Is James Cook Ready for a Fantasy Football Breakout?
In fantasy football, it is very rare to see the top running back in an elite offense going outside the first eight rounds of drafts. Yet, that seems to be the case with Bills running back James Cook, who is currently being drafted as the RB30 and 96th overall according to Underdog ADP. Here’s a look at why Cook could be a huge value at his draft spot.
Rookie Year in Review
After being selected in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Cook had an underrated rookie season. He fumbled on his first-ever touch and did not see the field much to start the year. However, he eventually got out of the doghouse and was solid when he had the ball. Over the last five weeks of the season, which were the only weeks Cook saw over 30% of offensive snaps, he averaged 10 fantasy points per game and was the RB28. Cook ranked first among all running backs in breakaway run percentage per PFF, averaged 5.7 yards per carry, and was also top-15 in receiving grade. He is a bit on the small side for running backs and isn’t quite ready for a full three-down role, but has the explosiveness and pass-catching chops needed to make an impact nonetheless.
Cook’s Role in the Bills' Offense
The Bills running back depth chart remains crowded. Free agent signees Damien Harris and Latavius Murray will likely take most of the short-yardage and goalline work (along with Josh Allen), while Nyheim Hines will be used to spell Cook. With this being said, early off-season reports indicate that Cook will enter the year as the starter in this offense, and he should be on the field in most non-short-yardage situations. Cook is currently being drafted the highest out of the Bills running backs in fantasy drafts.
If Cook is able to really thrive in this offense, it will be as a pass-catcher. He is arguably the second best-receiving threat on this team behind Stefon Diggs, and has the skill set to be deployed in the slot. Furthermore, Bills general manager Brandon Beane has been insistent that quarterback Josh Allen stops running so much due to the injury risk it adds. This is a great sign for Cook, as he should be the check-down option on all of the plays where Allen might otherwise take off and scramble.
Assessing Cook’s Floor and Ceiling
Unfortunately, Cook’s ceiling is probably capped because he won’t see the highest-value touches in this offense—Damien Harris, Latavius Murray, and Josh Allen are all proven red-zone bruisers with 43 touchdowns on the ground between them since 2021. However, there is still a blueprint for a pass-catching running back to finish in the top-12 in fantasy:
|Player||Year||Carries||Rushing Yards||Carry Share||Receptions||Rec. Yards||Target Share||Fantasy PPG||Fantasy Finish|
All four of these players were able to perform out of running back committees—Ekeler and Woodhead both split reps with Melvin Gordon, White with Sony Michel, and Kamara with Mark Ingram. They also were not the No. 1 options in their respective receiving games, as the likes of Keenan Allen, Julian Edelman, and Michael Thomas all commanded targets. In short, it’s promising to see that Cook still has upside despite the competition he will face. If Cook can command about a 25% carry share (he was at 20% last year on 89 carries) and a 15% target share, he will be on track to join the list of successful pass-catching running backs.
Another thing that Cook has going for him is that he is in an incredible offense. The Bills have ranked top-three in points scored for three straight seasons with Josh Allen under center and should continue to be dominant. This means that although he might not see red-zone production on the ground, Cook has a higher chance of catching touchdowns considering the scoring opportunities this offense should see. Throw in a couple of long touchdown runs as a result of his explosiveness, and Cook's fantasy ceiling suddenly looks much higher than initially expected.
As for his floor, Cook is a much safer pick in half-PPR and PPR formats because he should offer some base value as a pass-catcher. If he can tap into his receiving potential, he could be one of the most consistent running backs in fantasy. In the ninth round of drafts, Cook is a great anchor-RB target. After locking up an elite RB in the first couple of rounds, fantasy managers could then load up on receivers and even take a quarterback and tight end before grabbing Cook as their RB2.
The Bottom Line
- Cook is a talented player that has a knack for breaking off big plays. He is also a great pass-catcher.
- There is significant competition in the Bills backfield, so Cook will likely not see much goalline work.
- Cook’s clearest path to fantasy relevance is if he can establish himself as a pass-catcher. The Bills might look to place an emphasis on getting Cook the ball through the air as it would help mitigate Josh Allen’s injury risk.
- I’m a big fan of Cook at his current draft spot of RB30. He should have a high enough floor in PPR formats to help him meet his ADP, and he has the potential to far outperform it in a great offense.