James Cook

Latest On Bills’ RB Situation

The Bills’ midseason switch to Joe Brady as offensive coordinator brought about a new emphasis on the running game. Considering the changes which have taken place in the teams’ receiving corps, Buffalo’s backfield is a group carrying considerable importance ahead of 2024.

Just like the receiver position, though, the Bills’ running back spot has seen notable turnover in recent months. Nyheim Hines – who missed the entire 2023 campaign with a torn ACL – departed in free agency. Veteran Latavius Murray is unsigned, while Damien Harris elected to retire. Buffalo’s top two backfield options (James Cook, Ty Johnson) are still in place, however.

To little surprise, both members of that pair are in line for a notable workload in 2024. Cook logged 237 carries last year, good for 10th in the NFL and a dramatic uptick in usage from his rookie campaign. Johnson, meanwhile, spent time on Buffalo’s practice squad before emerging as a depth contributor late in the year and in the postseason. The former sixth-rounder enters training camp as the favorite for the backup role, Ryan O’Halloran of the Buffalo News writes.

Johnson, 26, began his career with the Lions but most of his time prior to his Bills tenure came with the Jets. His most productive season came in 2021 with 610 scrimmage yards, though for the most part he has served in a complementary role. That will likely continue this season with Cook positioned to once again shoulder a heavy workload. Brady is aware, however, that the former second-rounder was not a workhorse back in college. As a result, consideration will be given to his usage rate in 2024.

“I think a lot of this is, ‘We’ll see,’” Brady said (via O’Halloran) when speaking about the Georgia product. “We feel confident in the room that we have and whoever is playing running back and carrying the football, they’re going to do a good job. With regard to a certain target number [for Cook], that is seeing how his body holds up and what he can do.”

The Bills’ other backfield options entering camp include fourth-round selection Ray Davis and undrafted rookie Frank Gore Jr. Their performances during the summer will be important in determining the running back pecking order behind Cook as well as – to an extent – the share of carries he will handle. Johnson will need a strong showing to lock down the RB2 role, but his experience and familiarity in Brady’s system should give him the edge to start the summer.

Latest On Bills’ RB Situation

The season-ending injury suffered by Nyheim Hines last month left the Bills shorthanded in the backfield. His absence has led to increased clarity with respect to who should make the team’s 53-man roster, though, along with the pecking order at the position.

James Cook was already in line to handle starting duties with Devin Singletary having departed in free agency, but Hines’ ACL tear should leave further pass-catching opportunities available this season. Cook, 23, is well-positioned to build on his production as a rookie this year. He sits comfortably atop the depth chart heading into the campaign, as noted by Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic (subscription required).

Cook posted 507 rushing yards on an impressive average of 5.7 per carry last season. Much of that efficiency owes to his limited workload (89 carries), however. The former second-rounder added 180 yards and one of his three total touchdowns in the passing game, showcasing his abilities on the ground and through the air. With veterans Damien Harris and Latavius Murray (the latter of whom was on the roster bubble before the Hines injury) in place as complimentary options, Cook should see a sharp uptick from his 25% snap share as a rookie.

With Hines having suffered his injury in a jet ski accident, the Bills placed him on the NFI list. That opens the door to a conflict over the matter of compensation, something Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reports is underway. Hines’ adjusted contract includes a $1MM signing bonus, $600K of which has already been paid. The Bills are considering withholding the remaining $400K, and paying Hines the equivalent of a practice squad players’ maximum earnings for a season. A formal grievance is an option depending on how the ex-Colt responds to Buffalo’s handling of his case.

Meanwhile, Hines recently underwent surgery on his injured knee (Twitter link via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero). That began the recovery process ahead of next season, something which will be the focus of his personal attention moving forward. For the Bills, plenty will depend on the play of their remaining backs, especially Cook, given the responsibility he is expected to shoulder in 2023.

Bills RBs Nyheim Hines, Latavius Murray Battling For Roster Spot?

The Bills rushing attack will look a bit different in 2023. Devin Singletary is gone, having left via free agency to the Texans. The front office added former Patriots starter Damien Harris to the mix, although he profiles as more of an RB2 since the organization is ready to go all-in on 2022 second-round pick James Cook.

