Spending Top-Dollar for Brandin Cooks in Fantasy Football Doesn't Make Sense

Brandin Cooks is primed to be the top receiver for the Saints, but is he really a safe bet for weekly fantasy production?

Being the top receiving option for a Drew Brees-led offense may not be as admired a role as it would have been a few years ago, but all indications suggest that Brandin Cooks is going to be that guy for the New Orleans Saints offense in 2015.

Cooks, a second-year player, feels like he's much further along with his transition to the NFL after getting 10 games under his belt as a rookie.

Cooks tallied 53 receptions, 550 yards, and 3 touchdowns before a thumb injury cut short his rookie campaign, but things were looking up the later into the season he played, ramping up his yards per game from 46.3 in his first six games to 68.0 in his final four (including two games with at least 90 yards).

He's now coming off the board as the 15th receiver in fantasy drafts, but can he really live up to that cost even in the bigger role?

Let's break this one down.

2014 Revisited

Well, first, let's jump ahead and then jump back. Our freshly-launched NFL projections for this year peg Cooks for 89.62 catches, 990.10 yards, and 5.63 touchdowns. That amounts to just the 22nd-most fantasy points among receivers.

That should be a bit of a red flag, but we still need to dig deeper and see why our projections might be lower on him than early-season fantasy drafters.

A big reason why we should express caution with Cooks is his receiving metrics. In terms of Net Expected Points (NEP), Cooks wasn't too efficient or productive last year. NEP, by the way, quantifies a team or player's on-field performance and compares it to league expectation level based on historical data.

Among the 47 receivers who saw between 50 and 100 targets in 2014 (Cooks saw 69), Cooks' Reception NEP (41.58) ranked 31st and his Reception NEP per target (0.60) ranked 27th. His catch rate -- the percentage of targets that he caught -- of 76.81% was tops among the subset (and it was also tops in the league among receivers with at least 35 targets).

So it may seem like Cooks at least helped move the sticks with his receptions, but that wasn't the case.

The most troubling measure of all is his Success Rate -- the percentage of his receptions that added to the Saints' NEP. Cooks' Success Rate of 75.47% ranked 43rd of the 47-receiver subset, indicating that his close-to-the-line-of-scrimmage approach (he had an average depth of target of just 8.5 yards, which ranked 77th among the 82 receivers with at least 50 targets) didn't do much to move the chains for the Saints.

Okay, I know. So what if he wasn't necessarily great as a rookie on the field. Was he efficient in terms of fantasy football?

Fantasy Gold?

Cooks may not have had much on-field impact, but his fantasy efficiency was a bit different. His 2.14 PPR points per target ranked ninth among 82 receivers with at least 50 targets in 2014.

However, his 1.33 standard points per target dropped to 18th. That's not necessarily bad, but it's quite obvious that Cooks, who scored just three touchdowns, is more valuable in PPR formats than he is in standard leagues.

But can we expect him to add to his touchdown tally in 2015? Well, maybe.

His red zone production in his final season at Oregon State was nice from a volume standpoint. His 10 red zone scores tied for third in the nation in 2013, but he was just one of two players (in addition to Davante Adams) to have at least 20 red zone receptions. Cooks scored 10 times on 22 receptions, and Adams converted on 12 of his 27 grabs.

But in the NFL, Cooks saw just seven red zone targets in his 10 games and caught one touchdown -- but did take three carries inside the 20 as well.

Of course, Jimmy Graham is leaving behind 21 red zone looks including 7 targets inside the five, but at just 5'10" and 189 pounds, Cooks lacks the prototypical size receivers need to score touchdowns at an elite rate. It's likely that he'll see more looks around the goal line, but if we aren't expecting more touchdowns, then repaying that WR15 price tag could be hard.

Only one receiver, Golden Tate scored fewer than six scores and finished in the top 15 in fantasy points last year.

A Fair Asking Price?

We can't know for sure how involved Cooks will be, but the ceiling is as high as his touchdown count can get. While it's true that he was very up-and-down last year (he had three games with more than 15 PPR points and four with fewer than 5 PPR points last year), it's probably not safe to knock him for inconsistency given his perceived role change.

However, if his touchdown scoring doesn't improve, then he will have to be the exception to the rule to live up to his current draft cost.

He's an exciting player in an always-dangerous offense, but he still might just be a key piece in a well-rounded offense rather than a go-to receiver with high touchdown upside.