Is Brandin Cooks Here to Stay?
All throughout the summer, people have been predicting big things for Brandin Cooks. He went from being drafted in the 11th round in redraft leagues after the Saints selected him in May, to having an Average Draft Position (ADP) in the sixth round by mid-August. This was all before he even took a single snap in a real NFL game.
Now, Cooks has faced his first real test. And it would be fair to say that he passed, finishing with seven receptions on eight targets for 77 yards and a touchdown. Not bad for a guy who can't even legally celebrate with an adult beverage until September 25th.
With his first game in the books, the question with Cooks turns to whether or not he can duplicate Sunday's performance on a consistent basis. To help answer this, we'll be using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which you can read more about in our glossary.
We can look at NEP on both the team and the individual level. For Cooks, we'll do both because he just so happens to have an advantage most rookie wideouts don't: his quarterback is a certified freak.
The Drew Brees Effect
As a general rule in fantasy, it's smart to gravitate toward players on more efficient offenses. More efficient offenses score more touchdowns. More touchdowns mean more happy times and smiles for you. The Saints are an efficient offense.
In the opening week, the Saints had the fifth most efficient offense based on their Adjusted NEP per play metric. Adjusted means that it takes into account the strength of their opponent. Considering how bad Atlanta was last year, that means they were actually penalized because of their opponent. This also means that you can trust the Saints' offense even when they face defenses more formidable than the Falcons.
Cooks' quarterback, Drew Brees (you may have heard of him), finished Week 1 ranked eighth in Passing NEP. Since 2004, Brees has never finished outside of the top 10 in Total NEP among quarterbacks. Nobody else can say that. This man is great, and he pumps out touchdowns like nobody's business.
Now, this doesn't mean that just any rookie could succeed with Drew Brees as their quarterback. Obviously, they need volume. That was the big question with Cooks prior to Sunday - would he get the ball enough to justify his fantasy value? If Week 1 was any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.
Below is a table with the ball distribution for the Saints' top targets on Sunday. These were just the top four as six other players combined to receive nine targets.
Not only did Cooks catch almost everything thrown his way, but he also had as many targets as Marques Colston. That should be enough to at least show this guy is worthy of your attention.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that Kenny Stills missed Sunday's game with an injury. When he comes back, he's going to cut into somebody's targets.
Stills was one of the league's most efficient low-usage receivers last year. This was largely due to his presence as a deep threat. That's a very different role from what Cooks plays.
In addition, Brees threw the ball an average of 40.625 times per game last year. Even if you give Jimmy Graham his 2013 average of nine targets per game and Colston his average of just south of seven, that's 25 targets still to be spread to the rest of the team. Cooks will see plenty of those.
Can He Consistently Score Touchdowns?
One look at Cooks tells you that he probably wouldn't be a huge red zone threat. He's 5'10", 189 pounds, and he's on a team with Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston. Good luck, bruh.
Then, Cooks became the hero Team Small Wide Receiver deserved. He caught a pass from the three-yard line to put the Saints on top 19-7 in the second quarter on Sunday. He also received another target in the end zone later, but Brees threw behind Cooks, and the pass was intercepted. If you know anything about Cooks, this red-zone presence should not have been a shock.
As I wrote in my post-draft profile of Cooks, dude put in work in the red zone at Oregon State. In the 2013 season, only Davante Adams had more red-zone receptions than Cooks' 22. Cooks converted 10 of those 22 receptions into touchdowns. I know comparing college to the NFL is apples-to-oranges, but don't just discount this man because of his height. He's a weapon anywhere on the field.
Even with my borderline pre-draft crush on Cooks, I was hesitant to pounce on him prior to Sunday. Rookies are so much more difficult to predict than veterans, so it just seemed risky to put my trust in Cooks. After Sunday, though, I'm all aboard. Seeing Cooks receive the same number of targets as Colston and convert those targets into production made me a bonafide believer. It should do the same for you.