Player Spotlight: Brandin Cooks

A detailed examination of Brandin Cooks' fantasy prospects for the 2015 season.

Brandin Cooks was selected by the New Orleans Saints with the 20th overall pick in the 2014 draft.  The Saints wasted no time integrating Cooks, and it was clear he was going to contribute immediately, but was also set to become Drew Brees’ #1 receiver; eventually. Through 10 games, Cooks delivered solid results – but his numbers weren’t particularly eye-popping.

  • 69 targets
  • 53 receptions
  • 550 receiving yards
  • 10.4 yards per catch
  • 73 rushing yards
  • 4 touchdowns

A broken thumb ended Cooks’ season and, as a result, he finished the year as the 58th ranked fantasy receiver. Perhaps more shockingly, Cooks was ‘only’ the 10th best rookie receiver last year.

A Receiving Class for the Ages

Typically, if a rookie receiver finishes 10th in his class, it’s cause for concern about any long-term potential as an elite fantasy asset. Yet, the 2014 receiver class was anything but typical.  Most NFL observers believe the 2014 rookie class will go down as one of the best, if not THE best, classes in history.

2014 Rookie Receiving Class, Ranked by Fantasy Points (PPR)

RankNameGmsRushRuYdsRuTDRecsRecYdsRecTDFPTs
1 Odell Beckham Jr 12 7 35 0 91 1305 12 293.5
2 Mike Evans 15 0 0 0 68 1051 12 245.1
3 Kelvin Benjamin 16 0 0 0 73 1008 9 227.8
4 Jordan Matthews 16 0 0 0 67 872 8 202.2
5 Sammy Watkins 16 2 8 0 65 982 6 199.2
6 Jarvis Landry 16 2 -4 0 84 758 5 189.8
7 Martavis Bryant 10 3 12 0 26 549 8 128.9
8 Allen Hurns 16 0 0 0 51 677 6 154.7
9 John Brown 16 3 -6 0 48 696 5 147.6
10 Brandin Cooks 10 7 73 1 53 550 3 126.0
11 Taylor Gabriel 16 3 2 0 37 629 1 105.9
12 Allen Robinson 10 0 0 0 48 548 2 114.8
13 Donte Moncrief 16 4 17 0 32 444 3 94.4
14 Davante Adams 16 0 0 0 38 446 3 100.6
15 Corey Brown 13 8 95 0 21 296 2 62.6

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

Cooks’ 10th place finish is misleading, because his broken thumb cost him the final six games of the year. Looking at the 2014 rookie class on a fantasy points per game basis paints a more optimistic picture for Cooks:

RankNameGmsRushRuYdsRuTDRecsRecYdsRecTDFPTsPPG
1 Odell Beckham Jr 12 7 35 0 91 1305 12 293.5 24.5
2 Mike Evans 15 0 0 0 68 1051 12 245.1 16.3
3 Kelvin Benjamin 16 0 0 0 73 1008 9 227.8 14.2
4 Martavis Bryant 10 3 12 0 26 549 8 128.9 12.9
5 Jordan Matthews 16 0 0 0 67 872 8 202.2 12.6
6 Brandin Cooks 10 7 73 1 53 550 3 126.0 12.6
7 Sammy Watkins 16 2 8 0 65 982 6 199.2 12.5
8 Jarvis Landry 16 2 -4 0 84 758 5 189.8 11.9
9 Allen Robinson 10 0 0 0 48 548 2 114.8 11.5
10 Allen Hurns 16 0 0 0 51 677 6 154.7 9.7

Cooks finished in a virtual tie with Jordan Matthews for 5th place.

Thinking of this another way, pro-rating Cooks’ rookie numbers over a 16-game schedule yields:

  • 110 targets
  • 85 receptions
  • 880 receiving yards
  • 5 receiving TDs
  • 117 rushing yards
  • 2 rushing TDs
  • 223 fantasy points (PPR)

Cooks’ pro-rated 223 fantasy points was good enough for a top 18 finish in each of the last five seasons:

YearImplied WR Rank
2014 WR17
2013 WR18
2012 WR18
2011 WR16
2010 WR18

In other words, if Cooks shows ZERO improvement in his second season – but stays healthy – he’s a rock solid fantasy WR2 in PPR formats.

