After JD McKissic ding-dong ditched the Bills to return to the Commanders, Buffalo drafted James Cook in the subsequent NFL Draft. Cook projects to fill a role very similar to what McKissic was sought after for, making his 2022 fantasy outlook significantly different depending on your scoring system.
During Josh Allen‘s pro career, the Buffalo Bills have never really answered their running back position. They’ve never had a player come in to make you say, “That’s it. That’s the guy.”
From twilight LeSean McCoy, to Chris Ivory, to Frank Gore, to Devin Singletary, to Zach Moss, the Bills have brought in good, but not elite talent. But, it’s clearly worked out just fine for them, having three consecutive playoff appearances.
BUT WHAT ABOUT DEVIN SINGLETARY’S RUN AT THE END OF 2021?
Yes, late last season, Devin played like he was the answer. From weeks 1-12, he saw:
Nine carries-per-game, 2.75 targets-per-game, a 50.7-percent snap count, and only two rushing TDs.
Then, from week 13 on, including two postseason games, he saw:
Fifteen carries-per-game, 3.7 targets-per-game, an 82.8-percent snap count, and eight rushing TDs (and another receiving).
While it seems a little weird that it took until the latter part of his third year to get work like a bellcow, the potential signs were there from the beginning. Despite not having the size of a prototypical workhorse, his “rare improvisational skill and toughness through contact” combined with plus-pass protection skills put him in the three-down back conversation.
Still, I salivated at the thought of them bringing in Breece Hall this past April, or trading for Christian McCaffrey.
WHERE DOES JAMES COOK FIT IN?
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler gave Cook a 4th round grade in his 2022 NFL Draft Guide, noting an “expanded route-running inventory for a running back”, and also added:
“Overall, Cook doesn’t have the contact balance or build of a full-time ball carrier like his older brother, but he can be a dynamic, versatile threat with his pass-catching skills and balanced athleticism to gravitate toward space.”
Even though Cook split running back duties with Raiders rookie Zamir White for the 2021 National Champion Georgia Bulldogs, Cook led the team with 1,012 yards from scrimmage and finished fourth on the team with 27 receptions.
The second-round pick the Bills used to get Cook adds to the notion that it’s hard to envision Singletary reaching an 82.8-percent snap share moving forward. But Cook isn’t known for his power running and contact balance like Devin, who’s powered his way to a 4.7 yards-per-carry rushing average over his pro career.
“Yeah, I really love this pick,” NFL film guru Greg Cosell said. “I think Cook was the best receiving back in this draft. He’s also a very, very good runner. He looks like Dalvin (Cook), he’s just not big enough to be when you’d call a feature foundation back. But this is a really good team for him.”
Look up James Cook and two words repeatedly jump out: open field.
If you checked out the linked article in the introduction already then you saw that last year the Bills were last in the NFL in yards-after-catch-per-reception. And so it makes too much sense that Buffalo brought him in to improve that dimension of an already explosive offense.
It’s almost like the plan the Bills had envisioned for JD McKissic sounded good enough to try and see if they could find someone else to fill those shoes. And in doing so, the team found a faster McKissic:
McKissic’s 2020 stats can provide as good of a reference as we can find to try and project what Cook’s role might look like. And this is where things get shaky, as far as how you should rank him in fantasy this year. In 2020, when JD saw 80 receptions on 110 targets (the most targets for a running back that year), he finished as the RB17 in full-PPR. He dropped seven spots to the RB24 in half-PPR. Tack on another ten spots to an RB34 finish in standard.
McKissic’s role was unusual that season, but not out of the question for Cook, who’s dangerous in space, and has a back in Singletary in front of him who’s proven he can produce as a runner.
ADJUST YOUR RANKS ACCORDINGLY
JD McKissic could have been a mid-RB2 or low-end RB3 in 2020 depending on your leagues scoring rules. Keep that in mind if signs point to James Cook having a similar role as the season gets closer.