Cook and Harris appear to be locked in atop the depth chart, leading to an apparent competition between Nyheim Hines and Latavius Murray for the RB3 spot. As Ryan O’Halloran of the Buffalo News noted today, the two veterans may actually be fighting for a roster spot, not just a spot on the depth chart. The Bills intend to give a roster spot to fullback Reggie Gilliam, perhaps leaving only one space for Hines or Murray

Hines would be the more natural fit if the organization is looking for a fill-in for Singletary. The former Bills RB averaged 39 receptions per season over his final three seasons in Buffalo. Harris had 40 total receptions during his four seasons in New England, and the former third-round pick seems primed to be a true backup. Cook provides some pass-catching prowess (21 catches as a rookie), but it seems unlikely that the second-year pro will be a true three-down back.

Hines could provide Josh Allen with another worthy target out of the backfield on third downs. The former Colts fourth-round pick averaged more than 56 catches per season though his first three years in the NFL, and while he saw a reduced role in 2021 and 2022, he still hauled in 70 total catches between the two campaigns.

While Hines has shown an ability to catch the ball, his roster spot could ultimately come down to special teams. The 26-year-old served as the Bills’ primary returner after joining the organization last season, returning a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns. As O’Halloran notes, new wideout Deonte Harty previously was an All-Pro punt returner, and his spot on the roster could make Hines expendable.

Murray would be the odd man out if Hines ultimately makes the team, but the veteran has a good case for making the roster. The 33-year-old would naturally bring some experience to a relatively young running back corps, and he’s also shown to be a worthy replacement starter in a pinch (he’s started at least three games in each of his nine NFL seasons). While Hines is the superior pass-catcher, Murray can also contribute in the passing game, with the veteran hauling in 35 catches just last season.

As O’Halloran writes, Murray is still a valuable player, with the RB most recently collecting close to 900 yards from scrimmage in 13 games with the Broncos and Saints in 2022. If Murray does end up missing the cut in Buffalo, O’Halloran believes the Bills front office should be able to get something for him via trade.

Hines and Murray will likely get an extended look during the preseason, but it seems likely that one of the two will be looking for a new job by the end of the preseason.

Bills Notes: Cook, Cornerback, Ateman, Coaching Staff

The Bills have done some work revamping their running back depth chart this offseason, but the team’s main holdover believes he’s ready to secure the starting gig. During an appearance on The Rich Eisen Show, James Cook made it clear that he’s ready to be the team’s top running back.

“Obviously, RB1,” Cook responded when asked about his role in 2023 (h/t Ryan Talbot of NewYorkUpstate.com). “So you know, just come in and do what I do. Change the game with my versatility. Catching the ball out of the backfield. Pass blocking. Just try to do what I can do to help the team win games and ultimately win the Super Bowl.”

The Georgia product was a second-round pick by the Bills last offseason and ended up getting into 16 games as a rookie. While he played second fiddle to Devin Singletary, Cook still finished the season with 687 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Singletary is now out of the picture, although the Bills did bring in Damien Harris and Latavius Murray for some extra depth.

Even with the additions, Cook is confident that he’s prepared to be the starter, and the second-year player sounds like he’s ready to stand alongside his brother, Dalvin Cook, when it comes to the league’s top running backs.

“My goal is to be an All-Pro or Pro Bowler like my brother,” Cook said. “Hopefully be in the Pro Bowl with him one day.”

More notes out of Buffalo…

  • It’s uncertain who will start opposite Tre’Davious White at cornerback, but Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic believes the gig will ultimately come down to three players. Dane Jackson, Christian Benford, and 2022 first-round pick Kaiir Elam will “likely remain in a battle” for the CB2 gig once training camp opens, according to the writer. Buscaglia notes that the coaching staff has been adamant that the role won’t be influenced by contract or draft pedigree, meaning the competition is truly wide open for all three players.
  • The Bills added Marcell Ateman earlier this month, and Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com tweets that the receiver inked a one-year, $940K deal. The wideout played for the St. Louis BattleHawks in the XFL this season, totaling 259 yards while not scoring a touchdown. The Oklahoma State product was a seventh-round pick by the Raiders in 2018, and he compiled 20 receptions for 270 yards and a touchdown through his first two seasons in the NFL. In Buffalo, he’s expected to be a special teamer and end-of-the-depth-chart option at WR.
  • The Bills announced yesterday (via Twitter) that they’ve promoted Eric Washington to assistant head coach/defensive line coach. The veteran coach joined the organization in 2020 as their DL coach, and he earned a promotion to senior defensive assistant before last season. He had previous stops with the Bears and Panthers, including a one-year stint as defensive coordinator in Carolina.
  • The Bills have some extra depth on the edge, meaning they could look to move on from one of their former second-round picks. Earlier today, our own Adam La Rose explored the trade candidacy of Carlos Basham Jr..

