Brandin Cooks Shouldn't Be Your Top Fantasy Football Receiver This Year

Cooks is joining the Patriots' fantasy-friendly offense, but he shouldn't be drafted as your number-one fantasy receiver.

Common sense would say that a wide receiver joining a quarterback as excellent as Tom Brady is would be in a prime position to benefit rather substantially.

But we all know the New England Patriots can be a fantasy football headache.

Plus, in the instance of Brandin Cooks' departure from the New Orleans Saints to the Pats, the quarterback upgrade is about as minimal as you can get.

That hasn't stopped fantasy football drafters from placing a late-second- or early-third-round points-per-reception (PPR) price tag on Cooks, per FantasyFootballCalculator, however. That makes him the 11th receiver off the board.

Can Cooks really live up to that hype with his new team?

Cooks' Past Production

Cooks was the WR10 in PPR formats last season and the WR13 in 2015. That much checks out. He was even the WR21 as a rookie by points per game (WR56 overall) in the 10 games he played in 2014.

Of course, baked into that is the fact that Cooks plays half his games at the Superdome in New Orleans. Now, discrediting what he's done because of that is silly, but looking at what he's done outside his home stadium does make some sense while trying to figure out what he can do with his home stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Cooks will travel to the Superdome with the Pats in Week 2, but he'll have 15 other games outside the fantasy haven in New Orleans. That could impact his production a smidgen, based on his career splits.

Brandin Cooks CareerTarRecYardsYards/TarYards/RecTDTD%

For some added context, Cooks' 10.15 yards per target would have ranked second among 41 receivers with 100 or more targets last season, and his 14.81 yards per catch would have ranked seventh. His touchdown rate (touchdowns per target) would have sat fourth. That's spicy.

His road numbers would have ranked him 26th, 32nd, and 16th, respectively. That's not quite so good.

Here's a clearer example: Golden Tate (on 135 targets) averaged 7.98 yards per target and 11.84 yards per catch, and Steve Smith (101 targets) averaged 7.91 and 11.41, respectively. Tate was the WR17 last year in PPR formats, and Smith was the WR22 in PPR points per game among receivers with at least 14 games played.

That's not terrible by any means, but it's not WR11 ADP worthy. And it's not the hyper-efficient production Cooks produced with at home -- with Drew Brees, of course.

A Change of Scenery

We can also look at Cooks' production in terms of dome games versus road games to see if it's more that he plays better indoors or simply at home.

Brandin Cooks Career Tar Rec Yards Yards/Tar Yards/Rec TD TD%
Dome 185 128 1,785 9.65 13.95 14 7.57%
Outdoors 87 60 694 7.98 11.57 4 4.60%

It's a bit of both. He outpaces his road marks pretty substantially, but his overall dome efficiency isn't quite as super as his Superdome efficiency (I'm sorry).

And, I can't reiterate this enough: he's not experiencing a significant quarterback upgrade by any means. Since 2014, Brees has averaged an adjusted yards per attempt rate of 8.00, and Brady has notched a rate of 8.29.

Less to Go Around

As weird as it is not to think of joining Tom Brady's offense as an obvious upgrade, it's also a little strange to think that leaving New Orleans' spread-the-wealth philosophy wouldn't lead to a more certain market share. But that's still the case for Cooks.

You can absolutely make the case that Cooks is a better athlete than Julian Edelman is, but there's something to be said for the rapport between Brady and Edelman and for the fact that he's commanded at least 24% of the team's targets in each of the past four seasons.

Additionally, around 24% of Brady's passes last year went to running backs during the regular season, and roughly 21% were to tight ends, even with Gronkowski banged up.

Round all of those to 20%, and you're looking at 40% of the team's attempts to go around. Brady's past three years have been played at a 16-game pace of 597 attempts, and we project him for 603. That gives us 240 targets to work around.

As a starting point, slot Cooks in for 20% as well for 120 targets. Then there are 120 to go around between Chris Hogan, Dwayne Allen, Malcolm Mitchell, and the other tangential options. Sure. That's pretty thin, but sure; let's go with that.

In the past five years, just two receivers have finished as a WR15 or better in PPR leagues with fewer than 120 targets: Doug Baldwin in 2015 (when he scored 14 touchdowns on 103 targets) and Cooks last year (WR10 on 117 targets, 78 catches, 1,173 yards, and 8 touchdowns).

Now, 20 of these 75 seasons did come on 130 targets or fewer, but just 4 of those came with fewer than 8 touchdowns.

Since Gronkowski joined the Patriots in 2010, a New England receiver has scored more than 7 touchdowns just once (Wes Welker had 9 on 173 targets in 2011 during a WR2 season).


It might not even be so much that there are the more proverbial mouths to feed in the new offense that really does Cooks in, especially if you think Cooks' ability lets him surpass Edelman as the definitive secondary option behind Gronkowski.

Rather the real issue could simply be that there is less of it to go around (particularly the touchdowns if Gronkowski is healthy).

For Cooks to produce a WR15 season -- according to history -- he'll need at least 130 targets on the low end (around a 22% market share in this offense) or 8-plus touchdowns. Both are absolutely possible, but the Patriots' offense and Cooks' historical performance outdoors don't make it likely.

Our initial projections peg Cooks for 80.91 catches, 1,127.61 yards, and 6.98 touchdowns and rank him as the WR17 in PPR leagues. That's good, but it's not in line with his current draft cost as WR11.