The Case For Brandin Cooks
Selecting Brandin Cooks at 3.04 is a steal! He is currently being drafted as the 14th WR. His upside should land him in the top 10, perhaps top 5. Cooks is built exactly like Antonio Brown, and actually dwarfs his measurables in almost every category. If his career trajectory continues to progress as Brown’s has, we will be talking about Cooks as a top tier WR at this time next year. The former Biletnikoff Award winner has proven in college and the NFL to be a durable, reliable player. With explosive offensive weapons supporting him, improved physical strength and a team set up to score often, things are lining up perfectly for Cooks to build off of his 2015 sophomore breakout season.
Top Weapon From a Fierce Arsenal
Marques Colston is an all-time great Saint. Ben Watson has amassed a fantastic career and displayed grit and talent in his resurgent 2015 season with New Orleans. At this stage in their careers, though, no one could argue that these players would win in a footrace against anyone other than my fellow Ballers. The additions of Coby Fleener at TE and 2nd Round draft pick, Michael Thomas add an additional element of speed and athleticism to an offense that already boasts weapons to be envied by any NFL team. Mark Ingram and a supposedly revitalized C.J. Spiller at RB will keep defenses honest and leery of screens and dump offs. Willie Snead developed into a premier slot WR in 2015 and should also continue to grow. Did I mention future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees will be leading this offense once again? Head Coach Sean Payton has a versatile, athletic group of skill position players to create multiple mismatches with. This sets Cooks up for a potentially amazing season. He is sure to see his 129 targets from 2015 increase this year as Payton will be able to put him in position to succeed very easily since defenses will not be able to key on him as much as they have in the past. Drew Brees has averaged 5,127 yards over the last 5 seasons. With Cooks playing the clear #1 role and 2 years of experience under his belt, I would not be shocked to see him approach 1,600 of those yards himself.
Improvement Off the Press
Rare is the feat of a college player, at any position, to transition speed, strength, and stamina into the NFL right away. Cooks’ speed was evident immediately and stamina hasn’t seemed to be an issue. His only major in-season injury to date has been a broken thumb in his rookie year. Broken bones will happen to anyone under the right (wrong) circumstance. The one area Cooks has struggled in is strength while disengaging from press coverage. 2015 got off to a very slow start for Cooks as defenses forced him into press, which he failed to succeed against. Once Payton adjusted and took Cooks off the line of scrimmage, he had a much easier time separating from defenders due to the additional space at the line. Cooks is a smart player who knows that he cannot depend on mismatches if he wants to reach his full potential in the NFL. He will be challenged at the line whenever possible and his numbers will not escalate unless he can beat the press more often. The strength and intent of defensive backs may have taken Cooks by surprise last year, but excuses have no place in this game. It is time to show improvement and with a heavy offseason of strength training, Cooks is better prepared than ever.
Poor Defense, Great QB
As great as the Saints offense is, their defense is just as poor. According to Football Outsiders DVOA rankings, the Saints in 2015 were not only last but last by an extremely wide margin. They attempted to improve the unit with 1st Round pick Sheldon Rankins, but he broke his leg in mid-August, shelving him for 6-8 weeks. 2015 2nd Round pick, Hau’oli Kikaha, who had a promising rookie season, tore his ACL in June and will most likely miss the 2016 season. Free Agency netted them DT Nick Fairley, LB James Lauranitits, and newly acquired Paul Kruger. Nice additions, but hardly the moves needed to transition this team out from the cellar of defensive rankings. With such a poor defense, the Saints can expect to be involved in a lot of high-scoring games. The offense may not get much rest if the defense can’t stop anyone. This all adds up to an increase in opportunities for the offense, especially the passing game and most notably, Brandin Cooks. Not many teams are equipped on offense to overcome such adversity. Once again, when you have a team led by a QB like Brees and coached by offensive mastermind Payton, you are equipped. Saints games may be some of the most exciting to watch this season. The main statistical beneficiary will be Brandin Cooks.
Brandin Cooks has a clear path to fantasy success in front of him. We know he has the talent; we have seen it. We have seen him overcome being targeted by defenses. His relentless training and leadership are more on display now than ever. Other than injury, I cannot describe a 2016 season that does not include Cooks greatly outplaying his current draft status. Select him early in Round 3 and enjoy the benefits of a 1st Round fantasy season.