In the world of fantasy football, success is often predicated upon learning from the past. Each offseason, the fantasy community can be found dissecting the reasons a given player over- or underperformed the previous season, hoping to find signs that could provide insight into the future. Much like last year, when we searched for the next Emmanuel Sanders and examined why we missed on Odell Beckham, we are now looking to find the next DeAndre Hopkins.
While chasing the past can sometimes be a fool’s errand, there are other times where it is appropriate to recognize the similarities between a player’s past success and another’s future potential. This is one of those times.
Brandin Cooks is only 22 years old, entering his third NFL season, and he is on the verge of a DeAndre Hopkins-like breakout. Before calling me a fool that is making crazy connections, let’s do our best Billy Madison impression by going back to school and learning how this is possible.
Brandin Cooks entered the league in a draft class of wide receivers that may go down as the best in NFL history. The class is so crowded with successful receivers, it can be easy to forget just how many there are. Odell Beckham. Allen Robinson. Jordan Matthews. Mike Evans. Donte Moncrief. John Brown. Kelvin Benjamin. Jarvis Landry (I guess). The one-and-only Jeff Janis. Davante Ad—okay, we’ll stop there.
If you happened to notice Brandin Cooks missing from the list, congratulations. If not, apology accepted. Understandably, Cooks is sometimes overlooked in this cohort. But don’t worry, that will change soon.
Brandin Cooks‘ profile is truly a sight to behold. He is crazy athletic, as evidenced by a 98th-percentile SPARQ-x score. Each of his workout metrics is above the 50th-percentile, including a 40-yard dash and Agility Score that nearly break the PlayerProfiler database. This means Cooks is a very well-rounded athlete, which allows coaches to plug him into any scheme or receiver position. Cooks is not limited to running only vertical routes, slot routes, or gadget plays. He is capable of them all.
Brandin Cooks is not simply a workout warrior, either. He dominated while playing for Oregon State, posting a 38.9-percent (75th-percentile) College Dominator Rating, also among the top of the 2014 class. More impressively, Cooks won the 2013 Biletnikoff Award after having 128 receptions for 1,730-yards and 16-touchdowns. That’s right—in the same year players like Odell Beckham, Allen Robinson, and Jordan Matthews were making waves, Cooks won the award bestowed upon the top receiver in college football. Oh, and he was just 20 years old. If it still sounds unbelievable, here is a perfect display of Cooks versus the rest of the 2014 receiving class.
While Brandin Cooks and DeAndre Hopkins are different receivers, there are some intriguing similarities between their profiles. For example, Hopkins 39.3-percent (76th-percentile) College Dominator Rating at Clemson is within one percentile of Cooks’ rating. Also, they both have a Breakout Age above the 90th-percentile. Overall, the biggest difference between the two is athleticism, and Cooks definitely has the edge there.
Efficiency & Production
Brandin Cooks did not set the world on fire during his rookie campaign, but he quietly flashed high-level efficiency. His receiving statistics look unimpressive overall, because an injury limited his season to only 10 games. However, Cooks’ 13.9 fantasy points per game ranked No. 22, putting him squarely on the WR2 map. He also scored 2.02 fantasy points per target as a rookie, which ranked No. 12 (WR1 territory).
Flashing forward, Brandin Cooks started the 2015 season slow, but he eventually turned in a productive campaign, finishing with 84 receptions for 1,138-yards and 9-touchdowns. Also, he remained one of the most efficient receivers in the NFL through 16 games, posting a +15.8 Production Premium, which ranked No. 19 amongst receivers. He even continued a fantasy WR2 scoring pace with 15.8 points per game, also ranked No. 19.
Brandin Cooks‘ initial NFL production is strikingly similar to that of DeAndre Hopkins. Both players had similar receiving numbers in their rookie seasons (despite Cooks playing six fewer games), and both experienced a significant sophomore leap. In fact, their sophomore seasons are nearly indistinguishable, right down to the Production Premium and fantasy efficiency. However, it is important to note that Cooks outperformed Hopkins is in all areas, except receiving yards.
Most impressively, Brandin Cooks produced like a No. 1 receiver in his second year, despite opportunity that resembles a No. 2 receiver. He managed to compile his 2015 production while playing 88.4-percent of the Saints’ offensive snaps, just 39th-highest in the league. His target share of 19.4-percent only ranked No. 41. Even still, Cooks was able to remain an effective WR2 in fantasy, due to his fantasy points per target. Luckily for fantasy gamers, those targets will likely increase. Cue the dance party.
Just in case anyone forgot, the Saints love to throw the football. Since 2010, they’ve ranked No. 2 in passing attempts every season except 2013, where they ranked No. 4. Fortunately for Brandin Cooks, that is unlikely to change. Drew Brees continues to amaze us all, as one of the most prolific, yet underrated, passers of the modern era. Also, the New Orleans’ defense may likely remain among the bottom-half of the league, which should keep the Saints throwing.
While Marques Colston garnered only 67-targets as a shell of himself last season, his departure nonetheless locks in Brandin Cooks as the focal point of the Saints’ offense. The organization undoubtedly has big plans for rookie replacement Michael Thomas, but it is unreasonable to expect him to fill Colston’s shoes as a veteran leader. This role now belongs to Cooks, who, despite being only 22 years old, is the most experienced receiver on the Saints’ roster. Willie Snead is the only other player who has a rapport with Drew Brees, other than Brandon Coleman, who is simply a scarecrow playing football. This means Cooks will be the main offensive weapon on a team likely to throw in the neighborhood of 650-passing attempts, which is a recipe for fantasy gold.
Looking back, DeAndre Hopkins was put in a very similar situation last season. He was entering his third NFL season on a team that figured to play from behind often. This proved to be the case, as Texans ran a total of 654-pass plays, which ranked No. 10 in the league. Also, aging veteran Andre Johnson moved on to Indianapolis, providing Hopkins with his first season as the Texans’ main passing weapon. Unsurprisingly, he turned this into a career year, and thus became a league-winning, fantasy football asset.
Juicy Wide Receiver ADP
Brandin Cooks‘ current ADP in MyFantasyLeague.com redraft leagues is 22.3 overall, or end of the second round. While this does not appear cheap to the layman’s eye, Cooks is actually the twelfth wide receiver coming off the board, thanks the popular Zero-RB strategy. This is similar to DeAndre Hopkins‘s ADP among receivers last year, as he was often the thirteenth receiver off the board.
There were many signs pointing to DeAndre Hopkins‘ fantasy potential last year. After all, he was a first-round draft pick who dominated in college from an early age, made significant improvements in his first two NFL seasons, and became the focal point of an offense that throws a ton of passes. As it turns out, Brandin Cooks is showing all of these same signs. In fact, Cooks’ situation is appearing even better, as he is a far superior athlete catching passes from a far superior quarterback.
So while others are fighting about whether Odell Beckham or Allen Robinson should be the poster child for the 2014 draft class, savvy fantasy owners are acquiring Brandin Cooks before he breaks out like DeAndre Hopkins and is unanimously recognized as one of the best young receivers in the game.