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RB Dalvin Cook calls decision to join Ravens ‘no-brainer,’ says opportunity ‘presents everything’

Dalvin Cook was startled by the attention.

“Holy [expletive],” he said as he slipped on his sneakers and turned around to face the gaggle of reporters that had encircled his locker Thursday in Owings Mills.

He said he could sense the swarm of bodies around him but wasn’t quite sure. He was more certain of his decision to sign with the Ravens after the New York Jets released him earlier this month and the four-time Pro Bowl selection passed through waivers unclaimed.

“It was a no-brainer,” Cook, 28, said in his first meeting with reporters since Baltimore signed the 2017 second-round draft pick to its practice squad last week.

Asked about the opportunity of joining the AFC’s top seed ahead of the playoffs, he said, “It presents everything. Obviously the situation speaks for itself.

“For me, it’s a new breath, a new opportunity.”

What kind of one, of course, remains to be seen.

Cook rushed for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns along with tallying 295 receiving yards and two scores in 2022 with the Minnesota Vikings, who drafted the former Florida State star 41st overall seven years ago.

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But there were signs during his final season in Minnesota that perhaps his best years were behind him.

Among 42 running backs with at least 100 carries, his rushing yards over expected per carry (-0.1) ranked 30th, expected points added per rush (-0.2) 39th, per NFL NextGen Stats, and defense-adjusted value over average (-10.8%) 33rd, according to FTN Fantasy. And that was behind a Vikings offensive line that ranked as one of the best in the NFL, with a run-blocking grade of 74.1 by Pro Football Focus, the third-highest mark in the league.

Things were even worse in New York. With the Jets, who signed Cook as something of an insurance policy with second-year back Breece Hall coming off a torn ACL, he never found his rhythm. In 14 games with New York, Cook logged just 67 carries for 214 yards and fumbled twice.

That he signed with Baltimore after his release, however, was not a surprise. The Ravens lost their top back, J.K. Dobbins, to a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in Week 1 and emerging undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell to a torn ACL in Week 15.

That left only Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and little-used veteran Melvin Gordon III as the team’s running backs on the active roster.

Cook, who is from South Florida and friendly with Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Zay Flowers, said Thursday that he was “close, real close” to signing with Baltimore before choosing the Jets.

As for how much action he might see in the postseason, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday that he views Cook as a “very valuable or potentially valuable weapon on our offense.” Baltimore’s first playoff game also won’t take place until the divisional round, either Jan. 20 or 21, which gives Cook time to get acclimated to the offense.

“He still has talent and ability, and he’s smart,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’s going to be a valuable part of our team and the playoffs here.”

Cook, meanwhile, is excited for the opportunity.

“Knowing how [Lamar] is, knowing how he operates, a competitor, we just playing ball like we’re back home back in South Florida playing ball. It’s gonna be a great experience.

“I appreciate Harbaugh so much. For me, I’m just gonna work my tail off. Every opportunity that comes my way I’m gonna give it my all for these guys.”