season John Sullivan had after some previous struggles. However, we feel we’ve been over both of those enough to have made our point.
Instead we’re looking far deeper at a player that is still young, talented, and integral to the rebuilding project in Minnesota. Yes, he has been limited to just a few hundred snaps of quality play, and still represents a major question mark going forward, but with serious talent to go with some significant risk, the Minnesota Vikings Secret Superstar is cornerback Chris Cook.
Cook the Prospect
Chris Cook was drafted in 2010 at the top of the second round with the 34th overall selection by the Vikings. This was Minnesota’s first pick of the draft, having traded back from No. 30 with the Detroit Lions at the tail end of the first round. Chris Cook was the player the team had identified as a target and possible heir apparent to either Antoine Winfield or Cedric Griffin, who had torn his ACL in the NFC Championship game against New Orleans. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds he was a tall, physical prospect who could run down field with receivers and had the kind of skill set needed to be able to deal with a receiver like Calvin Johnson, a man the Vikings face twice a year.
The Vikings’ secondary could clearly stand the upgrade, and with Winfield’s ability to play in the slot, they could likely get Cook playing time early and still get quality play from Winfield as he aged. Unfortunately for both the Vikings and Cook, his rookie year was something of a washout. He had worked his way into the starting lineup by August, but then suffered a tear to his meniscus, and surgery to repair that knee injury would sideline him into the season. He played in Week 3 against the Lions, but aggravated the knee injury after rushing back and did not see the field again until Week 7. Though he played in the next few games, he was visibly hampered and the Vikings eventually shut down his season after he was victimized by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 11.
After finally healing from nagging knee issues as a rookie, Cook entered the 2011 season as part of the Vikings’ nickel defense. Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin were starters, but when the Vikings went to their sub-package, Cook would man the left corner spot and Winfield was then moved inside to cover the slot. He started with a rocky outing against the Chargers, and then left the Week 2 game against Tampa Bay injured after just five snaps, but Week 3 against the Lions was his coming out party.
Playing 66 of a possible 75 defensive snaps, Cook was targeted six times, allowing just three receptions for 52 yards–though he did give up a touchdown to Calvin Johnson, for whom five of the six targets were intended. Cook also picked up a pair of passes defensed, including one of the defensive plays of the season in coverage against Megatron.
With the Vikings protecting a 20-17 lead deep in the fourth quarter, the Lions were driving into Minnesota territory. On 3rd-and-2 the Lions went 3-wide, with Johnson in the slot to the right covered by Winfield. Titus Young was lined up at RWR with Cook eight yards off the line in zone coverage. At the snap Young faked the bubble screen, causing Winfield to release Johnson up the seam and jump down on the fake. Stafford immediately looked for his top target heading upfield, but Cook read the play and undercut the route to make a diving breakup of the pass at full stretch.
There are only a hand full of players in the league that could make that play against that player, and it was for exactly that type of play that the Vikings drafted him. Cook’s effort forced the Lions to kick a 50-yard field goal rather than continue an ominous-looking drive toward a touchdown. Cook ended up with a +2.4 coverage grade on the year before getting himself into major legal troubles.
He was arrested for domestic assault and the Vikings suspended him without pay before eventually reinstating him to the 53-man roster but dismissing him from the team for the remainder of the season while he worked out his legal problems. The fact that Minnesota was prepared to eat the roster spot for a player that they knew they would have no contact with for a long period speaks volumes about how much they valued Cook and thought of him going forward. Roster spots are valuable, and you don’t kiss goodbye to one for no good reason. In time, Cook was acquitted of his charges at trial and is expected to be welcomed back to the Vikings in 2012.
Parts of the Great Re-Build of 2012
Cook will be one of the biggest additions to a Vikings secondary that could start 2012 with five new members to the nickel group that ended 2011. Winfield returns from injury, Cook from suspension, Chris Carr was added in free agency and the Vikings drafted defensive backs with three of their top seven picks, and two of their first three. First round draft choice Harrison Smith will start at one safety spot, with the other very much open to be won, but Winfield and Cook should be in pole position to start at corner while the rest of the depth chart is worked out behind them.
The NFC North already featured many talented receivers, with Calvin Johnson the most obvious in Detroit, but also Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson in Green Bay, but now the Bears will be deploying Brandon Marshall as well. Cook is one of only a few defensive backs in the NFL with the skill set to be matched up with players like Johnson, Marshall and Nelson, and the Vikings will be leaning on him in 2012. The ability is there, and before his season was derailed in 2011 he looked like he was about to break out. If he can stay on the field this season we could finally see the production to go with the talent.