Bills rusher James Cook ranked egregiously low in NFL RB Rankings

James Cook does not rank among the top 20 running backs in the league in a recent Pro Football Focus ranking.
Buffalo Bills running back James Cook (4) celebrates his 24-yard touchdown run against the Cowboys.
Buffalo Bills running back James Cook (4) celebrates his 24-yard touchdown run against the Cowboys. / Jamie Germano/Rochester Democrat and

The running back position—though it hasn’t quite gone the way of the dodo—is not valued in the contemporary NFL as highly as it was in years past; historically, offenses would run through the running back, but given the economic principle of supply and demand and the fact that several teams now believe success in the rushing game stems from the offensive line as opposed to the ballcarrier, the position is no longer one that the vast majority of franchises are comfortable investing significant capital into.

That said, the trend and belief have perhaps been bucked a bit in recent years, as several running backs have emerged and shown just how valuable a dynamic rusher can be for an offense. San Francisco 49ers running back Chrisitan McCaffrey earned NFL MVP consideration last year, with he, along with players like Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor, showing just how important the position still is. There’s now a tier of young running backs—headlined by the likes of Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Breece Hall—who perhaps serve as the position’s best hope at regaining its previous standing, who can potentially make the running back spot a commodity as opposed to a carousel.

Some around the league feel as though Buffalo Bills running back James Cook is among this tier. He cooked up an incredible sophomore season with the Bills, picking up 1,122 yards on the ground while tallying the sixth-highest scrimmage yardage total in the league (1,567). Offensive coordinator Joe Brady leaned on the back to establish a new offensive identity after taking over play-calling duties in Week 11, getting Cook roughly 20 touches per game and allowing the offense to become a multi-faceted unit as opposed to a pass-heavy one-note attack.

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While putting Cook in the tier of Robinson, Gibbs, Hall, or even Kenneth Walker and Travis Etienne may be steep, it’s not egregious given his production. It’s at least a more justifiable ranking than slotting him among the Joe Mixons, Chuba Hubbards, and Austin Ekelers of the world.

This sentiment is very much not shared by Pro Football Focus writer Thomas Valentine; in a recent article ranking the top 32 running backs in the NFL, the analyst slotted the Buffalo rusher in at No. 24.

“James Cook excelled in his second NFL season, finally giving the Buffalo Bills a credible rushing attack,” Valentine wrote. “Cook finished fourth in total rushing yards in 2023, rushing for 1,122 yards at a 4.7 yards-per-carry clip and scoring twice while earning a 71.8 grade. His yards after contact per attempt number was lower than his rookie season, but Cook forced more missed tackles, had more explosive runs and racked up more catches and receiving yards.”

That’s right—the player who finished sixth in the NFL in scrimmage yards last season is not a top-20 running back.

We’re not math people, but that doesn’t seem to add up. Even if you want to remove scrimmage yards from the equation, Cook still ran for the fourth-highest rushing total in the 2023 season—racking up more yards than 19 backs who appear above him on this list (we’ve omitted Nick Chubb, who is ranked at No. 4 on PFF’s list, as he missed the vast majority of the 2023 season with a significant injury).

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Box score statistics obviously aren’t the end-all-be-all, but they, in instances like this, effectively showcase just how egregiously low Cook is ranked. He finished fourth in rushing yards and sixth in scrimmage yards, and he’s ranked below two Pittsburgh Steelers backs (Jaylen Warren at No. 19 and Najee Harris at No. 22)? He’s nearly 10 spots lower than Isiah Pacheco?

One cannot even argue that Cook did less with more opportunities than these backs, as he was more efficient than Harris and Pacheco. He ranked 11th among running backs last year in yards per carry at 4.6; Harris averaged 4.0 while Pacheco averaged 4.4

The logic just doesn’t follow; it’s fair to be low on Cook and not feel as though he’s among the upper-tiers of young rushers, but to say that he’s not a top-20 running back—when several statistics indicate that he is—is odd. The now third-year back will look to cement his status as one of the better backs in the league with yet another strong outing in the 2024 NFL season.

Kyle Silagyi