Latest On Bills’ Running Back Plan

The Bills had not used a first- or second-round pick on a running back since taking C.J. Spiller ninth overall 12 years ago. Using a second-round choice on James Cook in April certainly points to the AFC East champions envisioning a change at the position.

Devin Singletary, however, is not expected to be demoted. The Cook pick notwithstanding, Buffalo’s coaching staff remains committed to Singletary being a key piece in 2022, Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic notes (subscription required). The South Florida product led the team with 870 rushing yards last season.

Cook’s arrival crowds the Bills’ backfield, though it should boost the unit’s passing-game capabilities. Cook is signed through 2025, making the Georgia product the long-term centerpiece of the Bills’ backfield. Singletary’s rookie contract runs through 2022, making this a critical year for the 5-foot-7 talent’s career. While he should be expected to start ahead of Cook and lead Bills backs in playing time, ceding some ground to the rookie in the passing game, per Buscaglia, there is a difference between that and a notable extension.

The 2023 running back free agency class could be one of the most interesting in recent NFL history. That market would stand to include Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Kareem Hunt and Damien Harris. Not all of this group would hit free agency, as teams’ efforts to keep 2017 draftees off the market showed. But some will. Singletary would not be the highest-profile back here, but he has been a solid per-carry producer (4.7 over three seasons) and has not — to this point — been given full workloads. The former third-round pick is sitting on 495 carries through three seasons.

Given ball-carrying veterans’ frequent issues on the market, it would not surprise if Singletary could be retained on a midlevel accord to pair with Cook beyond 2022. Zack Moss may have a say in that future. Phased out down the stretch last season, the 2020 third-rounder could enter 2022 facing a wide range of outcomes. A solid camp could put the power back in line to remain in Buffalo’s committee, but Buscalgia notes a trade before the season should not be ruled out. The Bills do have a quarterback who has proven quite capable in short-yardage situations. Josh Allen has 31 career rushing touchdowns, and his 763 ground yards last season dwarfed Moss’ total (345).

Buffalo also signed Duke Johnson this offseason, doing so after a failed effort to add J.D. McKissic. Moss falling further out of favor would benefit the veteran, who signed for just $378K guaranteed. Though, Moss and Johnson’s skillsets do not exactly overlap. The former Browns and Texans passing-down back still could supply depth for a backfield that promises to have more options than it has over the past two seasons.

Bills Finalize Draft Pick Signings

The Bills have completed the process of signing their entire draft class. The team announced on Friday that each of their eight rookies have inked their initial deal.

That list includes first-round corner Kaiir Elam. The Bills made a small move up the board from 25th to 23rd to make sure they could select him. The former Florida Gator quickly emerged as key piece on the team’s defense, putting up solid production to go along with a pro-ready frame (six-foot-two, 195 pounds). With the secondary identified by many as the position group most in need of assistance, Elam could have a path to significant playing time with the Bills early on.

Another position which Buffalo made considerably stronger was that of running back. The team took Georgia tailback James Cook in the second round, adding competition for touches with Devin Singletary, Zack Moss and Duke Johnson. The younger brother of Vikings Pro Bowler Dalvin, Cook enjoyed a breakout season in his final campaign with the national champions. He topped 1,000 scrimmage yards for the first time, scoring 11 total touchdowns.

The rest of the Bills’ class contains depth options on both sides of the ball, as well as a special teams addition. The team drafted so-called ‘Punt God’ Matt Araiza in the sixth round. The San Diego State product averaged over 51 yards per punt during his college career, fielding kickoff and field goal duties as well.

