In this series, I’ll be taking a look at receivers who appear considerably undervalued at their current ADP and present an attractive risk/reward proposition for prospective owners. The prior article in this series took a look at Steelers WR Diontae Johnson and can be read here for those interested: https://fantasyfuru.com/2020/06/26/cheap-receivers-diontae-johnson/
To help with the selection process, I’ve decided to incorporate some basic criteria. First, I’m only targeting receivers ranked outside the top 40 in terms of ADP in dynasty and redraft formats. Consequently, it should be understood that I’m not anticipating WR1 or even consistent WR2 production. That is simply unrealistic. Instead, I’m hoping to achieve solid WR3 production with situational upside for more. Second, I’m looking at players aged 28 and younger. The reason for this is purely selfish as I prefer dynasty formats and like to acquire players with a longer theoretical shelf life. Additionally, these low cost players can see a dramatic spike in their value if they hit while our downside is fairly limited. Third, I’m looking at receivers with a clear path to both snaps and targets. More specifically, those who are at worst third on the depth chart and saw at least a 60% snap share (Sample size >8 games) last season.
As the title indicates, this article will examine Brandin “The Suitcase” Cooks. At present, Cooks is the WR44 in dynasty formats and WR37 in redraft. Sadly, it puts Cooks outside my selection criteria in redraft however, I would still feel comfortable taking a gamble on him in the high 30’s as his elevated risk comes with a greater potential reward.
The answer to this question isn’t as simple as it was for other players featured in this series. In large part, this is due to the number of risks and increasing skepticism surrounding Cooks as he enters the 2020 season. Understanding these risks is essential to making an informed decision on Cooks and therefore merits a closer look.
The primary risk associated with acquiring Cooks is his growing history of concussions. For context, he has 5 documented concussions in his 6 NFL seasons. It’s both sad and unfortunate these have become so prevalent for Cooks and helps remind us of the risks assumed by professional football players. Consequently, there’s a real possibility that one bad hit could jeopardize a large portion of his season or worse. If this is something that terrifies you (which is fair) as a prospective owner, I would advise turning your attention elsewhere as the remainder of Cooks’ career could be volatile.
Second, Cooks now finds himself on his 4th NFL team in the past 5 seasons. When receivers change teams, they typically see a minor decline in production during their first year with the new team. Furthermore, this decline becomes more probable as the receivers ADP falls further from WR15. The silver lining here, is that Cooks has managed to surpass the 1,000 yard mark in each season following a trade.
Finally, Cooks was a major disappointment when he was on the field last season. It would be hard for anyone to argue with that statement, and I’m evidently dumb enough to try. Was last year the beginning of the end? Or was it just a blip on an otherwise impressive career? Right now, he’s being priced as if it’s the former and that’s exactly what’s piqued my interest.
To start, Cooks is only 26 years old and won’t turn 27 until the end of September. Historically, wide receivers enjoy their most productive seasons at the ages of 26 and 27. This places Cooks squarely in his prime from an age perspective. Provided he remains healthy, he could experience a dramatic rise in value as the season progresses. For those feeling uneasy about his long term health, this development could also provide an attractive out.
Additionally, Cooks has been an extremely productive receiver throughout the majority of his career. For reference, take a look at his receiving numbers through his first six seasons.
Outside of last year and his rookie season, Cooks finished as the WR14 or better in four consecutive seasons and on three different teams. A fair criticism would be to point out that Cooks did so with the help of some excellent QB play. Luckily, he now pairs up with the exceptional Deshaun Watson.
Lastly, Cooks will be stepping into an offense where he has a clear path to snaps and targets as the leading candidate to replace DeAndre Hopkins. It’s unrealistic to expect him to command the massive 30.9% target share that Hopkins did but, I expect an increase on his 18% career average.
