Bills running back James Cook is a man of few words and isn't one to show his emotions. In interviews, Cook is quick to praise his teammates instead of himself, oftentimes in a succinct manner.
"I bother him a little bit and he talks really low so even if you are around him, you won't really hear him speak. It's crazy," jokes Stefon Diggs.
Buffalo's second-year breakout player has been asked several times over the last two years what his hobbies are outside football. He answers that his favorite Friday nights are ones spent on the couch with his family and daughter.
Cook — who players affectionately refer to as 'Jimbo' — is an enigma. Most of his teammates don't know a lot of personal details about the 24-year-old running back, yet he's one of the most beloved guys in the locker room. The birth of Cook's daughter in late September almost went undetected, had it not been for Diggs who shared the news with the media.
"He's a good friend," Diggs said of Cook. "He has some personality, he just won't show it to everybody. I like it that way."
"It's okay to smile"
If you take a poll of the Bills locker room about what comes to mind when they think of James Cook's personality, the answer is pretty unanimous: His Instagram page.
One day after a practice in December, Bills WR Gabe Davis sat at his locker with his phone and went through Cook's Instagram. "He doesn't smile in any of his photos," Davis laughed. "When it comes to cameras, he's camera shy like a mother——."
Davis scrolled to a picture in particular with Cook and his brother Dalvin.
"Look, here his brother is smiling," Davis pointed. "And now look at James."
Naturally, the younger brother has a blank expression on his face.
"I think the best part about James that I'm not even there for is just his nonchalant Instagram," said 6-foot-8 right tackle Spencer Brown. "I'm like 'Dude, come on. Give me a smile, it's okay to smile."
He added: "That's his personality every day."
Whether intentional or not, Cook's teammates get a kick out of his laid back marketing campaigns. It's a locker room-wide inside joke at this point.
"Aye yo I'm tired of this no smilin '😂," Davis commented on an Instagram post back in May.
A family man
During the 2022 season, wide receiver Khalil Shakir probably spent more time with Cook than anybody on the roster. Shakir and Cook were roommates their rookie years the night before every Bills game, home and away.
At the team hotel in Buffalo, they roomed together. The same was true for when the team went on the road.
"Yeah, he's quiet. He's quiet, but he cares about the people around him," Shakir said.
From the moment the two bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rookies got acquainted with one another, Shakir could tell there was more than meets the eye with his draft class teammate.
"Just the way he carries himself as a professional, the way he works," Shakir shared. "In the weight room, he gets in everything he needs to get done, he's the hardest worker in there."
When the team would get settled into their hotel the night before a game, one of the very first things Cook did was check in with his family, sometimes on FaceTime, other times in person when they were going to be attending the game the next day.
"He's a family man first," Shakir said. "He's always on the phone with his family making sure everybody is alright. Everything that he does for them, it's amazing."
Shakir feels that he and Cook's personalities are quite similar in regards to their soft-spoken nature. The two connected on a new level with each other when the team had to stay overnight Christmas Eve last season in Chicago right after clinching the AFC East. The winter storms in both Buffalo and Chicago delayed the Bills' trip back to Buffalo until Christmas morning.
"We were able to bond more just by being around each other more right before Christmas last year," Shakir said. "People know me as a quiet person, you know Cook as a quiet person. Getting to know him more and more every single week."
He added, "Now just to see him accomplish that goal as a Pro Bowl running back, and he has so much more left in the tank, it's just something to look up to."
"That's when Jimbo really comes to life"
Amid a breakout season, Cook has branched out with his friendships on the team and has found a position group outside of his own that he considers family.
"Jimbo really enjoys hanging out with the big guys," left tackle Dion Dawkins said.
'Big guys' of course refers to Buffalo's offensive line group. It's not common that a second-year running back spends his free time with members of the O-line, but they have taken Cook into their core group and he's become one of their own.
"That's one of the things that I admire the most about Jimbo," he said. "He tells us that we are the reason for his success. Like, he says 'if I succeed or if I fail. I'm gonna be with you guys'."