With the entire class under contract, here is the complete list of Bills draftees:

  • Round 1: No. 23 (from Cardinals through Ravens) Kaiir Elam, CB (Florida)
  • Round 2: No. 63 (from Bengals) James Cook, RB (Georgia)
  • Round 3: No. 89 Terrel Bernard, LB (Baylor) (signed)
  • Round 5: No. 148 (from Bears) Khalil Shakir, WR (Boise State)
  • Round 6: No. 180 (from Jaguars through Buccaneers) Matt Araiza, P (San Diego State)
  • Round 6: No. 185 (from Panthers) Christian Benford, CB (Villanova)
  • Round 6: No. 209 (from Bengals) Luke Tenuta, OT (Virginia Tech)
  • Round 7: No. 231 (from Falcons) Baylon Spector, LB (Clemson)

Draft Rumors: Ojabo, Jaguars, Jets, Giants

Michigan still might see two of its edge rushers become first-round picks this month. Despite David Ojabo‘s Achilles tear last month, the ex-Wolverine’s talent could well keep him on track to hear his name called on the draft’s first night. Ojabo remains firmly on the Round 1 radar, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. Ojabo is expected to make a full recovery, and a team that uses a first-round pick on him would be positioned to have him contracted for five seasons — via the fifth-year option. Operating opposite Aidan Hutchinson, Ojabo recorded 11 sacks in a breakout 2021. There is recent precedent for pre-draft injuries not keeping talented pass rushers out of the first round (Jeffery Simmons) and for Achilles rehabs going well enough players become factors months after the tears (Terrell Suggs, Michael Crabtree, Cam Akers).

Here is the latest from the draft world:

  • Hutchinson and NC State tackle Ikem Ekwonu met with the Jaguars this week, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes both will head to New York for Giants and Jets visits (Twitter link). Both players are candidates to go first overall, with Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker joining them. The Jets and Giants hold four of the next nine picks — the Jets having Nos. 4 and 10 and the Giants at 5 and 7 — and will be set to add top talent. The Giants have a few needs, but it will be hard to see them exiting Round 1 without a right tackle prospect. They have done extensive homework on Mississippi State’s Charles Cross and would likely pounce if Ekwonu, who is rated ahead of Cross almost universally, fell to 5.
  • After a strong Combine showing, Walker is being projected as a top-five pick. He will visit with each of the teams holding those selections, with Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com noting the Jags, Lions, Texans, Jets and Giants are meeting with the pass rusher. Despite weighing 272 pounds and frequently playing inside with the national championship-winning team, Walker clocked a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. Viewed as a D-lineman with fewer red flags than Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, it is unlikely Walker will wait long to hear his name called.
  • Teams will do their due diligence on Thibodeaux, who is set to meet with the non-Jaguars contingent of the top five (Lions, Texans, Jets, Giants). The Eagles (Nos. 15 and 18) and Falcons (No. 9) are also planning “30” visits with Thibodeaux, Wilson notes. Questions about Thibodeaux’s motor and attitude have injected uncertainty into the defensive end’s status. A fall to Philly at 15 might not shock at this point.
  • One season remains on Saquon Barkley‘s contract, and the Giants‘ new regime has fielded trade calls on the previous staff’s top investment. The team is now using a few of its allotted 30 visits on backs. Breece Hall (Iowa State), Brian Robinson (Alabama) and James Cook (Georgia) visited the Giants on Tuesday, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. Hall could be available when the Giants’ second-round pick (No. 36) comes. However, the ex-Cyclones standout grades as a first-round talent on Daniel Jeremiah’s NFL.com big board. Cook and Robinson are viewed as later-round prospects.
  • The Commanders are also taking a look at a top back, being set to meet with Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker on Friday, Rapoport adds (on Twitter). Scouts Inc. grades Walker just ahead of Hall as this class’ top back, but views him as a second-round talent. The Wake Forest transfer blew up for 1,636 rushing yards in his only Michigan State slate. Washington also met with Hall this week, John Keim of ESPN.com tweets.
  • Andrew Booth may miss his NFL team’s offseason workouts due to hernia surgery, but that should not deter teams from considering the Clemson cornerback in Round 1. Booth has met with the Bills (No. 25) and Eagles, with Rapoport adding Patriots (No. 21) and Saints (Nos. 16 and 19) meetings are also on Booth’s docket.

