Brandin Cooks' Departure From the Rams Changes Everything for Them in Fantasy Football
For the past two years, the Los Angeles Rams have been in the conversation for hosting the best wide receiver trio in football.
The reasons could be varied -- injury risk, cap space, personnel -- but we know that the Rams are going into 2020 without Cooks. Here's what that means for their fantasy football outlook.
With or Without You
Cooks -- like many downfield threats -- created significant and tangible boosts to his offenses. Sure, he's played with some great quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and whatever you think about Jared Goff), but the data backs it up. For the most part. Here are Cooks' on-field and off-field splits the past four seasons, via The Quant Edge.
The samples obviously are larger with Cooks than they are without him, but his impact is still pretty clear.
With Cooks on the field, every team listed here had a higher yards per pass attempt than their starter did on the full season. Brees averaged 7.7 yards per attempt in 2016. Brady averaged 7.9 yards per attempt in 2017. Goff averaged 7.4 yards per attempt last year and 8.4 in 2018.
It's just hard to say that the Rams won't suffer efficiency setbacks without Cooks' field-stretching ways.
They can still overcome it, and the volume should be fixated on three players.
Without You Now
Cooks played 14 games last year, but we can really look at a three-game stretch from Weeks 8 through 11. Cooks played only 4.8% of the snaps in Week 8 before the team's bye. Then he missed the two following games.
During the weeks outside that stretch, the Rams ran 11 personnel (three receivers) on 73% of their plays, via SharpFootballStats. That frequency ranked them fourth in the NFL. They ran 12 personnel (two receivers) 21% of the time, the 12th-highest rate.
From Weeks 8 through 11, they ran 11 personnel 76% of the time (3rd highest) and 12 personnel 22% of the time (10th). So there wasn't a significant change in that regard. That split does, however, coincide with a tight end shift away from Gerald Everett, who was injured, and toward Tyler Higbee.
But as JJ Zachariason pointed out on the Late-Round Podcast, there was a larger shift after their Week 9 bye, and they ran 12 personnel on 30% of their post-bye plays, fourth-highest in the NFL. With Higbee and Everett healthy, we could see a significant amount of two-tight end sets.
Both are more than capable producers.
From Week 11 on, when Higbee took over the primary tight end role, he averaged 2.90 yards per route run, fourth-best among qualified tight ends, via ProFootballFocus. Higbee was actually ninth in that stat prior to Week 11. He's a clear winner here.
As for Everett, he ranked 16th in yards per route run before a slow end to the season. Again, we could see more 12 personnel in 2020 from the Rams, though Higbee should be considered the number-one with Everett the clear second option.
If the Rams don't embrace the 12 personnel and instead cling to the 11 that they ran so often, the clear option next in line is Josh Reynolds, a 6'3", 194-pound former fourth-round pick.
In those three games missed by Cooks, Reynolds slotted in and ran at least 90% of the Rams' possible routes. Over that three-game sample, he ranked 32nd among 98 qualified receivers in yards per route run, and Kupp was actually third while Woods was 39th.
The team has plenty of ways to fill in for Cooks, even if there are legitimate reasons to worry about the team's overall efficiency.
Projecting the Rams in 2020
The Rams could easily address the Cooks void in this year's deep wide receiver draft class, but as it stands now, here are my initial projections for their top-five pass-catchers.
These numbers would put Woods on the level of a low-end WR1 and high-end WR2 with Kupp rating as a solid WR2 in half-PPR formats. Reynolds wouldn't be a factor in 12-team leagues.
Higbee, though, would have been the TE8 last year, and if he clings to the role he saw to close out the 2019 season, Higbee easily can vault into a top-six season. Everett and Reynolds have the highest ranges of outcomes here. One of them could emerge as the fourth option, but we're realistically looking at a different three-headed monster with Woods, Kupp, and Higbee leading the way for the Rams in 2020.
Whether they can overcome the absence of Cooks will be the crucial question for their true fantasy football ceilings.