How Does the Brandin Cooks Trade Impact the Fantasy Football Outlook of the Houston Texans?
Ladies and gents, it's now time for our annual piece: How will Brandin Cooks fare with his new team?
Texans acquire WR Brandin Cooks and a 2022 fourth-round pick from the Rams for the 57th pick in this month's draft.
— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) April 9, 2020
Cooks will spend his age-27 season and seventh in the NFL with his fourth total team, this time linking up with Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans. He's the anti-Allen Robinson with all the quarterbacks he has gotten to play with.
Cooks is a talented downfield threat with the ability to elevate offenses, but the injury risk here is daunting. Given that this is a carbon copy of Will Fuller's scouting report, Cooks will fit right in with his new offense.
How does Cooks' arrival in Houston alter the fantasy outlook of him and his teammates? Let's check it out.
Speed for Days
There are a lot of lessons we can learn from what the Kansas City Chiefs have done the past few seasons. The lesson the Texans took seems to be obvious in that they've now become hoarders of speed.
Kenny Stills' role on the team is up in the air with both Cooks and Randall Cobb in town, but we'll count him in this equation just for funsies. If the Texans were to mess around and put a four-receiver set on the field, here's what that would look like, based on each guy's 40 time coming out of college.
That's going to be tough to cover. You'd certainly take DeAndre Hopkins over the combo of Cooks and Cobb any day, but at least Watson's going to be able to sling it.
For a couple of reasons, this helps steady Watson's fantasy outlook, at least for 2020.
The first is that he at least now has competent receivers, even after the Hopkins departure. Cooks really struggled last year, but he's just one year removed from a 1,204-yard season in 2018. He can still help an offense... at least when he's on the field.
That's the second reason this helps Watson: he has insurance in the skill players. The fragility of all of the four guys on that table above is a concern, but Houston is at least prepared should one of them go down to injury. This helps elevate the floor of Watson as the odds of the bottom falling out entirely go down.
Third, the speed itself is a plus. Watson threw deep (at least 16 yards downfield) just 19.2% of the time last year, ranking 16th in the league. That was after he ranked seventh in 2018 and first as a rookie. Deep balls lead to chunk gains, and that's what we want for fantasy, even if it does inflate his interception totals.
Finally, having all those deep threats on the roster should give Watson additional running room, should he choose to use it. He ran for just 27.5 yards per game last year, down from 34.4 the year before and 38.4 as a rookie. From a self-preservation perspective, it's probably not a bad thing that he has pulled back the reins in that department. But the field should be open for operation if he wants it, which would also be huge for his fantasy outlook.
Dissecting Fuller and Cooks
Of all the players involved in this scenario, Watson is the biggest winner for fantasy, getting a slight nudge in the positive direction. The outlook for the rest is a bit muddied.
Cooks gets away from Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Tyler Higbee, all of whom have at one point or another commanded healthy target shares. That's not going to be an issue now in Houston, which is a plus. But it doesn't lessen the largest concern around him, which is his health.
As for Fuller, it's a similar story, though we might be able to expect a heftier target share for him when healthy than Cooks. In the games where Fuller played at least half the snaps, he had 24.8% of the Texans' total targets last year and 38.3% of their deep targets. Those are really respectable numbers, and they came playing alongside a target hog in Hopkins. Now, with Hopkins gone, it's realistic to expect a target share clear of 20% for Fuller.
Projecting Fuller as a healthy asset is likely an exercise in futility, though, as he hasn't played more than 11 games since his 2016 rookie season. That's why when we look at his projections via numberFire's Editor in Chief, JJ Zachariason, things are pretty even between Fuller and Cooks.
With the injury concerns, you can understand why there's a cap on Fuller and Cooks. And with additional mouths to feed, the target distribution could wind up being a headache. But it's not a totally barren landscape for fantasy.
In April BestBall10 drafts, Fuller has been going at the back end of the sixth round, and Cooks has been in the middle of the 10th. That's not bad for two players with their skillsets who are likely to contribute while healthy.
The issue that Fuller runs into is that there are other enticing options going right around him. Damien Williams, Michael Gallup, David Montgomery, Deebo Samuel, T.Y. Hilton, and Terry McLaurin are all going in the same round, and all have similar season-long upsides. Add in an additional target for Watson to throw to, and it's clear this Cooks move should at least lower our enthusiasm for Fuller, assuming that price sticks.
Cooks, on the other hand, is going in a bit of a bleaker range, near players like Tevin Coleman, Curtis Samuel, and Devonta Freeman. There, we can better afford to take some risks, and Cooks qualifies as one who brings some upside as a counter.
Betting on receivers who change teams is often a losing proposition, and Cooks' concussion history means the floor doesn't exist. Still, given JJ's projections and the fact that Cooks' competition for targets got a bit easier, now might not be a bad time to start to dabble in those waters.
As far as David Johnson goes, this move is a wash for him in fantasy. Adding Cooks increases the team's touchdown expectation, which is a plus for everybody, but it also lowers the odds Johnson carves out a respectable role in the passing game. He's going at the front end of the sixth round, meaning he still may be a bit underpriced, but our desire to buy him shouldn't change based on this move.
Overall, the Cooks trade seems to move the needle in a positive direction for both Watson and Cooks. Watson gets more playmakers, and Cooks gets out of a crowded situation.
Fuller doesn't completely dry up, but it does make him harder to pick when you see the alternatives around him. Clearly, this requires a bump down for Stills and Cobb, though neither was going higher than WR60 in BestBall10s before this move, anyway.
The Texans may not be a great team next year, and Bill O'Brien has plenty of time left to lower the odds that happens. But still, they're going to have speed outside and an electric presence under center. If nothing else, they're going to be a fun squad to watch.