ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — In a draft widely viewed as lacking high-end talent, the Buffalo Bills were in good position to do what they did in the second round Friday night.
No reaching was required, just as was the case Thursday night when they parted with a fourth-round pick to move up two spots to land Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam, their lone need-position selection.
On Friday night, the Bills went for luxury, choosing Georgia running back James Cook, and traded down twice in the second round to do it. They also stuck to their draft grades by taking Baylor linebacker Terrel Bernard in the third round.
“We just kind of followed the board,” General Manager Brandon Beane said.
Cook’s greatest asset, as he told reporters on a Zoom call, is “versatility.” He can be as effective catching the ball as he is running it, an element that would figure to provide a bit more explosiveness to what already is one of the best offenses in the NFL.
“He’s kind of like a receiver in his own way,” Beane said. “This is a guy that really stood out to us with the ball in his hands. … We see his best skills as a sub-back, but he can handle carries, too.”
“I can line up out wide and make the deep threats and take the deep shots and go deep,” Cook said. “And scoring touchdowns. That’s what they need: a touchdown-maker.”
How much Cook, younger brother of Minnesota Vikings standout running back Dalvin Cook, will upgrade a Bills ground game in need of improvement is debatable. For now, he looks like someone who will compete with Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, creating a backfield that mixes power, speed, elusiveness and game-breaking skill through the air.
“He’ll have to learn a little bit more about the pro game protection-wise, (but) he’s smart football-wise,” Beane said of Cook.
Cook helped the Bulldogs win a national championship last season. In 2021, he led them with 1,012 all-purpose yards, 728 rushing and 284 receiving on 27 catches. He ran for seven touchdowns and caught four TD passes.
However, the Bills’ attraction to him came with a clear understanding that, despite originally owning the 57th overall pick, they could still get him later. So, they traded with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to go No. 60, then traded with Cincinnati to select Cook with 63rd overall choice. In the process, the Bills added a pair of sixth-round picks, giving them a total of four for Saturday.
Cook’s exuberance was unmistakable. He knows he’s joining a Super Bowl contender and an offense that should offer opportunities for him to be a play-maker.
“I really wanted to play with Josh Allen,” Cook said. “That’s a good fit for me. He’s a great quarterback coming up in the league. He’s a franchise quarterback, so I’m just looking to build and get in the building and get ready to work.”
At 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds, Bernard doesn’t offer ideal size for the NFL. Matt Milano doesn’t, either, but he has proven himself as someone with excellent game-changing skills and a knack for taking the ball away.
Bernard is a long way from proving as much, and if he has any chance of making the roster, it will likely be on special teams.
“He’s super smart,” Beane said. “We like his versatility. Super instinctive. He can blitz anybody. He’s a fun player to watch. If you’re criticizing him, he’s an undersized linebacker. … That’s why Terrel was available (with the 89th pick).”
Before the draft, Moss worked out with Singletary in South Florida. Cook already has visions of the two of them making an impact.
“Me and Motor are the one-two punch,” he said. “We’re going to shock the world. We’re going to try to compete for the Super Bowl and win it.”