Is Brandin Cooks A Recipe for Fantasy Success?

A detailed look at Brandin Cooks fantasy prospects for 2020

This article is about a 12-minute read.

Is Brandin Cooks Your Recipe for Fantasy Success?

Is there a harder receiver to accurately forecast than Brandin Cooks? Cooks is a study in contrast. He’s been a No. 1 receiver on three teams, but also deemed expendable by three of the NFL’s best head coaches. His per-target production is elite, but he’s always played with top-tier passers. He’s coming off a terrible season but is stepping into a fantastic new situation. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and drafting Cooks as a No. 1 fantasy receiver would be fraught with risk. Fortunately, most of the fantasy community has given up on him; his ADP paints Cooks as a low-end WR3. Therein lies the opportunity. A lot of the worries would need to materialize for Cooks to finish as a low-end WR3, but it won’t take anything more than a most-likely scenario to unfold for Cooks to be among the best draft values.

  • Four top-12 fantasy seasons in six years
  • Traded to a team needing to replace 160+ vacated targets
  • Playing with (yet another) elite quarterback
  • A depressed ADP thanks to an uncharacteristically bad 2019

A Stellar Pedigree

The New Orleans Saints drafted Cooks in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft; he started seven games as a rookie and put up respectable numbers (53 receptions, 550 yards, and 3 touchdowns). Like many receivers, things clicked in Year 2, and Cooks produced at a Pro Bowl level, and followed it up with another monster year in Year 3.

  • 2015 (Year 2) – 84 receptions for 1,138 yards and 9 touchdowns
  • 2016 (Year 3) – 78 receptions for 1,173 yards and 8 touchdowns

The New England Patriots, coming off a Super Bowl victory after a 14-2 season in 2016, traded for Cooks in the offseason. Bill Belichick, known as a bargain hunter, gave up a first-round draft pick for Cooks’ services to pair with Julian Edelman and give Tom Brady his first dynamic downfield threat since Randy Moss. Cooks delivered on the field, yet again.

  • 2017 (Year 4) – 65 receptions for 1,082 yards and 7 touchdowns

Despite a good year, Belichick traded Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams for a first-round pick – basically recouping what he paid for the young receiver the prior offseason. After three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Cooks was due for a big raise, and Belichick was unwilling to pay the market price. The Rams felt differently, and acquired Cooks and promptly signed him to a 5-year, $81-million contract that included $49 million guaranteed. In his first year in Los Angeles, it was more of the same.

  • 2018 (Year 5) – 80 receptions for 1,204 yards and 5 touchdowns

Through five seasons, Cooks forged a remarkable resume.

Season
Team
Games
Targets
Receptions
Yards
Y/R
TDs
Rank
VBD
ADP
2014
New Orleans
10
69
53
550
10.4
3
58
36
2015
New Orleans
16
129
84
1138
13.5
9
12
46
12
2016
New Orleans
16
117
78
1173
15.0
8
8
44
14
2017
New England
16
114
65
1082
16.6
7
9
44
10
2018
LA Rams
16
116
80
1204
15.1
5
12
49
20
  1. Four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons
  2. 1,000-yard seasons for three different teams
  3. Four consecutive top-12 fantasy finishes

The 2019 Debacle

Just when Cooks seemed like a high-floor, reliable commodity, the wheels came off last season.

  • 2019 (Year 6) – 42 receptions for 583 yards and 2 touchdowns

The Rams were among the most disappointing teams of the season. After finishing first and second in points scored in Sean McVay’s first two seasons, LA fell to 11th. Even though the team was 4th with 4,499 passing yards, Jared Goff’s efficiency was awful; the threw 22 touchdowns (19th in the league) against 17 interceptions. The running game went from a top-10 unit to a bottom quartile unit. Nothing went particularly well, and the defense – vaunted by reputation – failed to bail out a less potent offense. For his part, Cooks was a shell of his normal self because of multiple concussions. He suffered two concussions in a 25-day period, which understandably cast a pall on his snap count and confidence when he was active.

Yet Another Trade

Coming off a disappointing season, McVay and the Rams front office jettisoned every veteran contract they could, at considerable cost in terms of dead cap space. The Rams cut Todd Gurley and incurred $20.2 million in dead cap, which was second only to the Steelers pain from cutting Antonio Brown the prior year. Days later, Los Angeles sent Cooks and a fourth-round pick to the Houston Texans in exchange for a second-round pick in the draft. In doing so, the Rams ate $21.8 million in dead money – setting a new NFL record.

