Before this week, the top free agent RB on the market was Ezekiel Elliott. That all changed when Minnesota released RB Dalvin Cook this week. Cook has knocked Elliott off that perch. Although their numbers are eerily close since Cook’s rookie 2018 season, the nod goes to him over Elliott.

Each player will be entering his age 28 season for whatever team they end up on, but Elliott entered the league earlier and definitely has more miles on his tread than Cook does. Cook still seems to be well within his prime, while Elliott is absolutely on the back nine.

Since 2018, Elliott has played in nine more games, 78 to 69, but has only outrushed Cook by nine total yards. Cook has a better average per rush, 4.7 to 4.3, and per game, 81.7 to 72.4. In those nine extra games, Elliott has also only been able to rush for one more TD, 46 to 45. As receivers out of the backfield, they each have an identical 1704 receiving yards. Although Elliott has an edge in receiving TDs with nine to Cook’s five, Cook’s yards per reception number is ahead of Elliot’s, 8.1 to 6.9.

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By just about every metric, Cook has the edge and will no doubt be a more valuable piece for whatever team ultimately snags him in both the rushing and receiving game. A possible landing spot for him could be a team like the Carolina Panthers. With Bryce Young at QB, the team will need a veteran presence in the locker room. And although Miles Sanders and Chuba Hubbard are both serviceable, neither is Dalvin Cook. Cook would slide in nicely and replace what was lost by the trade of Christian McCaffrey last season.

In fact, if we compare Cook to McCaffrey since 2018, the numbers are surprisingly similar. To begin with, Cook has been far more reliable over that time, playing 10 more games. Cook has also averaged nine more rushing yards per game, while they’ve each averaged 4.7 yards per carry. Cook also only has three fewer total TDs, 53 to 50, and McCaffrey only has a 53-yard edge in total yards since 2018.

Whether Cook ends up in Carolina or not, as long as he is on a roster come the start of the season … which he will be, he could absolutely be a top-five fantasy RB. Derrick Henry is my personal top pick at RB, but Cook is part of a large group of guys that could be among the next four selected. With the right landing spot, I could even see a scenario where he should be the No. 2 RB taken off the board.

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