Brandin Cooks might have been the biggest name to change teams this offseason in a move where the rich got a little richer. The New England Patriots acquired the third year receiver for the 32nd overall pick in April’s draft. It was a move that has further elevated the Patriots as the favorite to repeat as Super Bowl Champions in the eyes of many, but the fantasy implications of the move remain far less clear.
Cooks ADP heading into the season is 3.02 (12 team/PPR). He is currently the 11th WR coming off the board in drafts and finished last season as the 10th ranked WR. At first glance, this seems like fair value for Cooks, who is only seeing his ADP drop a few spots from a year ago (2.11) despite going from the second most pass heavy team to the 23rd.
Cooks gets the reputation as being boom or bust receiver but he has actually been remarkably consistent over the past two seasons. He has strung together back to back years with 75+ receptions, 1,100+ receiving yards, and 8+ touchdowns. Not bad right?
Now, entering his fourth NFL season at only 23-years-old, Cooks has the opportunity to build on that production while catching passes from arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game. So what’s not to like? Let’s examine the case for AND against Brandin Cooks as someone you should own this year in fantasy.
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The Case For
Upside and Potential
At 23 years old, Cooks is far from a finished product. He’s only played in the NFL for three seasons and has been a top 15 fantasy wide receiver for two of them.
The Missing Piece to the Puzzle
He joins a receiving core that desperately lacks speed and playmaking ability. Edelman, Hogan, Mitchell, and Amendola may be one of the best receiving groups in the league but none of them possess the speed or ‘take the cover off the defense’ ability that Cooks has.
Cooks 15 YPC last year was higher than any Patriots receiver besides Hogan (17.9) but Hogan only caught 38 passes and received just 3.6 targets per game. Despite playing in 83 percent of the snaps. In other words, Cooks fills a void the Patriots haven’t had for years, which is a receiver who can take the lid of the defense while not being relegated to pure ‘boom or bust’ status.
Being Slightly Undervalued
Value is critical when forming an opinion on a fantasy player. Cooks is currently being drafted behind the following players:
• Todd Gurley
• Leonard Fournette
• Marshawn Lynch
Now, of course, those are just three players with second round ADP’s, but could anyone in their right mind take any of them over Cooks? Gurley finished the year as the 16th best running back in fantasy. However, he failed to produce a single top 10 week and plays for one of the worst offenses in football. Lynch is 31 years old, sat out the entire 2016 season and hasn’t been effective since 2014. Fournette is a rookie, with injury concerns and plays for the Jaguars who finished 23rd in the NFL in rushing yards per game.
My point is, these are some of the players that people are going to be over drafting. If you can get Cooks in the beginning of the third round, you could do much worse.
The Case Against
Tale of Two Passing Attacks
As prolific and efficient of an offense that New England is, New Orleans offense was more fantasy friendly for wide receivers. The Saints were first in passing yards and second in passing attempts while the Patriots finished 3rd in passing yards and 23rd in passing attempts. Additionally, New Orleans finished first in completions with 472, while New England finished 16th with 368. That is 104
Additionally, New Orleans finished first in completions with 472, while New England finished 16th with 368. That is 104 fewer completions! This kind of high-volume passing attack, helped Cooks put up great numbers despite having a target share percentage of just 18.6 percent. Which leads us to…
Too Many Cooks In the Kitchen
Cooks 18.6 percent target share, while extremely low, was just second on the Saints. He was second to only Michael Thomas, who had a target share of 19.4 percent. That is a stark contrast to Julian Edelman’s 2016 target share of 29.3 percent. In fact, Edelman and Gronkowski (while healthy) combined for 43.7 percent of New England’s target share. On the other hand, Thomas and Snead (Cooks’ only real competition) combined for just 36.4 percent of New Orleans total target share.
When you take a close look at these numbers, it is hard to ignore the possibility that Cooks might see a reduction in target share percentage in an offense that throws less to begin with. Cooks was one of only three WR1’s last year that had a target share of under 20 percent. It is tough to imagine that being easy to repeat. The margin for error was narrow for Cooks last year, and it might be even narrower this year.
There is No Place Like Dome
Although I would place it lower on the list of reasons to not draft Brandin Cooks, it is hard to completely ignore the success he has had in the New Orleans Super Dome, and his overall home/road splits. Here are his home stats compared to his stats on the road over the past two seasons.
Home: Rec: 78 Yards: 1,280 TD’s: 11
Away: Rec: 84 Yards: 1,031 TD’s: 6
Cooks surprisingly has had a few more receptions on the road than at home over the past two seasons. However, he had fewer passing yards and almost half the amount of touchdowns on the road than he had playing at home in the dome.
The contrast between the two isn’t exactly dramatic. With that said it is worth considering that half of his road games every year are either in a dome (Atlanta) or in warm weather cities, (Carolina, Tampa Bay) by virtue of playing in the NFC South. If that isn’t enough, did you know Brandin Cooks has never even played an NFL game in temperatures below 55 degrees?
In the AFC East, he will play eight games a year in cold weather Gillette Stadium and will have to travel every year to other cold weather cities like Buffalo and New York.
I think Cooks is a good but not great option as a third round target. His upside will ensure that he warrants consideration in the third round depending who is still on the board. Although Lynch, Gurley, and Fournette are all going ahead of him, the flip side of that coin is that there are also players going behind him that might be better options. Two examples of this are Deandre Hopkins, and Lamar Miller (depending on roster construction).
Could he finish as a top ten fantasy receiver for the third year in a row? Of course. In fact, no one would probably be surprised. But the move from New Orleans to New England is a volatile one. It makes the decision to draft or pass on Cooks one of the hardest choices fantasy owners will have to make this year.