Ah, the 2017 NFL Draft. What a wonderful time. Derek Barnett was the Eagles’ first-round selection, while names like Rasul Douglas and Mack Hollins also heard their names called. But in what is now turning out to be a Draft dominated by running back talent, the Birds were at a crossroads in the second round.
In the second round, Minnesota picked 41st overall, the Eagles two picks behind. Would the Birds finally restock the cornerback cupboard or instead look to add a rampant running back to pick up where a committee of Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood left off?
The one man who could have completely remold the Eagles backfield was Dalvin Cook. Philly was coming off of an inconsistent year running the ball and the FSU product was everything this offense needed. Cook scored 20 total touchdowns in each of his last two collegiate seasons, averaging 1,728 rushing yards per year.
The Vikings played spoiler before the Eagles had a chance to pull the trigger, however, and looking back, there has to be a sense of ‘what if?’. Cook may have missed a significant amount of time due to a torn ACL, but now fully healthy, he’s ripping the NFL to shreds.
“Yeah, we were close, right there at that time.” Doug Pederson said of the dominant running back. “I just remember going back and watching him coming out in the draft and studying him a little bit. I really liked his explosiveness, not only with the ball in his hands, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield.
There was a lot of explosive plays on his tape. I was really comfortable with him and we were close to pulling the trigger on that one.”
Cook leads the Vikings in rushing and receiving, is averaging 108 rushing yards per game and has a staggering 542 yards through 5 games. So, what if in some parallel universe, it was a midnight green that Cook was wearing while ripping through open-field tacklers for fun?
This is arguably the most interesting year. We have to be fair here and treat his career progression as identical, which does include the heartbreaking ACL tear that ripped him of 12 games as a rookie. However, in this hypothetical universe, the trade for Jay Ajayi would have made just as much sense as it did in the real one, so we can assume that happens.
We have to be fair here and treat his career progression as identical, which does include the heartbreaking ACL tear that ripped him of 12 games as a rookie. However, in this hypothetical universe, the trade for Jay Ajayi would have made just as much sense as it did in the real one, so we can assume that happens.
That trade took place at the end of October and Dalvin Cook underwent ACL surgery on October 9th. This would’ve given Philly a three-game window to try and survive without Cook’s incredible dynamicsm.
Leading rusher in reality: Blount, 67 yards, 14 carries
Leading rusher in this weird universe: Probably Clement. The Eagles would try to replicate Cook’s skillset and Smallwood was never going to be that kind of back.
Leading rusher in reality: Wentz, 63 yards, 8 carries
Leading rusher in this weird universe: Yeah, remember that game? Blount ran the ball 14 times into a Brick wall and a wild Houdini appeared. The Eagles would’ve likely experienced a similar fashion without Cook/Blount here with Clement running the ball.
Leading rusher in reality: Clement, 54 yards, 10 carries
Leading rusher in reality: Mirror SZN.
The only difference is what would’ve happened to the rest of the Draft? For the sake of simplicity (and sanity), we’ll keep it the same. As exciting as seeing Eddie Jackson or Tarik Cohen in Philadelphia would’ve been, we have to be realistic here. So all the same names appear, except for Donnel Pumphrey. I’ll take a flyer on CB Damontae Kazee to make up for losing Sidney Jones.
Now, let’s have some fun.
Last season was one of yet more frustration for Cook and this is where things get problematic. Cook missed five games last year due to a hamstring injury (imagine the backlash given the Eagles recent history of medical controversies), but still posted 615 yards on the ground and over 300 through the air.
For context, Josh Adams amassed 511 yards in 14 games, so the probability of Adams filling in when needed isn’t alien. We’re forgetting that the Eagles backfield was (shock) decimated by injuries last year, but there is a wildcard.
His name is Jay Ajayi.
Ajayi was still traded for in this parallel universe and if we’re to assume he could manage the load when Cook was on a pitch-count, and share that load with Clement when he’s out completely, does it change the complexion of the season heading into the playoffs? Would the Eagles have been able to beat New Orleans if their leading rusher was able to muster more than 3.3 yards per carry on 10 attempts?
I’m not just saying that to be awkward, but Cook missed most of his action in the earlier weeks of the season and by the end of the year, he mustered four consecutive games of 10+ carries and over 1/3rd of his total receiving yardage in that time.
I don’t want to be that guy, but with the euphoria surrounding Nick Foles and another miracle run, is it really that farfetched to imagine another Super Bowl appearance? Another Super Bowl win?
Well, Cook actually played the Patriots in week 9 that year, tallying 84 yards on 9 carries, and 8 receptions in the process. If we very loosely tie that to a game where the Rams mustered 35 rushing yards with Todd Gurley….I mean…it would have at least been more entertaining.
Find out how 2019 pans out on the page below…