By Nick Wier
Continuing in my striking gold series we move onto another player that managers are undervaluing in both dynasty (and redraft leagues): Brandin Cooks
Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back at how things were a year ago in June 2019 – you know the year before 2020, a simpler time. Things were looking pretty bright for the Rams – Sean McVay was the toast of the NFL, and although they lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that this offensive guru was taking the league by storm. A large part of that offensive explosion was thanks to a potent passing game. That passing game may have unlocked when they traded for Brandin Cooks before the 2018 season.
Cooks has been a wanted man in the NFL since being drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2014. In 13 months, Cooks was traded from the Saints to the Patriots to the Rams. Cooks was moved arguably before his prime, too, between the ages of 23 and 24. Before joining the Rams, Cooks put up three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and had the following stat lines:
In the first season as a Ram, Cooks exceeded all expectations as he went for 80 receptions, 1,204 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Cooks also finished as WR13. With all that in mind (and after four straight top 15 WR finishes), last year, Cooks was going in the top 30 of dynasty startups and WR13, according to Mizelle ADP. Given his young age and being tied long term to a potent offense, it seemed like a no brainer for this result. Nothing could happen to change this except a year later, Cooks is 86th overall and WR42 in Mizelle.
What went wrong in 2019?
Cooks saw his lowest production since his rookie year as he went for 42 receptions, 583 yards, and 2 touchdowns. In addition to that, after playing in 16 games for the previous four straight seasons, Cooks only played in 14 games and left two other games early. It’s hard to pigeon hole what exactly was to blame for Cooks decline in 2019. I think it was a combination of many things, Cooks is the type of player that is the cherry on top of an already-good offense Sundae, but in 2019 the Rams offense as a whole took a step back. In no particular order those issues
- PFF graded the Rams offensive line as 31st in 2019 (in 2018 that line was just about top 5)
- Todd Gurley and his knee became a massive issue, and because of that the running game as a whole took an enormous step back (700 fewer team yards in 2019 compared to 2018)
- Due to the previous two points, the play-action was far less effective in 2019 compared to 2018 for the Rams
- Jared Goff took a massive step back in yards per attempt, QB rating and interceptions rose (among other stats)
Even when you factor in the above issues and how that might impact Cooks stat-wise, that wasn’t the most significant concern for Cooks. No, that was the fact he had two concussions in 2019 (four total in 21 months).
For concussions, there is some evidence to suggest that prior concussions can lead to future occurrences. The biggest issue is when a player returns too fast from the initial injury. Given that Cooks had two concussions in 4 weeks in 2019, perhaps there may be a reason to wonder if he had recovered from the first. The Rams followed all the NFL guidelines for passing concussion protocol, later Cooks discussed the issue with a specialist, and most importantly, Cooks wants to be out there playing. It is not a fun situation to evaluate, but ultimately the player wants to play and has shown no signs that this could lead to early retirement (as many want to suspect).
Cooks now is labeled “injury-prone,” even though he hasn’t shown any signs of that in his NFL career. If you are dropping Cooks because you think the next concussion could be his last, well, that could be said about any player in the NFL sadly. Concussions and injuries are the reality of a violent sport like football. I think a full off-season with plenty of time to recover will have Cooks ready to step back in and dominate for the Rams in 2020. Oh, but Brandin Cooks was traded yet again.
On April 9th, 2020, the Rams traded Brandin Cooks (along with a 2022 4th rounder) to the Houston Texans for a 2020 2nd rounder. We can see a lot of potential here for Cooks to succeed. Much to the shock of everyone but Bill O’Brien, the Texans earlier moved Deandre Hopkins. The move freed up a ton of targets (150 to be exact) in an offense with some players that have proven unreliable. Will Fuller (missed at least 5+ games the last three years) and Keke Coutee (hasn’t played over nine games in either of his first two seasons). Outside of adding Cooks, the Texans traded for David Johnson and signed Randall Cobb in free agency. Cooks might be the Texans WR1 or no worse than the WR2 behind Will Fuller.
Over the first three years of his career, Deshaun Watson averaged a shade over 4,000 passing yards per 16 game season. When you look at a breakdown on the careers of the Texans pass catchers, we see one player that sticks out considerably.
Only two receivers on the Texans exceeded 1,000 yards in a season for their career: Randall Cobb in 2014 and Brandin Cooks in 2018. Will Fuller had produced the last two years with Watson when healthy and averaged close to 1,050 yards per 16 games. The Texans also didn’t invest heavily in any rookie WR in this “deep” class, all they did was grab Isaiah Coulter in the 5th round. Kahale Warring had a lot of hype last season as a rookie but never got on the field due to injuries. The opportunity for someone to step up and become a fantasy goldmine exists in this pass-catching group. Why can’t it be the guy who did it with ease for four straight years and is entering his athletic prime?
I don’t think Brandin Cooks will ever reach the top 30 dynasty player territory again, but I believe a top 90 rank is his floor. Someone has to catch the ball on this Texans team, and Cooks might be the most talented guy on the roster at this time. He’s going in the 8th round in non-superflex leagues and close to the 10th/11th in superflex. I would happily grab a player with his upside a round or two early.
70 catches, 970 yards, and 7 touchdowns. Right in the mix for the WR22-28 range.
Nick Wier – Redraft/Dynasty
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