The Titans Should Trade Their 18th Overall Pick for Brandin Cooks
This is intriguing. Not just because we all love fantasy football and wide receivers are a big part of the game, but because Cooks himself is sort of a polarizing player. Some point to his size as a long-term concern -- he may never be a true top receiving weapon in an offense -- while others look at the fact that he's averaged 81 catches, 1,155.5 yards, and 8.5 touchdowns per season during his second and third seasons in the league. And that's good.
Oh, and he's only 23 years old.
Both Tennessee and Philadelphia make sense as possible destinations -- they struggled at the position this past year, subjectively and objectively. But the Titans are especially noteworthy for two reasons: it's been reported that they're ready to spend money at the position this offseason, and they also have two first-round picks in this year's draft.
Seems like a good match, right?
Cooks the Player
My goal here isn't to show you that Brandin Cooks is a full-blown stud, because I'm not even sure Cooks is a full-blown stud. I know he's good, though.
Only six players in NFL history have caught more passes than Cooks by age 23. And only six have more receiving yards. Regardless of his situation -- a very good situation -- that's impressive.
According to our Net Expected Points metric (or NEP, which you can read more about in our glossary), Cooks, over the last three years, has added more points (expected points) for his team than all but 22 NFL wide receivers. And those aren't three peak NFL seasons for Cooks -- those were his first and only three years in the league.
It's not like this is new for Cooks, either. During his final season at Oregon State, he had a 39.12% receiving yardage market share while seeing fewer than 29% of the team's targets. And he ended up on the receiving end of 45.71% of the team's passing touchdowns.
Not bad for a little guy.
You can point to his quarterback play, the fact that he plays in a dome (his home-road splits show some variance), and that he often disappears in tough matchups. I won't argue any of that.
But my goal here isn't to show you that Brandin Cooks is a full-blown stud, because I'm not even sure Cooks is a full-blown stud.
I know he's good, though.
So let's just run with that assumption rather than getting into semantics over Cooks the player: Cooks is a top-30ish wide receiver in football (I'm sure plenty would put him higher) when you remove the situation.
Overrating the Draft
You could assume one potential trade offer would be the 18th overall pick straight-up for Cooks. That allows the Titans to obtain Cooks all while still having a pick -- a better one -- in the first round.
At first glance, that may look awful. Why would a team give up a top-20 pick for a player like Brandin Cooks?
The answer, honestly, is because you probably value the 18th overall pick more than you should.
Years ago, Chase Stuart developed a Draft Value Chart that took ProFootballReference.com's Approximate Value (AV) metric and associated it with each draft slot. In essence, he looked at all players drafted at a particular spot, and found how those players produced at the NFL level within the AV metric. (You can read more about Approximate Value here.)
At first, Stuart looked at the AV for players across their entire career, but he later noted that the method didn't seem accurate, as players don't usually play for one team throughout their whole career. So, instead, he's analyzed the AV of players over their rookie contracts, or the first five seasons of their career.
The 18th overall pick, according to Stuart's chart, has an Approximate Value of 16.2. This is after removing 2 points of AV from each season of a player's career, as 2 AV is nothing extraordinary -- this evens things out a bit.
Over Cooks' career, he's produced 25 points in Approximate Value. Removing 2 points from each season brings us to 19 points, which, without even playing two more seasons of football, places Cooks ahead of the 18th overall pick in Approximate Value.
In other words, Cooks has already been more valuable than the 18th selection, and he still has two more seasons to add to that value.
Now, this is a really rough way of doing things, but it puts things into perspective. There's real confirmation bias that occurs when we analyze things in sports like the NFL Draft. We remember the good things that have happened to strengthen an already-established feeling towards something.
Of course the first overall pick is better than the second overall pick, and the second overall pick is better than the third overall pick. But just a quick glance at Stuart's graph in his Value Chart shows a steep slope -- a big drop-off -- when you move away from the top picks in a draft.
To put this another way, if the Titans were to hypothetically draft Corey Davis or Mike Williams 18th overall in this draft to fill the position in need (consensus top-two wideouts), it's not as though either one of those players is a lock to be successful at the NFL level.
I mean, take a look at wideouts that have been selected 10th through 32nd in the NFL Draft over the last 10 years, sorted by career Approximate Value per game (sample-size alert for the 2016 rookies).
|Year||Pick||Player||Career AV||Career AV per Game|
Though the players above will make you say, Oh my God, I forgot he was a person, forget about that for a second and look at Cooks, who's 5th among the 28 wide receivers in the sample in Approximate Value per game. What we're seeing here is that, among wideouts drafted around that 18th overall pick, Cooks has performed far better than the average.
Of course, a metric like Approximate Value isn't the end-all to a football argument. It has its flaws. Drew Brees has been Cooks' quarterback. Cooks has played in a dome. Cooks has been in a pass-first offense.
That would be the risk side of taking on Brandin Cooks. What if he disappears in a run-first offense? What if he really doesn't play as well outdoors?
Well, what if Corey Davis and Mike Williams are average? What if they play to the level of -- gasp -- Jonathan Baldwin?
What if Corey Davis and Mike Williams aren't even available to be drafted at the 18th overall pick?
And then there's the flip side of things. When players are drafted, we get excited about potential. Because, at that moment, they have all the potential in the world. That's exciting.
The crazy part about Cooks, though, is that he's still just 23 years old, meaning we may not have seen his peak in the NFL just yet. We're not talking about a 28-year-old wideout here.
The biggest reason a team like Tennessee wouldn't (or shouldn't) do this trade is because of money. But they'd still have the 2017 season and a potential fifth-year rookie option to work with.
They also have the safety net of Brandin Cooks already proving to be a valuable asset at the NFL level. That's just not the case -- even if we think it's the case, as I do with Corey Davis, especially -- for NFL Draft picks.
Because when it comes to NFL Draft picks, we think we know more than we actually do.