Players in Review (2022): James Cook & Nyheim Hines
Continuing on with my Players in Review series, I’m going to discuss two more offensive players for the Buffalo Bills in regards to their 2022 season. Last week, I started things off by talking about WR Gabe Davis and his production as WR2. This week, I’m taking a look at RB James Cook and RB/PR/KR Nyheim Hines.
My biggest takeaway from both Cook and Hines is that they were underutilized this season. Plain and simple.
Last year at this time, the Bills recognized the few holes that they needed to fill to finally get over the hump. The main thing they wanted to add was speed, specifically at the running back position. They wanted to add a quick, pass-catching back to compliment Devin Singletary and Zack Moss.
The Buffalo Bills started the offseason by trying to sign RB J.D. McKissic before the deal fell through and he returned to the Washington Commanders. They then turned to plan B and signed RB Duke Johnson. (Which actually might’ve been plan C because RB Chase Edmonds reportedly would’ve signed with Buffalo if it weren’t for the high NYS taxes, according to Go Long’s Tyler Dunne.)
So then the team doubled-down and used a second-round draft pick on James Cook, arguably the best receiving back in the draft. That STILL wasn’t enough, so then they went out and acquired Nyheim Hines at the trade deadline.
The Bills made it clear that they wanted to address their lack of speed and explosiveness at the running back position; they signed, drafted, and traded for that prototypical RB all in a seven month span… But yet they HARDLY used any of them. To me, it’s one of the biggest questions I have reflecting on the 2022 season.
I was all over the James Cook talk at this time last year, thinking he would be a perfect fit in Buffalo’s offense. After mocking him to the Buffalo Bills, I was pumped when they actually drafted him, as I’m sure a lot of you were.
Cook ran the 40-yard dash at last year’s NFL Combine, officially getting clocked at 4.42. In his four years at Georgia, his best season came in 2021 when he ran for 728 yards and 7 TDs on 113 carries (6.4 yards/carry). He also had 284 receiving yards and 4 TDs on 27 receptions (10.4 avg). Though his numbers weren’t the most eye-popping, Cook always had to split snaps in the talented Bulldogs’ backfield with guys like D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield, and Zamir White.
Between his speed, vision, and production in limited snaps, analysts raved about the upside Cook presented at the NFL level. Some were even comparing him to Saints RB Alvin Kamara.
Cook left us wanting more as the season ended. It wasn’t because he played poorly; rather, it was because of how the Bills coaching staff used him. Cook fumbled his very first NFL snap during the NFL season opener in Los Angeles. After that, he was in the dog house for multiple weeks. Aside from the following week (when he got 11 handoffs in garbage time against the Titans), Cook didn’t see double digit rushing attempts until Week 11 against the Browns, when he had 11 rushes for 86 yards (7.8 avg).
In fact, there were only four games where Cook had more than 10 carries this season (including the Tennessee game). He played in all 16 games; basically, he did not see a high volume of carries 75% of the time. Devin Singletary was RB1, however, rushing for 819 yards and 5 TDs on 177 attempts. But when the Bills made it a point to run the ball, teams had a hard time stopping the two. It’s just that they refused to run it consistently.
So if the Bills weren’t using James Cook in the running game, they must have used him in the passing game, right? They had to have used the short passing game as an extension of their running game, right? Wrong.
Cook only had 21 receptions in 16 games. He had 180 receiving yards (8.6 yards/reception) and one receiving TD.
Cook finished the regular season averaging 5.7 yards/carry which was T-2nd best in the NFL amongst RBs with at least 20% of the league’s highest volume. He finished with 507 yards and 2 TDs on just 89 carries. His 507 yards ranked 39th and his 89 handoffs ranked 49th. It’s absurd how OC Ken Dorsey and the Bills didn’t try to use his skillset more. There are not 48 other RBs who are better than James Cook.
Look at the Chiefs, who just won their second Super Bowl in four years. They have a plug-and-play type of system, maximizing the talent of every player on their roster. I specifically find it interesting how they used their SEVENTH ROUND draft pick, Isiah Pacheco.
It’s infuriating how the Bills failed to utilize the talent that they had this season. I really don’t have any further explanations — the offensive line wasn’t the best this year; the Bills are a pass-heavy team; Cook was just a rookie trying to get a grasp on the NFL lifestyle and the Bills’ playbook — But you shouldn’t be reluctant to use certain players in certain situations, especially someone like Cook. You can’t hold back when the window is open.
Another player who the Buffalo Bills underutilized this season was Nyheim Hines. The 26-year old RB who ran a 4.38 40-yard dash was the big mid-season acquisition to AGAIN help the Bills add a dynamic weapon out of the backfield. But AGAIN, the Bills refused to use him.
Hines finished the season with 11 touches on offense… ELEVEN. In his seven games with the Bills, he had 6 rushes for -3 yards; he also added 5 receptions for 53 yards and a TD. Again, I can’t even begin to explain how this makes sense.
Whenever they were questioned on it, Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane said that while they wanted to use Hines more on offense, it takes a while for players to get acclimated and up to speed with their playbook, but c’mon… you mean to tell me that you can’t figure out a way to get the ball to the guy who you traded for (and gave up Zack Moss and a fifth-round pick for)? Hines didn’t even average one handoff and one reception per game. (0.9 handoffs and 0.7 receptions to be exact.)
I know they valued Nyheim Hines for special teams, but how hard is it to give him a couple of handoffs here and there, or a screen pass, or a dump off? What happened to trying to make things easier on Josh Allen? Just run the simple plays that are easy to grasp but hard to defend.
The fact that Cook and Hines combined for just 26 receptions this season just absolutely blows my mind.
The Buffalo Bills have to get some sort of short game going next year if they want to finally take that next step. That doesn’t mean they have to become a run-heavy team. But they need to be able to run the ball consistently to stay balanced and to take the pressure off of Allen, especially towards the end of the season when the weather gets bad.
And if they’re too reluctant to run the ball that much more, then they at least have to implement a short passing game. Because I think I speak for everybody here… I will lose my mind if Dorsey has Allen chucking deep balls to Gabe Davis every week again. I never want to see a box score like this again when the Bills have a double-digit second half lead. (This is referring to the Vikings game when the Bills had six active RBs but only ran the ball seven times in the second half while leading by 14.)
The Bills have a lot of tough decisions to make over the next few weeks, with a lot of them coming at RB. Will they re-sign Singletary? Do they sign or draft someone to compliment Cook and Hines? Should they move on from Nyheim Hines and his $4.8 million cap hit?
No matter what the Buffalo Bills decide to do with the RB position this year and who is in the room in September, they have to learn how to utilize them properly.
James Cook Final Grade: B+
Nyheim Hines Final Grade: B-
Featured Image: Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports