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James Cook
NFL

Is James Cook Now Buffalo’s Lead RB?

  • Justin Melo
  • December 2, 2022
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Buffalo Bills rookie running back James Cook was excellent in Thursday’s dominant primetime victory over the New England Patriots. He rushed for a team-high 64 yards via 14 carries. Cook averaged a respectable 4.6 yards per carry. Cook is taking control of Buffalo’s backfield.

The No. 63 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Cook also recorded six receptions for 41 receiving yards. The dual-threat back is being utilized appropriately by Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey.

Cook’s 110 combined offensive yards were a team-high among Buffalo’s skill players. It marked the first 100-yard performance of Cook’s career. The Bills are beginning to feature Cook with increasing frequency. The former Georgia standout is taking advantage of his newfound opportunities.

Thursday’s showing represented Cook’s second fruitful performance in short succession. Cook rushed for a career-high 86 yards during a Week 11 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Cook averaged a season-high 7.8 yards per carry and accounted for 25% of Buffalo’s total offensive snaps. Buffalo’s coaching staff took notice and afforded Cook additional opportunities against the Patriots.

Cook was significantly more effective than presumed starting running back Devin Singletary. Singletary rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Cook’s 4.6 yards per carry was notably better than Singletary’s 3.9 yards per carry. The Bills’ coaching staff likely agrees, because Cook out-carried Singletary 14-13 and out-touched him 20-13 overall. It’s a storyline worth monitoring moving forward.

Recent acquisition Nyheim Hines was limited to passing-down work. Hines received just three total touches against the Patriots. Hines is comfortably trailing Cook and Singletary in Buffalo’s backfield pecking order.

Cook is creating for himself. He’s averaging a healthy 3.28 yards after contact per attempt, via Pro Football Focus. Cook has forced 14 total missed tackles. Cook is making defenders miss in the backfield. Cook has accounted for seven explosive (10-plus yards) gains as a ball-carrier. Cook is averaging one explosive gain every 8.5 rushing attempts. That’s extremely efficient.

The Bills are also utilizing Cook via different blocking schemes. The Bills have run a gap scheme on 33 of Cook’s carries, per PFF. On 23 of Cook’s rushing attempts, they’ve utilized zone-blocking looks. Bills head coach Sean McDermott and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer have faith in Cook’s ability to handle multiple assignments on a snap-by-snap basis.

Cook is showcasing improvement as his debutant campaign progresses. In his opening nine contests, Cook failed to surpass 53 rushing yards and was held to 35 yards or less on eight occasions. Cook now looks more decisive and productive.

Cook is a more dynamic playmaker than Singletary is. Cook’s electric abilities in space lead to chunk plays for Buffalo’s high-octane offense. Singletary has never been an expert pass catcher. His versatility stretches opposing defenses thin while adding another layer to a unit that already features Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane was hoping to secure the services of a dynamic dual-threat back when he utilized a premium draft selection on Cook. Cook’s acclimation period required patience. He’s officially gotten over the hump and the Bills must continue featuring James Cook as they prepare to make a run at Super Bowl LVII.

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Justin Melo