StaTuesday: Despite ACL tear, Vikings’ Cook primed for big comeback

That a torn ACL is no longer the career-ender it once was isn’t exactly news to the average NFL fan.

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Minnesota Vikings fans owe an entire season to noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, whose handiwork powered Adrian Peterson to the best season of his career.

They’re now hoping Andrews has turned a similar trick on Peterson’s successor: second-year back Dalvin Cook.

To recap: Cook, a second-round pick in 2017, ran for 127 yards in his first game, and by Week 3 had established himself as a promising bell-cow back with 288 yards on 61 carries, both second in the league to that point. He went down in Week 4 after adding an additional 66 yards on 13 carries.

At 88.5 rushing yards per game, Cook was on pace for more than 1,400 yards. Kareem Hunt ultimately led the league with 1,327.

The reports ever since have been mostly positive: Cook, his coaches say, has been well ahead of schedule for months, and is on track to return in time for Week 1.

Expectations are high. Peterson, after all, was transcendent in his return — 2,097 rushing yards, 131.1 yards per game, 13 total TD, 6.0 yards per attempt — but he’s not the only runner to successfully recover from a catastrophic knee injury.

A whopping 51 players suffered some sort of ACL tear in 2017, the most since 2013. Just three were running backs: Cook, Darren Sproles and Bishop Sankey.

From 2013-16, 15 running backs went down, seven of whom never played again.

RBs with ACL tear, 2013-16

Danny Woodhead, SD Week 2, 2016 Week 1, 2017
Giovani Bernard, CIN Week 11, 2016 Week 1, 2017
Silas Redd, WAS Preseason, 2015 N/A
Lance Dunbar, DAL Week 4, 2015 Week 1, 2016
Jamaal Charles, KC Week 5, 2015 Week 4, 2016
Cierre Wood, BUF Week 10, 2015 N/A
Dion Lewis, NE Week 9, 2015 Week 11, 2016
Kendall Hunter, SF Preseason, 2014 Week 15, 2015
Isaiah Pead, STL Preseason, 2014 Week 1, 2015
Stevan Ridley, NE Week 6, 2014 Week 8, 2015
Knowshon Moreno, MIA Week 6, 2014 N/A
Cyrus Gray, KC Week 10, 2014 N/A
LaRod Stephens-Howling, PIT Week 1, 2013 N/A
Vick Ballard, IND Week 1, 2013 N/A
Mike Goodson, NYJ Week 5, 2013 N/A

However, that list also includes two major success stories that should be instructive for Cook and Vikings fans, as well as a few notable players whose comebacks were derailed by age, ability or circumstance.

Notable names — Return season

Giovani Bernard, CIN 2017 16 105 458 43 389 4
Dion Lewis, NE 2016 7 64 283 17 94 0
Danny Woodhead, SD 2017 8 14 56 33 200 0
Stevan Ridley, NE 2015 9 36 90 4 -2 0
Jamaal Charles, KC 2016 3 12 40 2 14 1
Lance Dunbar, DAL 2016 13 9 31 16 122 1

Bernard, 26 went back to operating as an effective member of the Bengals‘ backfield. He racked up 854 all-purpose yards last season while splitting time with Joe Mixon and Jeremy Hill.

Lewis, 27, made seven appearances for the New England Patriots during the 2016 regular season after returning to the field. He was a key cog in their run to the Super Bowl, then led the team in rushing the following season with a career-high 896 yards. He signed with the Tennessee Titans in the offseason, and is expected to be a key contributor in 2018.

Woodhead, 33, made it back in time for Week 1 the following year, but missed the next eight games with a hamstring injury and retired during the offseason.

Ridley, 29, returned in Week 8 of the 2015 season after signing with the New York Jets. A journeyman in the years since, Ridley appeared in just two games last season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but is ostensibly healthy.

Charles tore his ACL in 2015 and needed a second surgery on the knee (this time to repair his meniscus) in 2016, ending his comeback season. He played the 2017 season with Denver. Now 31, Charles is currently a free agent and was in talks to sign with Washington before the Washington Redskins signed Adrian Peterson this week.

Dunbar, 28, had a rocky comeback, missing additional time after returning for the preseason, and was subsequently buried on the Dallas Cowboys‘ depth chart behind Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and star rookie Ezekiel Elliott.