Eight Georgia Bulldogs Declare For Draft

After wrapping of the 2021 football season with a National Championship win over the Crimson Tide, Georgia is ready to send a couple players to the NFL. So far, we’ve seen declarations from running backs Zamir White and James Cook, wide receiver George Pickens, offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer, defensive linemen Travon Walker and Devonte Wyatt, linebacker Nakobe Dean, and safety Lewis Cine.

White was a 5-star recruit out of North Carolina and the consensus top-ranked running back in the 2018 graduating class. White was forced to red-shirt his true freshman season after tearing his ACL, his second such injury in about 9 months. After healing, he took snaps behind D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien before taking over as the lead back in 2020 rushing for 1,635 yards and 22 touchdowns over the next two seasons. Dane Brugler, of The Athletic, has White ranked as the 7th-best running back in the class and he should expect to hear his name on Day 2 or 3 of the draft.

James Cook, the younger brother of Dalvin Cook, came into Georgia the same year as White but didn’t have to sit out his freshman year. Cook has sat just below White on the depth chart for the three years they were both active, racking up 1,031 rushing yards along with 10 touchdowns in the past two seasons. He is ranked the 5th-best running back on Brugler’s list and should also expect to hear his name in the middle rounds.

Pickens arrived at Georgia as a 5-star recruit after flipping from a commitment to Auburn. He led the team in receiving his freshman year with 727 yards and 8 touchdowns. He improved his yards per game average the next year but missed two games in an already shortened COVID-season. Pickens tore his ACL in March 2021 but returned to contribute to the Bulldogs’ National Championship run catching 2 passes for 61 yards in two playoff games. Brugler has Pickens as the 9th-best receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft. It’s expected that some team will take a flyer on the big-bodied receiver on Day 2 or early into Day 3.

Salyer was a 5-star recruit and the consensus top-ranked guard in the 2018 graduating class. Salyer saw his first start late in his sophomore year before securing his spot as the blindside starting tackle for the next two seasons. He missed a couple games with an injury this year, but he surrendered no sacks in eleven starts this year. Brugler has Salyer as the 7th-best interior offensive lineman and we should expect to hear his name on Day 2 or early into Day 3.

Walker came in as a 5-star recruit from west Georgia and dominated as soon as he arrived. Walker became an instant presence on the line with an elite get-off. After starting at defensive tackle for every game this season, Walker led the defensive line in sacks as an interior lineman with 6.0. Despite his size and placement in the Georgia defense, Brugler has Walker as the 4th-best edge rusher in the draft. Whether or not that’s where NFL teams see the junior Bulldog playing, he’s expected to hear his name called late in the first-round or early in the second.

Wyatt initially attended Hutchinson Community College to help meet the academic requirements needed to play Division I football. After transferring to Georgia, Wyatt rotated on the defensive line for two years before becoming a starter in 2020. Wyatt decided to use the extra year of eligibility, granted due to COVID-19, to come back for the 2021 season and it certainly paid off. Brugler has Wyatt as the 4th-best interior defensive lineman and he’s expected to be selected in the middle rounds of the draft.

Dean was a 5-star recruit and the consensus second-ranked inside linebacker in the 2019 graduating class. The much-ballyhooed linebacker made an immediate impact in his freshman year before nabbing the starting job for his entire sophomore and junior seasons. He culminated his final season not only with a National Championship trophy but also with the 2021 Butkus Award trophy given to the top linebacker in college football. He finished the season second on the team in tackles (behind fellow draft hopeful, Cine) and with the team lead in tackles for loss. Dean is the 2nd-best linebacker on Brugler’s list and is widely expected to go in the first round.

Cine was a Top-100 recruit in the 2019 graduating class. Cine played every game his freshman season before taking over as the starting safety for the next two seasons. Cine led the team in tackles for the season and made a few big plays to help the team clinch their National Championship. Brugler has Cine as the 3rd-best safety in the draft and he’s expected to hear his name called on Day 1 or early in Day 2 of the draft.

These eight aren’t the last Bulldogs expected to declare for the draft, either. Although no announcements have been made, defensive tackle, and winner of the 2021 Outland Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award, Jordan Davis, linebackers Channing Tindall and Quay Walker, and cornerback Derion Kendrick all are expected to be weighing their options and could set their sights on the NFL.