What could James Cook’s workload look like as RB1? 23 Buffalo Bills questions for ‘23

Wild Card Weekend 2023: Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins

Buffalo Bills running back James Cook (28) celebrates after his touchdown during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)AP

Bills fans have a lot of questions heading into the 2023 season. Over the next few weeks, we’ll tackle 23 of those questions. Got something you want answered? Email rtalbot@nyup.com.

Today: What could James Cook’s workload look like as RB1?

James Cook is confident that he will be the Buffalo Bills’ No. 1 running back in 2023. Following a rookie season in which he rushed for 507 yards and two touchdowns on 89 carries (5.7 YPC), Cook said he was “obviously RB1″ on The Rich Eisen Show.

“Obviously, RB1,” Cook told Eisen. “So you know, just come in and do what I do. Change the game with my versatility. Catching the ball out of the backfield. Pass blocking. Just try to do what I can do to help the team win games and ultimately win the Super Bowl. RB1 is running back one, so you know I’m going out there first obviously. I’m ready to work. This is a big step and a goal that I wanted to accomplish in the NFL. Just do what I can do to help the team win games.”

Cook could be the first back on the field every week this season, but that does not mean he’s necessarily in line to take the bulk of the carries in Buffalo’s offense.

Since Sean McDermott took over as head coach, here is a look at the team’s No. 1 back and how many carries they received.

2017: LeSean McCoy - 287 carries in 16 games (18 carries per game)

2018: McCoy - 161 carries in 14 games (11.5 carries per game)

2019: Frank Gore - 166 carries 16 games (10.4 carries per game)

2020: Devin Singletary - 156 carries in 16 games (9.8 carries per game)

2021: Singletary - 188 carries in 17 games (11.1 carries per game)

2022: Singletary - 177 carries in 16 games (11.1 carries per game)

McCoy is the outlier as the only back to have well over 200 carries. Since 2018, Buffalo’s No. 1 back has averaged about 10 or 11 carries per game. Cook received about 5.6 carries per game on average in 2022 so he could get around double his workload on the ground if the numbers remain true.

Josh Allen has obviously played a role in limiting the team’s backs to under 200 carries since 2018, but so has a running back by committee. Based on the team’s depth chart, there is no reason to believe that Buffalo will go away from this approach in 2023 with Damien Harris, Nyheim Hines and Latavius Murray all potentially getting some work in season.

Cook is certainly in line for a boost in carries if he emerges as the No. 1 back on the team, but it will still be a far cry from what many top backs receive across the league.

Receiving is another area where Cook could get more touches. The second year back was viewed as the top pass catching back in the 2022 draft class, but finished with just 21 receptions for 180 yards and one score on 32 targets. Cook could see a decent boost in this area with 52 targets being vacated by Singletary alone entering the season. Hines and Murray could also get some touches as receiving options based on past production, but Cook being the first back on the field would garner him more opportunities.

At 10-11 carries per game and around 60 targets in the passing game, it’s not unrealistic to think that Cook could finish with over 1,000 total yards on offense in his first season as RB1.

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