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Bills rookie review: James Cook heating up

The second-round pick escapes the doghouse

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills were on the right side of a 27-17 result on Sunday Night Football as the Green Bay Packers tried to keep themselves in the game via the run game. The Bills’ offense didn’t particularly fire on all (or any) cylinders in the second half coming off their bye week. But it was enough to force their way to a victory. Multiple players had their hand in the jar of this win—including several rookies.

CB Kaiir Elam

There weren’t a lot of opportunities for Elam to make plays in this game, given the Packers only completing eight total passes to receivers. He made two tackles and visually seemed to give up a reception or two. But it was a relatively quiet day—that tends to be a good sign for any corner.

The most fascinating aspect of Elam’s performance on Sunday came from his snap counts. Fellow rookie Christian Benford seems to be at full health, but it was Elam claiming the majority of snaps (38) over Benford (28). It seems the coaching staff appreciated Elam taking advantage of his opportunity with Benford removed from the lineup.

RB James Cook

This was so new from Cook as a pro. In the first half, he played nearly, if not all, of the Bills’ entire third touchdown drive late in the second quarter. Cook rattled off runs of 17, four, and seven yards on that drive. That, alone, was an encouraging development for the second-round pick who had not been asked to touch the ball in non-garbage time in multiple weeks. Cook later had a 41-yard reception in the second half.

Cook is shaking off his early season rookie rust—often called the “post-bye rookie bump.” He might be headed towards more touches with what he did on Sunday night against a very tough defense. Cook only played 15 snaps on Sunday, but the way he was utilized was what stood out in a big way. Cook performed very well in limited action.

LB Terrel Bernard

The Bills played nickel 100% of the snaps in this game, with Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano remaining on the field the entire game. The Packers ran the ball for over 200 yards, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. Playing nickel on that many snaps proved to be an interesting decision for defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier. Though it didn’t end up costing the Bills, the Packers’ offense stayed on the field a lot longer than one would have expected entering the game. Bernard played zero defensive snaps on the day.

Bernard doesn’t seem to have that opportunity to play, considering the level Edmunds and Milano are playing at. Bernard continues to be a non-factor as a third-round pick.

WR Khalil Shakir

There is still a lot to like about fifth-round selection Shakir, despite not registering any offensive statistics on Sunday. Shakir has been a sound presence in fielding punts for the Bills since the preseason. He had one opportunity for a return, and he gained 17 yards on said return.

It’s possible the Bills have Shakir on the Gabe Davis plan where he is little-used despite multiple bright flashes at points in the season. Shakir played 17 snaps in Week 8, while Isaiah McKenzie received 31 reps. There was some thought that Shakir could unseat McKenzie for some snaps this week after McKenzie put up a disappointing performance in Week 6. But that wasn’t the case. McKenzie made several nice plays in this game to continue fending off the rookie for now.

CB Christian Benford

Benford played 28 defensive snaps compared to Elam’s 38. He didn’t get any reps on the first two series, but then was involved entering the second quarter. Similar to Elam, Benford was very quiet in this game. He did have one tackle, but there wasn’t much good or bad to remark in this performance. Tre’Davious White’s return is imminent. What happens from there will be fascinating to monitor.

LB Baylon Spector

Spector was inactive in this game. He continues to be an on-again, off-again inactive candidate. He isn’t a part of the plan for the Bills in 2022 despite promising preseason play and snaps in mop-up duty.