When trying to determine what 2020 has in store for Cooks there are a few areas I’m specifically focussing on. First, what kind of fit he’ll have with Deshaun Watson. Second, his place among the Texans receivers and within their offense. Third, exogenous factors that could act as a tailwind for Cooks this season.
Fit with Watson
How a receiver fits with their QB is a relationship essential to their success. When it comes to Cooks, trading Goff for Watson is a major upgrade. Why is Watson such an upgrade? For starters, Watson has been a much better quarterback than Goff throughout their NFL careers. Moreover, Watson has had considerably more success than Goff when it comes to throwing the deep ball. As an added bonus, he also attempted a whopping 50% more deep passes than Goff did last season (81 vs 54). In fact, only 35% of Cooks’ deep ball targets were even deemed catchable in 2019 whereas Texans receivers benefited from a 57% clip.
As an established deep threat with 4.33 speed, this comes as good news for Cooks. Throughout his career, he’s thrived when it comes to getting the most out of each target. With an uptick in volume and an improved QB situation, we should assume this bodes well for his fantasy prospects.
This offseason, Cooks and Watson have been putting in the time and effort to get together for throwing sessions. While this doesn’t mean a lot, it’s certainly a positive in what has been a wild offseason to say the least.
By changing receiver rooms, Cooks will go from competing with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, to Will Fuller and Randall Cobb. As a result, he’ll immediately step in as an every down receiver who has a glorious opportunity to become Watson’s #1 target in the passing game. Looking back, we see Hopkins led the NFL over the past three seasons with a combined 487 targets or 162.3 per year. While we shouldn’t expect Cooks to soak up all of those targets, it’s very possible he sees 75% of them. If that’s the case, it puts Cooks on pace for his second highest target total in a season at 121.8.
When analyzing Cooks’ competition for targets we need to project his role among Cobb, Fuller and Stills. Starting with Cobb, we needn’t worry much as he plays the majority of his snaps (86.4% last year) from the slot and won’t necessarily be in direct competition with Cooks. The question becomes, how does Cooks fit alongside Fuller and Stills? Those who balked at the Cooks trade cited the redundancy of adding another deep threat to a team that already featured two. Of the two, Fuller is the bigger threat from a talent perspective but has struggled mightily with drops and injuries of his own. Currently, he’s recovering from core muscle surgery and projects to be ready for training camp. Moreover, Fuller has never played a full season in the NFL and if he were to be sidelined again it would lead to more targets for Cooks. When healthy, I expect Fuller and Cooks to start on the perimeter and see a 60/40 target share in favor of Cooks. Of the two, Cooks is the more polished route runner and could parlay that into a consistent role in the intermediate passing game.
I’ll keep this section brief as these tailwinds don’t stem directly from elements under Cooks’ control. As a result of the impending uncertainty, we shouldn’t overweight them.
When looking at Cooks’ indoor/outdoor splits, we get the following numbers:
While not a major difference, Cooks enjoyed a 10% increase in yards per game and a 7% increase in his catch rate indoors. Next season, he’ll play 10 of his 16 regular season games indoors.
Another tailwind for Cooks should be the ineptitude of the Texans defense. Last season, they ranked 28th in yards against per game, 29th in passing yards against per game and last in yards per play. During the offseason the Texans did very little in terms of addressing this unit and as a result should find themselves in a number high scoring affairs next season.
Finally, there’s the fact that coach/GM extraordinaire Bill O’Brien gave up a second round pick for Cooks this offseason. As someone who probably doesn’t want to face any more scrutiny than he has in recent months, O’Brien’s the type to force feed an acquisition in hopes of justifying it(David Johnson, anyone?).
To summarize, Cooks is not for the faint of heart. While his upside as a member of the Texans is considerable, his downside is equally so. For those who have the stomach, the situation in Houston is fantastic. In 2020, Cooks will be stepping into a featured receiving role, an improved QB situation and less competition for targets. If the stars align for him in 2020, he could easily come away as one of the biggest steals of fantasy drafts and be a key contributor on championship rosters.