Fantasy Football: Is Jared Cook a Savvy Way to Get Exposure to the Saints' Offense?

There are a handful of offenses around the NFL that fantasy owners should always try to get a piece of in fantasy football. The New Orleans Saints are one such team. They've been a potent offense for a while, and it should be much of the same in 2020, with our model projecting the Saints as the fourth-best offense.

Two of the key pieces of this attack, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, are going off the board in the first round of fantasy drafts at present -- per ADP data going back to the start of July at BestBall10 -- but drafters prepared to wait to get exposure to the Saints have been grabbing tight end Jared Cook as the TE10 (112th overall).

But as much as people should want to invest in the Saints, there are plenty of reasons to worry about what this particular Cook will serve up in the coming season.

Unsustainable Touchdown Production

Cook enjoyed a solid first year with the Saints in 2019, piecing together a spectacular run of form to close out the campaign. Despite playing an average of only 49% of the team's offensive snaps from Week 10 on, Cook posted eight consecutive TE1 (top-12) weeks and averaged 15.5 fantasy points per game in that span.

Cook eventually finished the season as the overall TE9 in terms of points per game. But it was efficiency -- not volume -- that helped him post such a strong campaign.

Cook drew 65 targets last season, reeling in 43 of them. Fifteen tight ends saw more targets than Cook did, while he finished 14th in receptions at the position. But a nose for the end zone helped him overcome a less-than-elite workload. Cook scored nine total touchdowns, scoring a touchdown on 13.8% of his targets. Cook had just nine total scores across the previous three seasons prior to 2019.

All the touchdowns helped him average 0.69 Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target, the most among the 27 tight ends who saw at least 50 targets last season.

But Cook is unlikely to be able to repeat his insane touchdown production. Before 2019 Cook had scored on only 3.5% of his targets for his career. Cook is one of 33 tight ends tight ends to score on at least 10% of his targets in a season since the start of the 2000 campaign (minimum of 50 targets). Of the 31 players for whom we have next-season data, only five scored on at least 10% of their targets the next season, while only three scored on a greater percentage of their looks. The average drop in touchdown rate among these 33 players was 6.6 percentage points.

Given Cook's limited workload last season, the expected drop in scoring rate would be something of a death knell for Cook's TE1 hopes.

Competition for Targets

It is hard to project Cook to be as efficient in 2020 as he was last season. And this is a problem, considering the competition for targets he is likely to have this season.

Thomas and Kamara will vie for their normal dose of targets, while the Saints also signed Emmanuel Sanders during the offseason to give Drew Brees a viable number-two option at the wide receiver spot, something New Orleans hasn't had for a while.

There is also -- and I say this with all seriousness -- the annoying presence of Josh Hill. Hill is not a serious threat to Cook between the 20-yard lines, but once the Saints enter the red zone, Hill begins to make his presence felt. Hill commanded six targets inside the 10-yard line last season, while Cook had just five such looks.

2020 Outlook

We have Cook projected to finish as the TE9 this season, and it would certainly not be my intention to cast Cook as a player to avoid at all costs. But if we are asking a 34-year old tight end to match career-best production two years in a row in an offense that is not catered specifically around him, then we are expecting a lot of things to go wrong for other Saints players in 2020.

It could happen, of course -- especially in a season set to be surrounded by uncertainty.

But I'd be happy to wait for a round or two (or three) and target tight ends with legitimate upside like Jonnu Smith or Ian Thomas.