The Pessimistic View: Three Well-Run Organizations Didn’t Want Brandin Cooks

It’s one thing for a player in their prime to be traded. It’s another to be moved three times in six seasons. Pessimists argue that something must be wrong with Cooks because Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, and Sean McVay – three of the league’s best – didn’t want him. And he’s ended up on the Texans, a team that doesn’t have a General Manager, and thought it wise to trade DeAndre Hopkins in his prime for a running back, just a year after giving up major draft capital for another running back.

The Optimistic View: Cooks Keeps Fetching Massive Value

While it’s true Cooks was deemed expendable by three winning organizations, it’s not like he’s been passed around for pennies on the dollar. The Saints got a first-round pick for him. The Patriots got a first-round pick for him. The Rams gave Cooks a massive contract and recouped a high second-round pick for him.

Fantasy Points per Target – Does Cooks’ Edge over Hopkins Matter?

The majority of football pundits agree DeAndre Hopkins is better than Cooks. But fantasy success derives from a confluence of ability and opportunity; and Hopkins has been targeted an ungodly amount throughout his career.

DeAndre Hopkins Target Data (2013-2019)

Season
Games
Targets
Tgts/Game
2013
16
91
5.7
2014
16
127
7.9
2015
16
192
12.0
2016
16
151
9.4
2017
15
173
11.5
2018
16
163
10.2
2019
15
150
10.0
Total
110
1047
9.5

Hopkins has been targeted 9.5 times per game. Cooks, on the other hand, has averaged 7 targets per game during his career and was targeted just 5.1 times last year while managing through his concussions.

Brandin Cooks Target Data (2014-2019)

Season
Games
Targets
Tgts/Game
2014
10
69
6.9
2015
16
129
8.1
2016
16
117
7.3
2017
16
114
7.1
2018
16
117
7.3
2019
14
72
5.1
Total
88
618
7.0

Would it surprise you to learn Brandin Cooks has been the more productive fantasy receiver, on a per-target basis?

Name Years Tgts Recs Yds YPR TDs FPTs FPT/Tgt
Brandin Cooks 2014--2019 617 402 5730 14.3 34 1179.0 1.91
DeAndre Hopkins 2013--2019 1038 632 8602 13.6 54 1816.2 1.75

But is that a fair comparison? After all, Cooks has caught passes from two Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Drew Brees and Tom Brady) and a solid starter in Jared Goff, while Hopkins had a revolving door of mediocrity in his early years before Watson established himself.

DeAndre Hopkins Quarterback Breakdown

Quarterback
#Starts
Passer Rating
38
101.0
14
78.0
12
81.6
10
85.3
9
82.5
9
72.5
8
89.5
6
66.8
4
70.7
1
76.0
Total
111
86.8

Brandin Cooks Quarterback Breakdown

Quarterback
#Starts
Passer Rating
42
98.4
30
91.9
16
97.0
Total
88
95.9

Yes, there’s no doubt DeAndre Hopkins was hamstrung by bad quarterbacking for the first half of his career. But let’s look compare Hopkins points-per-target with Watson to Cooks’ career marks.

Player
Years
Targets
Recs
Yards
YPR
TDs
FPts
FPTs/Tgt
2014--2019
617
402
5730
14.3
34
1179
1.91
2018--2019
313
219
2737
12.5
18
600.7
1.92

Eureka! They’re nearly identical. Hopkins was as productive with Watson as Cooks has been with Brady, Brees, and Goff. And Watson has a higher career passer rating than Brees, Brady, or Goff (especially Goff). In other words, Cooks is transitioning from a series of high-caliber quarterbacks to another elite signal-caller. Yet, most fantasy pundits expect a downtick in productivity. Why?

Targets, targets, targets

If Brandin Cooks can be a perennial top-12 fantasy receiver averaging 7 targets per game, why is everyone acting like he’s going to a bad situation in Houston? The Texans vacated 160 targets per game by trading Hopkins.

