Inside new Bills RB James Cook's draft party: A crazy phone call and a proud older brother
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — James Cook III tried his best to listen during the most important phone call of his professional career.
But as soon as his family and friends saw him answer his phone, they could barely contain themselves.
The Buffalo Bills drafted Cook, a running back from Miami who won a national championship at Georgia last season, Friday night with the 63rd pick of the 2022 NFL draft.
“I’m just ready to get the work in and play football again,” Cook told USA Today Sports+ during his draft party. “It’s a dream come true, hearing my name called. It’s something I’ve dreamed of and it came true. I’m blessed.”
BILLS DRAFT PICKS 2022:Round-by-round selections
Cook pressed his phone close to his ear. He even tried to settle the living room down so he could hear the Bills front office staff on the other line. If he appeared upset on the television broadcast, that’s why.
Everyone was too ecstatic and overjoyed. They knew Cook just achieved his lifelong dream. And it was time to celebrate.
No one was more excited than Minnesota Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook, who watched his brother drafted in the second round just like he was five years ago.
“My little brother is the right definition of just working hard and putting your head down, and going and getting what you deserve,” Dalvin said. “Now, he’s a Buffalo Bill and I’m just happy. I get to say, ‘Me and my brother are second-round picks.’”
Their mother, Varondria White, matched Dalvin’s energy, jumping for joy with her sons once James told them he was joining the renowned Bills Mafia.
James, still on the phone, had a Bills hat placed on top of his dreadlocks. He hugged his mother and called for his baby boy, James IV, to be beside him when the NFL announced his name.
Baby James couldn’t help but cry at all the commotion, which was captured on national television and already going viral on social media as the Bills’ announced their pick.
“I just changed his life,” James said, glancing over at his son.
When the live hit was over, James shed a few tears himself.
“I’m just ready to play football at the end of the day, and win a Super Bowl,” James said. “As long as I do what I gotta do, everything is going to be alright.”
When the second round began at 7 p.m. ET Friday, two running backs were taken within the first nine picks, starting a run at the position that James and his representatives — Zac Hiller, Matthew Leist and Eric Dounn of LAA Sports and Entertainment — wanted to see.
Still, James had to wait for 22 more picks before hearing his name called.
And there’s only so much a 22-year-old on the cusp of his NFL dreams can do waiting for the moment.
So, he posed for plenty of photos and videos with friends and family. He said hello to others wishing him well on FaceTime.
He waved off a plate of chicken and fried rice, disappointed there was no shrimp, while two hibachi cooks fired up their grill on the backyard patio.
And he checked both of his cell phones often, controlling the party’s playlist on one phone, while checking his messages and social media on the other.
Meanwhile, his older brothers Deandre Burnett, 28, and Dalvin, 26, helped keep the draft party’s energy up by serving drinks and carrying conversations.
Dalvin also pulled his little brother close, trying his best to give some timely advice as they waited.
As for their mother, her nerves were still high, but she had more patience this time around.
White was disappointed when Dalvin did not go in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft, as some expected after a stellar career at Florida State. But during that draft, Dalvin reassured her. He was OK waiting because he knew he was going to get drafted.
For this draft, White tried her best to roll with the punches. But it didn’t help when James often asked how many picks were remaining in the second round.
“I knew he wanted to go in the second round,” White said. “He kept asking, ‘How many picks left? How many picks left?’ And he made me so nervous.”
Now, White has plenty of planning to do when the NFL schedule is released.
She must pick only one of her sons’ games to go to on Sundays. The last four years, she sometimes would be in Georgia on Saturdays and Minnesota on Sundays.
“I’m ready for the cold. I do the cold now in Minnesota anyways,” White said. “I can’t even put into words how happy I am. I’m speechless.”
One game already is circled – whenever the Vikings visit the Bills. Dalvin quickly mentioned the possibility after James got the call.
“I’m gonna beat him,” James said emphatically. “We’re enemies now.”
The Bills traded back twice during the second round — from pick No. 57 to No. 60, then to No. 63 — targeting James to bolster Buffalo’s backfield.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane told Buffalo reporters he likes the youngest Cook’s ability to both run the ball and catch it fluidly.
James will join Buffalo’s backfield full of fellow South Florida standouts, such as Devin “Motor” Singletary, Zach Moss and Duke Johnson. He will also take handoffs and catch footballs from dynamic Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
“This was a guy that really stood out to us with the ball in his hands,” Beane said of James, who averaged 6.5 yards per rushing attempt, caught 67 passes for 730 yards and had 20 total touchdowns at Georgia.
“This is only the beginning,” James said. “We’re going to build from here.”
Cook’s agents were thrilled their client landed in Buffalo with a team they feel he can prosper at the next level.
“That’s a place James dreamed to go to,” Leist said. “Bills Mafia is lucky to have him.”
“It’s an incredible fit as far as the running back room and that system. I’m so happy for him and his family,” Dounn said. “And his oldest brother is the happiest one in the room."
As the draft party continued into the night, the mood changed from exhilaration to appreciation.
Dalvin led a prayer outside on the patio, where the family rejoiced. He finished the prayer praising his late father, James Jr., who died in December 2020.
James honored his father by wearing a customized pendant on his chain, which features a photo of them together when James was in high school.
“I know he’s looking down right now smiling,” Burnett said. “James got his name. That's his namesake. He’s looking down smiling, happy for him. We’re all happy. He’s making him proud, and that’s all that matters.”