The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Football Season: Brandin Cooks

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Editor’s Note: This profile is part of our annual Path to a Fantasy WR1 Season series. For our methodology and an outline of the process, make sure you read the 2021 Path to WR1 Series Primer.

Brandin Cooks is a slept-on wide receiver who continuously puts up massive seasons, one of the reasons I believe he has a shot at being a WR1 in fantasy football leagues for 2021. The state of the quarterback position in Houston is dicey, but Cooks has proved he has what it takes to be a target monster.

2020 Season Recap

The 2020 season was more of the same for Cooks as he went over 1,000 yards for the fifth time in his seven-year career, finishing as WR15 in half-point PPR leagues. Every season Cooks has gone for 1,000-plus yards, he has ended the year as a top 15 wideout in fantasy football.

One obstacle not in his way for 2020 was DeAndre Hopkins, the previous top dog in the wide receiver room. The Houston Texans traded Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals, paving the way for Cooks to have a great season, even with oft-injured and suspended Fuller on the roster. Fuller has headed to the Miami Dolphins for the 2021 season, helping to boost Cooks’ fantasy value.

In 2020, quarterback Deshaun Watson had the best season of his four-year NFL career. He threw for 33 touchdowns while only tossing seven interceptions. Watson also had career highs in attempts (544), completions (382), and yards (4,823). Cooks benefited immensely from elite quarterback play, something he has had the benefit of almost his entire career.

2021 Path to a WR1 Season

For Cooks to have the biggest shot at hitting WR1 status, Watson would need to play for the Houston Texans in 2021. Due to legal issues and trade talks, the chances of Watson returning to Houston are small. If Watson were to come back to the Texans, I would feel better about Cooks having a WR1 season.

Envisioning the team without Watson under center, Houston will rely on journeyman Tyrod Taylor, rookie Davis Mills, and career backup Jeff Driskel. Either one QB or a combination of the QBs will need to get the ball to Cooks in 2021, and they’ll need to do it often.

A Watson-led Texans team went 4-12, and without him, they are destined to have a similar or worse record in 2021. Look for volume to be the biggest key to unlocking Cooks’ potential as the team will be playing from behind a lot.

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Target Share

In 2020, Cooks was on the field for 88% of Houston’s snaps. Over this time, he saw a 23.9% share of the targets. Cooks tallied 37% of the wide receiver targets in 2020 and 21.4% of the team’s target share. Wide receiver was targeted 64% of the time in the offense last season, with only nine teams targeting the wide receiver position more. Houston’s offense passed on 63% of their plays compared to the 37% for run plays. The squad ranked 4th among NFL teams in percentage of pass plays.  The passing plays will keep coming in the 2021 season.

Yards

Cooks tallied 1,150 yards in 15 games last season, hauling in 81 of the 119 balls thrown in his direction. There were two games in which the former first-rounder went for over 100 receiving yards. When Cooks goes over that threshold again in 2021, he will continue the tradition of being a top-15 WR with a better shot of being labeled a WR1 if he sees an uptick in numbers with Fuller’s complete absence.

Touchdowns

Last season, Cooks had six scores to Will Fuller’s eight, but no other notable wideouts were fighting for Watson’s attention. Randall Cobb had the second-most touchdowns by a wide receiver at three. Cooks was targeted 11 times in the end zone, two of those going for touchdowns. Fuller only played in 11 games last season, but he saw eight red-zone targets and three red-zone touchdowns in that span. Cooks will see more touchdowns in 2021, even if they are technically “garbage time” scores. A TD is a TD for fantasy football purposes. I wrote about Nico Collins being a surprise get for your fantasy team, and I still stand by that. But I do not think anyone on the Texans roster will touch the numbers Cooks sees in 2021.

Strength of Schedule

According to the UDK’s strength of schedule, the Texans have the 17th easiest schedule for wide receivers while also possessing the 7th easiest schedule for quarterbacks. Six of Houston’s games this upcoming season are against defenses the Fantasy Footballers ranked in the bottom-12. Four of those games are against division rivals (Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans). The other two games come against the Carolina Panthers and the New York Jets. It is still July, so plenty of factors could contribute to the strength of schedule changing, so make sure to check the UDK for the most up-to-date information.

Right now, the guys are ranking Cooks as WR25. His ADP is currently 8.07, which means you are getting exceptional value for a team’s WR1. Will he end up as a WR1 for fantasy football when the 2021 season is over? There would need to be more than a few things that align for me to feel more comfortable about Cooks as a fantasy WR1, but I think it is within the realm of possibilities.

If all else fails, I’m trading to acquire Cooks in dynasty leagues. He may fall outside the top-15 this season, but he won’t always have a bad quarterback situation. Cooks is a 27-year-old wideout in a pass-heavy offense, something that you should take note of.

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