Rich Hribar

Fantasy Fallout

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Cooks Traded to Rams

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


This NFL offseason has had no shortage of player movement that has impacted the fantasy football landscape so far and Tuesday Night was no different as the New England Patriots traded fifth-year standout receiver Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams. This a year after New England did a similar deal to acquire Cooks’ services for the 2017 season.

 

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Brandin Cooks


We’ll tackle the main player at hand first. Cooks is coming off his third consecutive top-15 PPR scoring season overall among wide receivers despite the air in his overall balloon slightly leaking in each of the past two years compared to the year prior in terms of opportunity, receptions and touchdowns. A year ago, we inherently knew that Cooks was going to have to be a more efficient player in New England than he was in New Orleans or that he was going to need much more opportunity in terms of volume since he was going to an offense that projected to have fewer passing opportunities than what his teams previously accrued while with the Saints.

 

Now, Cooks is going from the offense that ranked seventh in overall passing plays run (38.8 per game) and 16th in passing rate (58.0 percent) to an offense that ranked 26th in passing plays run (34.2 per game) and was 24th in passing rate as an offense at 54.8 percent in 2017. Even if he was making a lateral play in terms of opportunity that he held with the Patriots last season, we’re looking at a volume loss. For context, Cooks’ 19.5 percent target market share and 114 raw targets that he had last year with the Patriots would’ve equated to 99 targets on the season if he were on the Rams.

 

Unfortunately, we can’t just rollover that market share. Fortunately for Cooks, however, is that he’s going to a team that used three wide receivers on 91.4 percent of their passing plays in 2017, the most in the league. League average outside of Los Angeles last season was 75 percent. While the overall volume may decline, Cooks is still very easily going to be a full-time player given the scheme he’s headed to, regardless of whether he’s the WR1 or the WR3 in the pecking order of play calling. If somehow the Rams don't live up to the hype building around them and trail more than expected, those usage totals can only go up.

 

The path to least resistance is obviously painting Cooks in the same role that the recently departed – not deceased, he just left via free agency - Sammy Watkins held within this Rams’ offense. Watkins was one of the more disappointing players in the 2017 fantasy season. He was steadily outplayed by both Robert Woods – a receiver he played over in Buffalo – and veteran rookie wideout Cooper Kupp. If Cooks were to assume a similar role to the one Watkins had in 2017, Watkins tallied more than five targets in just two games with Robert Woods active. That's not the type of volume we want to latch onto. 

 

On the positive end of the spectrum, Cooks is being acquired in April and not two weeks prior to the start of a season, so there’s a larger window for him to become acclimated to his new surroundings than the one Watkins had.  Cooks has also been a better player than Watkins has been to start his career. Cooks has three straight years with 1,000-yards receiving and seven touchdowns and ranks sixth in league history in receiving yardage tallied (3,943 yards) before turning 25-years old. Despite playing with unquestionably better quarterbacks than Watkins has, Cooks has also been better than the field of his surrounding pass catchers attached to Drew Brees and Tom Brady over the past two seasons. I could lay out some stats here, but NumberFire’s Jim Sannes has already done the work for us.

 

On the negative end, as we mentioned already with the Rams’ fondness for using a set of wideouts in passing situations, Watkins was still out there a ton, playing on average 82.4 percent of the Los Angeles plays per game. Also, Cooks is in nearly the same contractual situation that Watkins was in 2017.  Despite the Rams already expressing interest in extending him, Cooks is entering the 2018 season on his fifth-year option after Watkins was acquired for relatively similar capital at its core– a starting cornerback in E.J. Gaines and the 37th overall pick- than what the Rams gave up in acquiring Cooks today with the 23rd overall pick and a sixth-rounder.

 

In the end, it’s totally believable that Cooks does more in 2018 than what Watkins did in 2017. But this is still a downgrade for Cooks’ overall fantasy outlook as it pertains to the 2018 season as opposed to being on the Patriots. Currently the WR12 in early ADP in DRAFT leagues, Cooks will undoubtedly fall to lower WR2 status at best in required draft capital. I would personally handle him as a volatile WR3 still capable of spike weeks, but there are cheaper receivers on the board with that profile. In Dynasty formats, this would be a time to kick the tires on the Cooks owner to gauge where he or she values the soon to be 25-year old Cooks immediately following a deal that appears to be a negative on his 2018 outlook and if that price is under the mark that you're willing to pay. 

 

The Rams’ Wideouts and Jared Goff


Although acquiring a player with the talent level of Cooks is an overall net negative for both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp in terms of having viable target competition, not all is lost for either. Last week, I highlighted that I was buying Kupp in early drafts based on Woods being elevated into feature receiver status and drawing a litany of tough assignments in the upcoming season. With Cooks coming on board over the incumbent sophomore Josh Reynolds, Woods is back on my radar as being the player to target from this passing game – as he will assume the role he had in 2017 with defenses forced to account for Cooks over an unproven second-year receiver-and he will only come cheaper than he was prior (which was WR27 in early drafts).  Woods averaged 22.8 percent of the Los Angeles targets per game in 2017 and only improved as the season wore on. Woods was a top-20 PPR scoring receiver in four of his final games played – which doesn’t even account for his 9/142 line in the playoffs- after failing to crack the top-20 wideouts in any of his first seven games of the season.

