One of the top pass-catching running backs in the NFL and fantasy football, Buffalo Bills RB James Cook projects to be an intriguing mid-round pick, as his 2022 fantasy outlook rivals the top rookie RBs this season. With the NFL season and fantasy drafts closing in, what is Cook’s fantasy outlook in 2022, and could he prove to be a value at his current ADP in fantasy football drafts?
James Cook’s fantasy outlook for 2022
Cook is one of the more polarizing rookies this year. In all honestly, this was a brutal year for rookie running backs. Even Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker III, the clear top two RBs, found themselves in less than ideal landing spots. That’s what the NFL draft does. It’s also why Cook shot up rankings despite some not loving his body of work.
However, when you watch the top pass-catching RB of the class be selected by the Buffalo freaking Bills at pick No. 63, you tend to pay attention. And fantasy managers have paid attention, as Cook rocketed up draft boards and is squarely in the mid-round consideration.
A four-year player at Georgia, Cook didn’t cement his role on the team until 2021. At a school notorious for using committee approaches at RB, Cook shared the backfield with many RBs over his time, including Zamir White and D’Andre Swift.
Playing in 15 games for the Bulldogs last season, Cook rushed 113 times for 728 yards with seven touchdowns. He is a rapid runner who can take the edge or hit daylight. On multiple occasions, Cook would rattle off chunk plays. In fact, almost 40% of his 2021 rushing total (290) came on rushes of 10+ yards.
While I still have questions about him as a pure rusher — especially his consistency, contact balancer, and overall physicality — Cook made his name as a receiving threat, catching 27 passes for 284 yards and four TDs. That’s where he will bring value to the Bills, as he has the best hands in the class.
Buffalo added a pass-catching weapon to their roster in Cook
The Bills wanted another pass-catching option for Josh Allen to target. It was why they initially went after J.D. McKissic in free agency, only for him to spurn the Bills and return to Washington after initially agreeing on a contract. The selection of Cook all but confirms this was a need they wanted to address.
In 2021, the Bills targeted RBs just 98 times (15.4%), the eighth-lowest total in the NFL. However, this shouldn’t downplay our expectations for Cook. He is a rare breed who can be played in the slot or motioned out wide to draw a linebacker into coverage.
Sure, he’s joining a somewhat muddled RB room, but Cook will be the passing-down RB in the NFL’s fifth-fastest offense in neutral game scripts (27.9 seconds/snap). Buffalo’s 65% pass rate ranked second behind only Tampa Bay, so there is massive value in this role.
The Bills have a stacked offense. Cook will never need to be the guy, but even as a guy, he is valuable for fantasy. I do prefer him in PPR formats as they suit his likely utilization. When looking for more depth on your team, chasing upside via targets is never a bad strategy, as they are roughly three times more valuable than a rush.
Cook is in the mid-round range alongside running backs with similar skill sets, such as Nyheim Hines, McKissic, Kenneth Gainwell, Cordarrelle Patterson, and even Michael Carter. If you prefer waiting on fantasy RBs in 2022 or want some upside, Cook in the RB4 range is worth consideration.
How the Bills depth chart impacts James Cooks’s fantasy projection for the season
While I think Cook can be useful for fantasy, the Buffalo backfield will likely be a headache for managers in 2022. With that said, we should be able to determine who is filling which role.
Last season, we saw what could happen if the Bills used a singular RB in a workhorse role. Devin Singletary went ballistic during their final four games. He rushed 80 times for 375 yards and four touchdowns and caught 14 passes (17 targets) for 110 yards, making him the RB2 behind only Rashaad Penny over this stretch (22.0 PPR/game to 19.7 PPR/game).
Singletary is still the top running back in Buffalo in year four with the team, according to the depth chart. His role is the first and second-down RB, and I expect him to see the majority of carries (50-55%). Singletary will also be on the field more than Cook in the red zone after leading the team in carries inside the 20 (38) last season. Allen was second with 30, but as we have seen, if he wants to call his number, no one is stopping No. 17 from punching it in.
So we have Singletary on first and second down with some red-zone usage but no stable passing volume. On the other hand, Cook will lag behind Singletary for overall volume and lack a reliable rushing floor. The rookie makes up for it in receiving utilization but misses on the high-leverage red zone rushes. Then we add Duke Johnson Jr. and Zack Moss to see who makes it out of camp as the RB3. Seeing Johnson or Moss receive snaps will annoy managers more than anything.
Suppose an unfortunate injury were to happen to either Singletary or Cook. In that case, the other would have massive upside, especially if Singletary were the health one. I believe he is more well-rounded as a rusher. With that said, I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong and watch Cook ball out when Allen puts the ball in his stomach. They are the only two running backs to consider in Buffalo, as Moss and Johnson shouldn’t be drafted.
James Cook’s ADP for 2022
With an ADP of 115, Cook is coming off the boards as the RB40 in PPR formats at the moment, placing him in the middle of the ninth round in 12-team fantasy leagues.
In PFN’s 2022 fantasy football redraft rankings, Cook is quite a bit lower as the RB49 and the 125th overall ranked player. While PFN’s are a consensus, I am right in the middle of both our rankings, with Cook being my RB43 and 113th overall ranked player for fantasy in 2022.
There has been quite a bit of noise made about how the Bills don’t target their running backs and that Cook likely will not see the expected volume. Of course, it wasn’t as if the Bills were a pass-happy team before they added Diggs. But what if Buffalo’s propensity to pass was due to a lack of confidence in personnel, and now Cook allows the Bills to add a new wrinkle to their offense in 2022? It’s a counter that’s at least worth considering.
I do believe Cook will have a role, but odds are we will not see his true value until 2023 if Singletary does indeed leave in free agency. As for 2022, Cook as an RB4/5 in a PPR scoring format could be valuable, but there is the risk of the unknown. I do prefer Singletary (RB35) as he has a higher ceiling and a more stable workload. However, I wouldn’t rule RB2/flex upside out of the equation if Cook sees the field more than expected due to performance or injury.