Brandin Cooks is a polarizing player for dynasty owners. Some love him (see @hjchami and @RekedFantasy) and others think he’s sorely overrated. For those who missed the news, the Los Angeles Rams just recently signed Cooks to a five year $80 million extension, taking their total investment in Cooks to six years and $88 million, according to NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
One of the main criticisms raised by Cooks’ doubters is that he is now on his third NFL team in five seasons, but when you examine the situation, he has been a victim of circumstance rather than being ‘unwanted’. Each time Cook has moved teams, he has been traded for a significant asset, and each time he has been acquired by an elite offense (not that kind of elite, Joe).
The Patriots gave up the 32nd overall selection to acquire Cooks before the 2017 season, from New Orleans and then traded him (plus a 4th round pick) to the Rams for the 23rd overall selection and a 6th round pick this past season. That’s just good business, especially when the Patriots would have needed to secure Cooks on a long-term contract as the Rams have. Paying wide receivers big money is just not the Belichick way, so it was no surprise to see him traded.
Now the Rams have made their intentions known. Even though there are other pressing contract issues, including that of Aaron Donald, they have made Cooks once of the highest paid wide receivers in the NFL. Where NFL franchises choose to splash the cash is just one of several points of reference we as dynasty owners have to help everyone to understand how teams feel about certain players (parting with first round picks is another…). It’s also noteworthy that the Rams are able to cut Robert Woods in 2019 with no dead cap consequences, per Spotrac. Before long, Cooks might establish himself as one of the top wideouts in the league.
Even though he has faced challenging circumstances (e.g., the emergence of Michael Thomas, moving to a new team), Cooks has consistently produced. He has posted three consecutive seasons of 1,000-yards receiving and at least 7 touchdowns. Despite seeing a year-to-year decrease in targets, his yards per reception has found a way to increase.
That efficient production has resulted in fantasy finishes of WR13, WR9, and WR15 in PPR scoring over those three seasons, respectively. He has also tallied the 11th most receptions, 7th most yards, and 6th most touchdowns in the NFL over the same period. Cooks produces. So why the doubters?
An argument against Cooks as a top fantasy asset is that his end of season numbers are pretty, however, his weekly fantasy production is just too volatile. Is this true?
He is currently being drafted 37th overall and as the WR18. Let’s contrast him with the two other WRs who are being drafted before him – TY Hilton the WR17, and Doug Baldwin the WR16.
Over the past three seasons, Cooks has more finishes than either Hilton or Baldwin as a top 12, top 24, and top 36 WR, and fewer finishes outside the top 36. Cooks will turn 25 around the same time Baldwin turns 30. As Hilton will turn 29 years old a few months later, I know which player I want on my roster.
While Cooks does have the potential to have his down weeks, on any given week he has WR1 and matchup-winning upside. As long as you are not depending on him as your primary wide receiver, and your team is strong in other areas, you should feel confident starting him week in and week out. The down weeks shouldn’t necessarily kill you. The move to LA only reinforces my confidence in Cooks.
Los Angeles Rams offense
The Rams were the highest scoring, and arguably the best offense in the NFL last year. Sean McVay led a revolution in Los Angeles, breaking Todd Gurley and Jared Goff out of their Jeff Fisher-shaped prison.
Cooks is now the WR1 in McVay’s offense. In his four seasons of NFL coaching, his teams’ WR1 has averaged a target share of 18.5%. By using Peter Howard’s great analysis of offensive market share, we can see that Cooks’ had a market share in New England of 19.6%. However, 2017 the Rams lost 21% of their total passing targets and 26.9% of their offensive air yards. The opportunity for Cooks to see 20% market share in a high-powered offense is a very possible outcome.
Last year, the Rams had a run/pass split of 56% to 44% (23rd in the NFL in passing) for a total of 595 attempts (Sharp Football Stats). If we assume a similar ratio (given the defensive additions of Suh, Talib, and Peters), Cooks would see 119 targets at a possible 20% market share. Using his catch rate, yards per reception, and touchdown rate from the past three seasons, you can reasonably project Cooks to post 1,100 yards, 8 TDs, and 75 catches. Approximately 233 fantasy points, which was good enough to finish as the WR10 in 2017.
By no means do I profess to be a projections expert, but I hope this exercise paints the picture that a WR1 finish is definitely within Cooks’ range of outcomes. Cooks is an solid receiving talent with a proven production history. He’s joining a HC/OC in Sean McVay who has already gained a reputation as one of the most efficient and effective in the NFL. And rightly so. That is a recipe for success as far as I am concerned.