 

Kupp’s upside is dinged a bit as he was due for a target spike if the Rams failed to add another starting caliber receiver. Receiving 94 targets in 15 games as a rookie, Kupp's target ceiling doesn't have a ton of room to approach the 120 plus mark that you'd like to see from interior receivers. This move leaves him in the PPR WR4 bucket for weekly purposes a Kupp's only usable fantasy weeks as a rookie with the Rams at full strength came when he found the end zone. Kupp’s usage in the red zone, leading the team in targets from inside of the 20-yard line (20) and from inside of the 10-yard line (seven) have him on the radar in best ball formats still, but he’s a player that serves to be more of a thorn in the scoring upside of Woods and Cooks more than truly making a jump himself without an injury.  Although liking Kupp more just 24 hours ago, this is a reminder that it is only April and prior to the actual NFL draft, so situations remain nebulous for fantasy purposes and this won’t be the only paradigm shift we see among fantasy outlooks.

 

The last piece on the Los Angeles side of the coin is Jared Goff. Even prior to this trade, Goff was already in no man’s land in terms of draft capital. In DRAFT formats, he was already the QB10 in terms of ADP (81.5 overall). That's already very rich for the QB11 in terms of points per game from a year ago. That is also currently right ahead of Matthew Stafford and Ben Roethlisberger and over 30 spots ahead of upside bounce back candidates Marcus Mariota (113.4 ADP), Jameis Winston (114.8) and last year’s QB4 in points per game in Alex Smith (122.5).

 

Goff also accrued those points in pristine circumstances in an overly efficient way. Despite ranking 24th in pass attempts per game (31.8), Goff posted a 5.9 percent touchdown rate (fifth) and 7.9 yards per attempt, which also ranked fifth. In terms of adjusted net yards per pass attempt (ANY/A), Goff led the league with a 7.72 mark. That is immaculate efficiency that will have to replicate itself is he's going to be near 500 pass attempts once again.  The yards per attempt can hold water, but the touchdown rate is much more trouble. Goff threw six of his 28 touchdowns to Todd Gurley – a mark duplicated in back to back years by running back just twice since 1975 – and eight of his touchdowns overall came on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage per Pro Football Focus, which was double the amount of the next closest passer. This isn’t to say that Goff can’t continue to improve as a real quarterback, but statistically, we should expect some recoil in his overall production. Especially given the expectations being placed on this team defensively, he's going to have to be a fantasy option that remains highly efficient above the league average. You never want to draft a non-premier quarterback for fantasy at his expected ceiling in the middle rounds and that’s what we have here to begin drafts early in the offseason. We'll revisit the Rams scoring output per drive a year ago and if that can roll over into 2018 given their defensive additions soon, but Goff is an overpay as a locked in QB1 in ongoing drafts. 

 

New England Receivers


On the New England side, Cooks leaves 114 targets on the table. The easiest way we can anticipate these to be vacuumed up is by a soon to be 32-year old Julian Edelman, who missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL.  Over his four previous seasons, Edelman has averaged 29.2 percent, 23.8 percent, 25.6 percent and 24.6 percent of the New England targets per game, marks well above the target share Cooks held. Edelman is one of the safest picks you can make in fantasy while on the field. Edelman has scored double-digit points in 70.8 percent of his games in .5 PPR scoring format since 2013, a mark only bested by Odell Beckham (75.8 percent) over that span. Edelman will still hold safety-net value if he moves into the top-24 at the position moving forward, but moves down to 32nd at the position in rate of games scoring 15 or more points (20.8 percent) over the same span.

 

The logical choice is to elevate Edelman on his return, but the New England pass catching corps likely remains in flux after completing this deal. We still have rumors that Rob Gronkowski could be traded this offseason on the table. Outside of him, New England has Chris Hogan, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip DorsettMalcolm Mitchell as well as practice squad wideouts Riley McCarron and Cody Hollister on hand. The Patriots have certainly done more with less, but if there is actual fire to the smoke surrounding Gronk being dealt, this is an overall uninspiring group without him present and one that carries a lot of inury concern among the players they'd be counting on.

 

Hogan will turn 30-years old during the season and has never had an NFL season with more than 41 receptions. He will be next in line for elevation in drafts after Edelman. Despite continuing to fall short of overall expectations in each of his two seasons in New England, Hogan began 2017 on fire. He was the WR8 overall Weeks 1-8 before suffering a shoulder injury that sidelined him for all but one game over the remainder of the season. Over that span, Hogan ranked fifth in the league in red zone targets (11) and third in targets from inside of the 10-yard line (six) for all players. The downside, is that Hogan was dependent on those scores, never topping 78-yards receiving in any of those games and catching more than five passes in just one of those games. Being a touchdown dependent option attached to Tom Brady is far from the worst thing in the world, however, and if Gronk were to in fact be on another team in 2018, Hogan would be the favorite to lead the team in receiving touchdowns.

 

For what it’s worth, we do have a season sample from Hogan without Brandin Cooks on the team and one in which Gronkowski missed half the season in 2016. That season, Hogan largely played the role that Cooks played this past season, averaging a lofty 17.9 yards per reception, but managed just 38 catches for 680 yards and four scores over his 15 games.  With Edelman returning and still much to be decided with the stable of pass catchers here, Hogan is a volatile play, but one that you can make in ongoing best ball leagues since we inherently want to swerve into players with weekly scoring upside. Hogan is currently the WR42 in ADP, but should approach the top-30 in immediate drafts following this trade. That’s a fair price in formats that naturally provide roster security, but he is not someone I am actively looking to pay cost pricing for in formats outside of best ball leagues.

 

With the draft still to come and potentially some more roster movement -as with all things New England related- be prepared to alter your approach as we move along throughout the remainder of the offseason, but you also could do worse when making a Mr. Irrelevant pick by taking a shot on Mitchell. The third-year receiver missed all of 2017 with a knee injury but has already been present at team events this offseason. He has the most time spent with the club among the ancillary pass catchers and already has a semblance of a rapport with Brady. Mitchell caught 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie in 2016, while notching four top-30 scoring weeks in four of his final six games as a rookie.



Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.
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