Dawkins shared that he'll often have the linemen over to his house for meals, card games, cornhole and video games. He always makes sure Cook gets the invite.
"When the guys are hanging out, that's when Jimbo really comes to life," Dawkins said with a grin.
Dawkins is one of the few people that gets to see Cook smile and in his own element because of how often they are around each other, describing their offseason adventures last summer to New York City, Toronto and Miami as "awesome" bonding experiences.
"When he smiles. He's basically telling us that he's his true self that he's just happy and full of life," Dawkins said.
Game day Jimbo
It's only fitting that the most smiling and emotion that players and coaches see from James comes on game days.
"There's Jimbo and then there's Game Day Jimbo," Spencer Brown said.
All of the emotion that doesn't get used on the other six days of the week, gushes out of Cook when he steps onto the football field.
"To us it's normal that he's under his emotions, but I think inside he's just building and building and building," Brown shared.
Cook has two go-to celebrations for touchdowns this season. One involves a front flip into the end zone, the other is jumping head on into the stands filled with Bills Mafia during home games. It's a shocking sight for Cook's teammates to see the RB willingly throw himself into the crowded stands.
"If you get Jimmy to start showing emotions and screaming, it's gonna be a long day for everybody else because it doesn't happen a lot," Brown said.
Cook's success on game days is a direct translation to his preparation off the field, at least that's what Bills running backs coach Kelly Skipper notices. Because of Cook's quiet disposition, Skipper gets the running back to talk by quizzing him on the game plan or the play book.
"You always ask him questions," Skipper detailed. "The big thing about James is he's always on top of it. You know that he's in his playbook spending time at night doing extra. I think you see the overall growth in him come to fruition."
There's been multiple times this season when Skipper has posed questions to the running back room during team meetings leading up to a game and Cook is the first one to speak up and answer.
"I think once you get James to talk, and his personality comes out, he'll start smiling. So he's fun to be around," Skipper said.
Players and coaches alike have taken notice of Cook's work ethic this season. He finished the year sixth in the league in total scrimmage yards (1,567) and fourth in rushing yards (1,222). Cook was named to the 2024 NFL Pro Bowl and is the youngest offensive player on the AFC starting roster.
"Guys are trying to find their way in this league and he definitely found his way," Gabe Davis said. "Now he's a well-known running back."
The many names of James Cook
Depending on the day, James Cook gets referenced in many different ways.
There's 'Jimbo', 'Himbo', 'Game day Jimbo', and of course just 'James'.
"I call him 'Lil' 4'," added Diggs, who played with older brother Dalvin aka 'Big 4' in Minnesota.
'Jimbo' became a staple in Cook's rookie season, courtesy of his quarterback Josh Allen.
"It's 'Jimbo' Cook. Unless he does something good. Then it's 'HIMbo' Cook," Allen explained in December of 2022 on Kyle Brandt’s Basement podcast.
When Allen said that a year ago, it was coming off one of Cook's best games of his first NFL season where he caught his first TD pass in a snowy win over the Dolphins at home. Nearly a year later, Cook rattled off a career-high 221 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in a 31-10 win over Dallas. It was the most scrimmage yards the Cowboys had given up to a single player since Calvin Johnson (323 yards) in 2013.
Allen was asked postgame by Fox’s Erin Andrews why the team had been able to pull off a dominant win.
His response: "Let James Cook."
So, 'Let James Cook' was added to the repertoire that night, even catching Sean McDermott a bit off guard a couple days later when a beat reporter asked him about Josh Allen stepping up the week prior against the Chiefs and then "letting James Cook cook" against the Cowboys.
"That was cute," McDermott smirked at the question. "I'm a bit thrown off right now. So I'm trying to rally here."
McDermott collected himself and continued, "it's just really the players that are needing to make the plays when the opportunity comes up. They're stepping up. And James, the prior week, as you mentioned."
Shakir summed up what it means when people say 'Let James Cook'.
"It's exactly what it means," Shakir said. "It's like when the chef is in the kitchen, you let him do his thing. When 4 is on the field, let him do his thing."