Younger brother to Dalvin Cook, James, has entered the 2022 draft. He comes in a lighter package than Dalvin at 190 pounds, but slightly taller at 5' 11". His 2021 campaign gave him almost as many opportunities as his previous 3 seasons combined at Georgia. Cook appeared to function more like the "Lightning" counterpart to Zamir White's "Thunder", but Cook appeared to be more efficient over his career with 7.5 yards per touch compared to White's 5.5. James Cook had some explosive plays on the ground and in the air while being featured as the versatile running back in Todd Monken's system. A natural question is, "Why didn't his production and versatility translate into more touches?" Game plan and game flow are some reasonable explanations, but let's see what RBV can tell us about the former four-star recruit.
According to RBV-ASR, Cook was just the better back with better metrics in all but Gap scheme. Given the way Cook moves on the surface, it seems reasonable he would be an explosive runner on the edge. As we can see his ASRs in Zone schemes are extremely close. We have to like a guy who is this consistent between these Zone schemes because teams should see his versatility as a plus if the game plan warrants a heavier lean to Inside or Outside Zone.
The lower reps in Power and Counter give us a 'grain of salt' takeaway regarding the schemes, but the fact that it is good or better in the schemes is encouraging. Looking at the usage, it is clear that Cook was utilized as the Outside Zone (OZ) runner (39.2% OZ attempts vs 29.7% Inside Zone (IZ)) and White was the IZ runner (45.5% IZ to 23.2 IZ). The two were pretty even with regard to creating in blown block situations. Cook faced 9 blown blocks and had success on 44.4% of such plays whereas White had 46.7% in 15 situations. This indicates potential lateral explosiveness, agility, and "make-someone-miss-in-a-phone-booth" potential.
Vision and Burst
James Cook has good to very good vision. He has a good feel for the flow of the trenches which affords numerous cutback opportunities. He has good quickness and very good lateral explosiveness to cutback or jumpcut. Good vision is evident in his ability to maximize space. He shows intelligence when deciding to either split the gap or hug the edge to navigate the space. Shows good play speed through trench chaos able to adapt quickly to shifting leverage or momentum of second-level defenders. Cook appears to prefer patience over speed allowing him to exploit leverage often.
James Cook has good burst to the edge, erasing pursuit angles and consistently getting to the sticks. Even between the tackles, his burst constantly punishes defenses that flow too aggressively or get out of position. His burst allows him to press the point of attack, manipulate an engaged defender into worse leverage, and take advantage of his very good play speed to bang or bend with a 1 or 2-step cut. Cook will maintain the same level of burst after sharp cuts as well.
Very good home run speed is the most evident thing we see about Cook's ability beyond the trenches whether on the ground or through the air. As far as elusiveness, the lateral nature of Cook's evasive maneuvers wanes in favor of slashing north/south as his speed increases. This is not an issue, but rather a compliment to his very good open-field vision and maximization of space. Tack on solid contact balance and you have a recipe for consistent positive gains which is consistent with his data graphic above. Solid play strength allows him to exploit poor angles, weak tackle attempts, and glancing blows.
If Cook's eventual NFL destination doesn't maximize his ability in the passing game, it will be the biggest tragedy in player misuse. Georgia didn't squander his talents and consistently used him as a mismatch. Very good acceleration helps Cook's release eat up cushion when split out against off coverage. Very good change of direction makes mismatches against linebackers clear and evident. Cook flashes DB manipulation ability, but he has excellent ball tracking downfield. Cook serves as a reliable target with good, strong, hands and flashed competitive toughness when catching over the middle of the field. Acceleration is consistent after the catch as well making him a dangerous receiver in space.
Cook's willingness to block is evident, and he identifies his assignment consistently. Solid play strength allows him to successfully cut-block and disrupts a pass rush or blitz. Given Cook's strengths as a receiver, Georgia preferred to utilize him as a receiving option in obvious passing situations most of the time.
Proper usage of the total abilities above may cover any of these concerns. Starting with his vision, Cook consistently makes decisions to cut back or bounce when the trenches are messy. This isn't an indictment on the decisions observed on tape, but more of something to evaluate as the speed of the game increases. Will he trust his lateral agility to the detriment of the scheme goals or his vision? Truly a concern for any rookie, but often young players will rely on what worked for them in the past. The encouraging thing is he seldom wastes steps trying to make an individual miss. If he keeps this efficient mentality, this will be a non-issue.
When finishing, his lighter frame and adequate play strength rob him of the possibility of falling forward in a direct collision with any defensive lineman or linebacker. He tends to avoid these situations with his vision and movement even in tight spaces. Cook appears to fade late in his home run speed on occasion. Cook appears to have near-elite top speed but is tracked down on some longer runs.
In blocking, his total ability is limited. Adequate play strength is likely a consideration that pushes the preference to use the cut block. Marginal technique in squaring up, use of hands, and engagement will be a concern against solid NFL-level pass rushers. The hope is that he can improve a little in this area such that his presence isn't telegraphing intentions on 3rd or 4th and long plays.
James Cook is a versatile runner that an NFL team can win with. A strong fit in a heavy Zone scheme with the indications he can achieve similar success in Gap and pulling schemes. Very good consistent vision to identify gaps in the trenches pairs with very good play speed to provide reliable gains. Sudden, but controlled movements when navigating the trenches affords for very good efficient burst between the tackles. Burst to the edge is also very good and demands excellent angles from second-level defenders to contain. Very good open-field vision facilitates maximizing space as he quickly accelerates to very good home run speed. Good elusiveness turns potential play-ending collisions into missed/broken tackles for additional yards. Ball security is not compromised even as evasive maneuvers are made. Good receiving ability could be elevated to a true 'X' factor if utilized appropriately. Good release versus off coverage via very good acceleration and solid stemming have the potential to turn into explosive downfield plays due to very good speed, good hands, and good ball tracking. Very good acceleration after the catch makes him a real threat in space.
Adequate size and play strength impact his ability to fall forward in direct encounters and limit his pass protection ability. He will need to continue using his slipperiness to avoid direct contact and improve his pass protection technique to minimize the negative impacts of these areas of his game. Proper deployment of James Cook, could easily hide these issues.