Are you worried Cooks won't be the No. 1 receiver? Let's look at the alternatives:

  • Will Fuller V -- The incumbent has chemistry with Watson, clearly. But he's missed 22 games in four seasons, is already an established part of the offense (his role doesn't take away from Cooks just like it didn't take away from Hopkins), and is a one-dimensional deep threat
  • Kenny Stills -- Joined the Texans last year, and caught just 40 passes in 13 appearances and five starts
  • Randall Cobb -- Another new addition, Cobb spent one season in Dallas before signing with Houston. Cobb will be the Texans slot receiver and will be on the field in 3-WR sets. It's hard to believe Cobb is a threat considering he hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiving season since 2014
  • Keke Coutee -- Coutee makes Will Fuller V look like an iron man. He's played just 15 of 32 games in two seasons, and may not make the final roster

Scrutinize the Texans roster and point to where Hopkins targets go, if not to Cooks. Even if you don’t think Cooks gets the same target share Hopkins did, he still is a good bet to be a fringe fantasy No. 1. In order to buy into Cooks’ current ADP, you have to think he will play much worse than he ever has and see far fewer targets than the Texans No. 1 receiver has traditionally gotten during Bill O’Brien’s tenure. Maybe you’re willing to bet on that worst-case outcome, but I wouldn’t.

Potential Fantasy Point Scenario Matrix

Targets
Fantasy Points per Target
1.70
1.75
1.80
1.85
1.90
1.95
2.00
90
153
157.5
162
166.5
171
175.5
180
100
170
175.0
180
185.0
190
195.0
200
110
187
192.5
198
203.5
209
214.5
220
120
204
210.0
216
222.0
228
234.0
240
130
221
227.5
234
240.5
247
253.5
260
140
238
245.0
252
259.0
266
273.0
280
150
255
262.5
270
277.5
285
292.5
300

Cooks is currently being drafted 34th among receivers, on average. In the last five seasons, WR34 has averaged approximately 175 fantasy points. In other words, Cooks would need to see an 8% drop in his fantasy production per target AND see his total targets fall to about 100 -- which would be 20% less than his typical season and 40% fewer looks than Hopkins got in the same role. Is this possible? Sure. But is it likely? Of course not. On the other hand, if Cooks maintains his career 1.91 fantasy points per target average (remember -- Hopkins was at 1.92 with Watson), and sees his usual 120 targets, he'll score approximately 228 fantasy points, which would make him a top-20 receiver in each of the last five years.

  • 2019 -- WR17
  • 2018 -- WR16
  • 2017 -- WR11
  • 2016 -- WR16
  • 2015 -- WR18

Now, imagine if Cooks garners Hopkins entire target share? You're looking at a top-10 receiver, for the price of a mid-round WR3.

STATS AND PROJECTIONS

Season
Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Targets
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumL
2017
New England
16
9
40
0
114
65
1082
7
2018
LA Rams
16
10
68
1
116
80
1204
5
2019
LA Rams
14
6
52
0
72
42
583
2
Season
Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Targets
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumL
2020
14.8
3
13
0
59
808
4.5
0.5
2020
14
6
30
0
58
820
5.0
0.0
2020
14
5
30
0
78
1075
6.0
0.0
2020
Maurile Tremblay
16
0
0
0
64.9
875
4.2
0.6

Final Thoughts

Is Brandin Cooks as talented as DeAndre Hopkins? Probably not. Is Cooks coming off a dismal season? Yes. Is it weird that three teams, all with great head coaches and winning programs, viewed him as expendable? Certainly. But even all those curiosities don't justify the disrespect Cooks has received this draft season. He's being drafted as a lower-end WR3. That's inexcusable unless you know something about Cook's post-concussion health that the Texans, his doctors, and Cooks don't. How many other receivers have delivered four consecutive top-12 fantasy seasons? Much less do that playing for three different teams, catching passes from three different quarterbacks, and learning three different playbooks. Unlike most veterans who change teams, we don't have to question whether Cooks can adapt. He's been an elite producer changing teams multiple times. Cooks benefited from catching passes from Tom Brady and Drew Brees, but it's not like Deshaun Watson is chopped liver. He has a better passer rating than either of those future Hall of Famers, and more importantly -- he's MUCH better than Jared Goff. Cooks steps into a high-volume role, with an accurate, elite passer, and little viable competition for targets. As long as he's healthy -- and he and the team insist he is -- Cooks is one of the best values on the draft board at any position.


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