The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Brandin Cooks
All Brandin Cooks does is provide value. In his eight years in the NFL, he has delivered six top-20 seasons. A WR2 finish for the durable, consistent Cooks is almost a lock at this point, but if “General” Davis Mills makes the Year Two leap Houston is hoping for, Brandin Cooks could sneak back into the top 12 for the first time since Drew Brees was his quarterback.
When it was reported that Deshaun Watson refused to suit up for the Texans in 2021, Cooks’ fantasy stock took a major hit pushing his ADP all the way back to the 9th round as the 42nd wide receiver taken in drafts. Yet, Brandin Cooks finished as the WR20 in 2021, making it back-to-back top-20 seasons on a Houston team that failed to win five games for the second year in a row.
To make it more impressive, Cooks’ top-24 finish in 2021 came with a quarterback change mid-season to rookie Davis Mills. We’ll get to him later. As the offensive focal point for the otherwise toothless Texans, Cooks dominated the targets. According to the Market Share Report in the 2022 Ultimate Draft Kit, Cooks’ 27% target share was elite, ranking 7th among wide receivers. He finished with 133 targets and 90 receptions, both career highs.
2022 – The Path
Cooks dominated the receiving game in Houston in 2021, commanding 44% of the wide receiver targets. Digging a little deeper, Cooks was targeted on 25% of his routes. Targets per Route Run can be a helpful metric for predicting usage and production, and Cooks had the 9th best rate among the top 50 receivers. Danny Amendola‘s departure vacates 8% of targets and 3 touchdowns. Second-year receiver Nico Collins and second-rounder John Metchie III are the only other relevant names in the receiver room, but they’re better viewed as potential No. 2 receivers rather than significant threats to Cooks’ role. With Davis Mills under center in 2021, Cooks averaged a healthy 10 targets per game. Even if Mills’ 2022 campaign is identical to last season, a repeat of 130+ targets for Cooks in 2022 is not only possible but likely. To break back into WR1 territory, Cooks will need that volume.
The Texans have given every indication they see Davis Mills as a potential franchise quarterback. If Mills does take that next step as a passer, we should see his yards per game (204.9 in 2021) and completion percentage (67%) increase accordingly. Finishing the season at 90 receptions, Brandin Cooks tied Amon-Ra St. Brown for the 13th-most among wideouts, so a minor increase from Mills would push Cooks into that upper tier of 100+ receptions.
Cooks rattled off another 1,000-yard season in 16 games in 2021, his sixth in the past seven years. He’s going to do it again, but how high could he go? Cooks’ career high for yards was 1,204 yards in his first season with the Rams in 2018. Jared Goff was the quarterback and threw for 4,688 yards that season. The Path to WR1 is about the upper range of outcomes, of course, but we’ll stay within reason. Davis Mills won’t be reaching those yardage totals in 2022, but he doesn’t need to.
Excluding his rookie year (for obvious reasons) and the 2019 season (a true outlier: concussions, weird team dynamics, etc.), Cooks has averaged 1,130.7 yards per season with 2021 being his lowest output of the bunch. A bad team with a rookie quarterback will do that. Mills progressing in his second year will help Cooks exceed his 2020 total of 1,150 yards, especially considering the additional regular season game.
In case it hasn’t been said enough, the 2021 Texans were…not good. Houston ranked 30th in offensive touchdowns, including a tied-for-dead-last eight rushing scores. One of the league’s worst offensive lines and a backfield led by Rex Burkhead…no wait, Marlon Mack…no wait, Dameon Pierce?…doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence for that ratio to go up significantly in 2022. If the Texans are going to score more this season, it’s most likely coming through the air. If through the air, Brandin Cooks should be the primary beneficiary.
In the six seasons highlighted in the chart above, Brandin Cooks averaged 6.8 touchdowns. 2021 was par for the course, with six receiving touchdowns for Cooks. Predicting touchdowns is often a fool’s errand, but they are undoubtedly a boon for end-of-season finishes. If the chemistry between Cooks and Davis Mills continues to grow, there will be more opportunities to return to 7-8 touchdowns in 2022.
If he is, then Brandin Cooks‘ first WR1 finish since 2017 is within reach. There is a reason for hope. Despite inconsistent play that is common for first-year players, Mills impressed. According to Next Gen Stats, General Mills finished the season as “within average” or “above average” in 11 of the 12 passing areas of the field. Of particular note is how well he compares in intermediate and long passes, which can pay huge dividends for fantasy receivers.
As the 21st wide receiver off the board (per Fantasy Football Calculator) so far in 2022, Brandin Cooks provides significant value at ADP. His age and perceived lack of upside keep his draft stock lower than his actual performance warrants. A top-5 finish is probably not in the range of outcomes, but top 12? Certainly. What we’ve laid out for him in 2022 (1,150 yards, 100 receptions, 8 touchdowns) would have placed Cooks as the WR9 in 2021. He’s done it before, and the path is there to do it again. All that is required is for him (and Davis Mills) to walk it.