NFL Fantasy Fallout: Brandin Cooks' arrival helps Deshaun Watson, hurts everyone else
If Brandin Cooks can regain his form from 2018 and before, he'll not only help Deshaun Watson, but he'll be an absolute Draft Day bargain for Fantasy drafters as well.
For the second time this offseason, the Texans traded for an offensive player with declining skills and plenty of risks. At least this time they won't have to overpay in cap space for the privilege. We could question the moves of coach/GM Bill O'Brien all day, but ultimately he thinks Brandin Cooks can help replace DeAndre Hopkins as the team's No. 1 receiver.
Houston's receiving corps may have more question marks than it did before the offseason began, but it certainly has plenty of speed. That has to be by design. Perhaps the Texans are cooking up a version of the spread offense that will rely on a lot of crafty route running and deep throws.
That sounds great for Cooks, and maybe it means lots of high-leverage targets for Will Fuller and Kenny Stills, but it doesn't cement any of them as reliable Fantasy receivers. In fact, they're all risky picks who shouldn't be targeted before Round 7.
Obviously the Texans are angling for Cooks to return to his form from prior to 2019, when had over 1,000 yards in each season from 2015 through 2018, averaging at least 8.8 yards per target per season, with plenty of touchdown potential and a catch rate above 65% in three of four campaigns. But all of that isn't enough to overshadow his 2019 — Cooks had some early-season success before concussions in Weeks 5 and 8 derailed his season. They were his fourth and fifth documented concussions of his career. Suffice to say, Cooks' numbers never really came back once he returned to the field after a three-week layoff.
No one should draft Cooks with the expectation of a 1,000-yard season. But we have seen Cooks put up feast-or-famine Fantasy totals in New Orleans, then New England and then Los Angeles (holy moly, the Texans are his fourth team in five years!). If his upside is as a usable flex for your lineup, PPR or otherwise, and his downside is dirt, then drafting him at a sensible spot like Round 8 truly carries minimal risk.
You can't argue with his upgrade at quarterback. Though Deshaun Watson's career numbers were boosted by Hopkins' reliable hands, Watson still has proven to be a fantastic quarterback. He alone gives all of his receivers a chance to be quality stat producers thanks to a career 66.8% completion rate and an 8.1 yard per attempt average. Watson also has a knack for throwing deep, averaging 56.7 pass attempts of 20-plus yards per year. He's finished in the top three of Pro Football Focus' deep passing metric in two of three seasons. Adding a big-play receiver like Cooks definitely won't hurt his prospects for another top-5 finish.
Remember, the Texans offensive line has been fortified, the run game might still be mediocre even with David Johnson, and the defense is deteriorating. Watson's carrying this offense most weeks. Surrounding him with speed makes sense. The case can be made to draft him ahead of Drew Brees and Josh Allen, something not everyone was doing before this deal went down.
Some might believe Cooks and Fuller are the same player. Both are speedy, both struggle with their fair share of drops, and both have injury concerns. But Cooks is a more complete receiver, with a 4.5% higher catch rate and the aforementioned track record of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Cooks' arrival means Fuller should remain in the same role he's been in for years. If you're playing it safe, Round 8 is the absolute earliest point to target Fuller, but I'd rather have Cooks.
Stills remains a trendy low-cost receiver to nab in the double-digit rounds. If (when?) one of Cooks or Fuller gets hurt, he should see a consistent bump in targets. Think of him for a bench spot whether you run the risk in drafting Cooks or Fuller or not.
Cooks' departure from Los Angeles really won't impact the value of Cooper Kupp or Robert Woods. Fantasy folks are drafting those guys with top-50 picks regardless. Jared Goff's value as a late-round value pick isn't affected much, either.
But the trade does wonders for tight end Tyler Higbee. Remember his final five-game stretch where he notched at least 20 PPR Fantasy points per game? His target share came primarily at the expense of Cooks. Higbee already had the rising profile as Fantasy's next great tight end — this trade locks him into the No. 5 spot in my rankings, PPR or not. I'd rather take the chance on him than Austin Hooper or Darren Waller, but it's close.
In closing, the Texans turned DeAndre Hopkins into Brandin Cooks, David Johnson, a fourth-round pick in 2022 and an earlier second-round pick this year. It's a bold strategy, Bill O'Brien. Let's see if it pays off.
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