James Cook hasn’t exploded onto the scene as I expected. Despite the many warnings out there, I believed in the upside. Should Cook truthers be in a panic mode yet, or is patience necessary? Is anything translating for Cook and his Dynasty GMs?
What We Needed to See
A quick review of the running back primer for this year’s Tracking Translation and our areas of focus, James Cook needed to:
- Demonstrate translation of play speed
- Demonstrate translation of body manipulation to remain slippery
- Exploit his advantages as a pass-catching back
What We Are Seeing
Simply put, If you are like me, you are probably disappointed so far. A lot of this is out of Cook’s control. First, Devin Singletary, as we should expect of any NFL player, has done everything necessary to earn the role in the eyes of the Buffalo Bills’ staff. Singletary, is an unexpected obstacle to Cook’s ascension, and it’s reasonable to be caught off guard. Singletary’s success during the playoff run was eye-opening, but it seemed more like a by-product of the staff committing to the better back at the time and allowing Singletary to generate a rhythm.
None of the above is to say that Cook is innocent in events resulting in his own lack of touches. If you have followed me for any period of time, then you know how much I regard mental processing. It is a critical lynchpin to player success, and improvements in this area make players seem faster on the field. This is also the area where James Cook is struggling right now. At this point, I would not expect him to overcome this until later in the season or 2023.
Unlike, fellow rookie Dameon Pierce, Cook seems to be processing the field a little slower. We can see this in how he approaches field problems. You can see Cook processing his most immediate problem first with little regard for what is next. This lack of anticipation and a big-picture view will cap the total upside of any runner. For a runner of his physical profile, getting this aspect of his game right is essential for sustained success. Without high-end mental processing, he must depend on an athleticism advantage of some sort whether it’s quickness, acceleration, elusiveness, or something else. As we all know, physical advantages so evident in college diminish or disappear in the NFL. This has to improve; bottom line.
The short-sitedness of the decision in the play above is pervasive in his game right now. Again, this is taking away from the burst and shiftiness that I know he has. The good thing is that we have a recent example of a player overcoming that game speed adjustment: Jonathan Taylor. His first season was not the explosive entrance to the NFL some expected, but he made that right the next season. James Cook should not be expected to have that kind of ascension, but we his current tape shouldn’t define him either. As I say all the time, players are not frozen in time.
James Cook does not appear to be struggling in the area of receiving. It’s awesome because this is how most of the community expected him to be used. While we would like to see more of this usage, especially with Josh Allen at the helm, we may have to be more patient. It shouldn’t take much longer for him to earn a useful amount of reps here, especially if he continues to take advantages of opportunities.
The above play shows evidence of his play speed in the passing game. Many rookies in the past have rushed this route, thus tipping the play to the defender. Because Cook was patient with the timing and disciplined in showing vertical, this play works well. Since the defender was playing a catch-man technique, early indication of the break by Cook would allow the DB to adjust and work around theplay design. Cook’s angle choice after the catch is encouraging, both prioritizing vertical progress, but also utilizing the available space.
In the play above, James Cook gets to settle in on this Angle route underneath This Tampa 2 look. This route is pretty straightforward, but what it shows is how easily Cook should be targeted in this offense. This Hi-Lo “Follow” concept (Slot Corner route paired with the shallow Dig) at the top of the screen with a Post route up the seam. All of this occupied those Zone defenders making them late to pick up Cook. We will see a lot of this because the respect that the Bills’ passing game demands.
For Cook, the positive is that he has been credited with Zero drops. Reliable hands garner more targets, and Cook will eventually become that reliable chain mover if this trend continues. At 3.7 yards per route run (3rd among RBs per PFF), we should look forward to more of this. This is the beginning and the rushing production will come as the game slows for Cook.
The Verdict and the Decision
Cook’s translation has not happened yet obviously, but the expected feature portion of his game has. His ability to function in the passing game could be enough to sustain a long NFL career. We all know the value of a pass-catching RB in Dynasty. It is my advice to find where you can capitalize on acquiring Cook. The reduced opportunities should suppress his price, but I don’t think anyone will regret what they pay for him now.
Michael Pittman’s value is on the rise, but the DynastyGM Trade Browser shows James Cook is basically a throw-in to sweeten the deal. Of course the value is still a little off, but “eye of the beholder” and all that.
In a similar way, Cook is used here as a way to “even out” the value difference between Metcalf and Adams. A lot of these trades are occurring in the context of teams’ needs, perceptions, and in the absence of calculators, so don’t focus too much on the numbers. This is just a little perspective. You should be able to get Cook cheaply now.
We will continue to track Cook’s translation into the NFL. His upside appears capped now, but players are never frozen in time. He could, and should, get better and produce more fantasy value. Stick with me to for early indications that his ascesion is coming. Follow me @FFB_Vern for more insights on these rookies making their way in the NFL.