Few running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft class possess the versatility Georgia's James Cook has within his arsenal. An athletic dual-threat running back that made the most of his opportunities in 2021, Cook is an excellent pass catcher who projects as a potential three-down bellcow at the next level.
Cook was a big part of the Bulldogs' offense this past campaign and helped Georgia end a 42-year National Championship drought. A natural pass catcher, Cook totaled a healthy 67 receptions at Georgia. Cook's athletic abilities were on display at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran a blazing 4.42 in the 40-yard dash and leaped a 124-inch broad jump.
Cook recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network regarding his dream 2021 season at Georgia, winning a National Championship, the biggest lesson his brother Dalvin Cook ever taught him, his abilities on third down, and so much more.
JM: You helped Georgia end a 42-year National Championship drought in 2021. What's your biggest takeaway from that Championship team? I'm specifically looking for something you'll always remember.
JC: I just think back to the brotherhood and connection we had as a team. We really came together as a unit. For a lot of the guys, we knew that was our final season. We came back for one year to do something special together. We wanted to go out with a bang, and the only acceptable ending was to win a National Championship. We left the program in a better state. I’ll forever be thankful for the brotherhood and connections we created.
JM: You took a huge step forward this past season, recording career highs in essentially every statistical category by accounting for 1,012 total yards of offense and 11 touchdowns. What changed for you in 2021?
JC: I made the most of my opportunities when they came. I put the work in. I made everything work for itself really. I went out there and made every opportunity count, every carry or target thrown my way count. I got after it.
JM: Running backs must impact the passing game in today’s league and you might be the best pass catcher among all running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft. You recorded 67 catches at Georgia. How did you develop that aspect of your game? Talk to me about your overall abilities as a pass-catcher.
JC: I’ve worked on catching the ball every single day for as long as I can remember. It’s all about repetition. I catch balls after practice. I’m always working on my ball skills. I try to run great, crisp routes. I try to make myself an available target for my quarterback. You have to play a role in the passing game nowadays. Like you said, that’s huge. You better be able to do it all in the NFL. That’s how you can sustain a long career for yourself. That’s why I’ve always wanted to improve my game as a pass catcher, and I believe I’ve done just that through repetition.
JM: You certainly did. You’re also a very patient runner on film. How did you develop that trait?
JC: That’s just something that happened naturally over time for me. I watch a lot of my own film and I don’t mind self-critiquing myself. I pay close attention to my own mistakes on film and I aim to correct those issues the next time I take the field. I face those mistakes head-on. I’ve been blessed to where my film study translates to the game. I look for the little things that can help improve my game.
JM: You’ve done a great job self-correcting. Talk to me about Georgia’s offense, and how playing in their offensive scheme helped prepare you for the next level?
JC: It helped me a lot, tremendously really. I was getting coached by a bunch of coaches that came from the NFL, coaches with a bunch of NFL experience. We essentially ran an NFL system. We practiced like NFL teams do. That’s how we collectively approached the game. It gave me an understanding of how the next level works. That’s the Georgia mentality. We ran a pro-style offense.
JM: You were terrific at the NFL Scouting Combine. You ran a 4.42 in the 40 and your broad jump result of 124 inches was also excellent. Do you think you surprised some people in Indianapolis?
JC: If I didn’t, then I don’t know what they expected from me (laughs). There’s more to come from me. If they doubted me or my athletic ability, there’s more to come. All in all, I think I did a tremendous job at the combine. All of the work that I’ve put in throughout the pre-draft training process paid off. Seeing my efforts come to light at the combine was extremely rewarding. It was awesome.
JM: Have you met with many teams virtually, or via Top 30 in-person visits throughout the process?
JC: I had top 30 visits with the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, and Denver Broncos. I had Top 30s with all of those teams. I visited a lot of cities and built some excellent relationships. I’ve met with a bunch of others virtually as well.
JM: There’s a lot of interest in you and it’s easy to see why. You were very much involved in a timeshare in the backfield with Zamir White. How do you think that experience can serve you well going forward?
JC: I mean, it’s something I’ve already done. I’m used to it. A lot of NFL teams prefer to have two or three running backs nowadays. I understand what that’s like because I’ve already played in that sort of system and rotation. It doesn’t bother me. I’m looking forward to playing at the next level in whatever situation I find myself in. I’m excited to attack the process. I enjoyed playing next to Zamir White. It was actually a lot of fun. I enjoyed cheering him on and watching him score. I’ll be the same type of great teammate at the next level.
JM: What’s the biggest piece of advice your older brother Dalvin Cook ever taught you?
JC: I’ve been playing football my entire life. He taught me to be myself no matter what. He told me to stick to the course, and to trust my process.
JM: You had so many great teammates at Georgia, but I’m going to put you on the spot. If you were going to war tomorrow and could only bring one with you, who would you choose and why?
JC: I would bring them all with me (laughs). I’m bringing all of them, man. All kidding aside, if you’re going to make me choose one, I’d bring Travon Walker with me. He’s a dog at the end of the day. He always stays true to himself.
JM: He sounds like a terrific teammate. I've really appreciated your time today. I feel like this conversation has highlighted exactly why James Cook is one of the best running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft. What kind of impact is James Cook going to make at the next level?
JC: James Cook is going to make a big impact.