IMPACT OF THE SAINTS NEW BALANCED APPROACH

The Saints haven’t tacitly acknowledged plans to reshape their offensive approach, but their offseason actions point toward a commitment to a more balanced run/pass ratio.Trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks

  • Acquiring C Max Unger from the Seahawks
  • Trading Kenny Stills to the Dolphins
  • Drafting OT Andrus Peat in the 1st round
  • Re-signing RB Mark Ingram to a new 4-year contract
  • Signed RB C.J. Spiller to a 4-year contract

Some of the reticence about projecting Cooks for a breakout relates to the idea that New Orleans plans on running the ball more, but those fears are massively overblown. Even if we buy into a more balanced approach (and we do), the Saints were starting from an extreme pass/run ratio.

YearPassAttsRushAttsPas%Ru%
2014 659 406 61.9% 38.1%
2013 651 391 62.5% 37.5%
2012 671 370 64.5% 35.5%
2011 662 431 60.6% 39.4%
2010 661 380 63.5% 36.5%
Avg 661 396 62.6% 37.4%

Even if we’re to assume the Saints throw the ball 10% less this year, the team is still going to be in the 600 attempt range over the full season.

BREAKING DOWN THE TARGETS

As we’ve already noted, the Saints made the conscious decision to let go of Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills. They accounted for 208 targets last season. But those aren’t the only targets missing from the 2014 passing tree.

  • Jimmy Graham – 125 targets
  • Kenny Stills – 83 targets
  • Pierre Thomas – 55 targets
  • Travaris Cadet – 51 targets
  • Robert Meachem – 20 targets
  • Total – 334 targets

Even if we assume the Saints throw the ball 600 times (down from a 5-year average of 661 times), there are still more than 334 targets – or more than 50% of Drew Brees’ attempts – that need to be accounted for. Is Marques Colston going to get more than 100-120 targets (he had 100 last year)? Is C.J. Spiller going to see more than the 80-100 targets that were earmarked for Thomas/Cadet last year? Cooks could EASILY see 100 more targets in 2015; that would be 100% in-line with the % of use a team’s #1 target would garner.

Positives

  • Cooks was given a starting role (as an outside receiver) immediately, and will be Drew Brees' top outside target in 2015
  • Even if the Saints seek a more balanced run/pass rate, the Saints still must replace more than 300 targets from last season (Graham, Stills, et al...)
  • Drew Brees remains one of the league's most accurate and prolific passers

Negatives

  • Before Cooks' injury, he showed little explosiveness -- averaging just 10.4 yards per reception
  • With Graham and Stills gone, and Colston a year older, opposing defense will key on Cooks
  • The Saints offensive line has to improve for the team to return to elite status

Final Thoughts

Last year's plethora of dynamic rookies combined with Cooks' thumb injury obfuscated what should be one of the most compelling Year Two players to target in 2015. Cooks is a dynamic route runner with good hands, and already has the trust of his quarterback and play-caller. He's 100% healthy and steps into a role that assures him of consistent targets regardless of game script. Cooks points-per-game equated to a mid-level fantasy WR2 last year (WR16-WR18) -- that should be considered his floor. A dollop of natural progression and a 16-game schedule all but assure Cooks ascendance into fantasy WR1 territory. Cooks has 100+ catch upside and should be a priority at his current ADP.

Projections

YEAR GRSHYDTDTARGRECYDTDFumL
2014 NO 10 7 73 1 69 53 550 3  
2015 PROJ-Dodds 16 7 56 0   88 986 7 0
2015 PROJ-Henry 16 10 90 0   86 1000 6 0
2015 PROJ-Wood 16 0 0 0   88 1150 7 0
2015 PROJ-Tremblay 16 8 48 0   93 1041 6 1

Thoughts from Around the Web

Jason Hirschhorn of SB Nation highlights Brandon Cooks as a 2nd year breakout candidate:

Cooks enters camp as a starting receiver in an offense that will target him often. If he remains healthy, the Oregon State product will serve in as a deep threat, slot receiver and perhaps a running back à la Randall Cobb.

ProFootballFocus' Mike Clay recommends targeting Cooks thanks to his catch rate efficiency:

Brandin Cooks’ rookie-season 8.5 average depth of target was much lower than Stills’ 14.3 career mark, so the former’s 86 percent on-target mark is more justifiable. Stills and Cooks are terrific players, but this is clear evidence of Brees’ massive impact on the production of his receivers. Find ways to invest in Cooks, Marques Colston, Nick Toon, and even Brandon Coleman this year.