Fantasy Impact: Brandin Cooks traded to the Patriots
We’ve heard the rumblings for a week now… Are the Saints really going to trade Brandin Cooks? At first it was to the Titans or the Eagles, but as time went on, the Patriots were the team that was repeatedly getting mentioned. On Friday evening, the Saints and the Patriots made a blockbuster trade resulting in Cooks going to New England. There are many questions about this trade and why it happened, but most importantly, what does it mean for his fantasy value?
From an actual football standpoint, you want to say that it’s not fair to give Tom Brady another weapon. But from a fantasy standpoint, it seems that there may be too many cooks in the kitchen. No, I did not intend to slide that pun in there, but now that it is, I’m leaving it.
If there’s been a team who’s been as unpredictable as the Saints from a fantasy standpoint, it’s got to be the Patriots, right? I decided to go back through the last three years and find out how many WR1 performances each offense produced. The results were somewhat surprising:
Before going any further, this chart can be interpreted in many different ways, but it’s interesting nonetheless. In PPR formats, there’ve only been 17 WR1 performances out of Patriots wide receivers combined, while the “unpredictable” Saints have produced 24 of them, including 19 the last two seasons. I think it’s also worth noting that the Saints have thrown 102 touchdowns and rushed for 47 touchdowns over the last three years, while the Patriots have also thrown 102 touchdowns and rushed for 45 touchdowns. Scary, right?
So when looking at the offenses and the fact that they’ve essentially scored the same amount of total touchdowns the last three years, it’s fair to say that the Saints system favors the wide receiver position more than the Patriots. A large part of that has to do with the Patriots red zone packages that feature two tight end sets, including the best tight end of all-time, Rob Gronkowski. That isn’t going away any time soon, and the Patriots also just got done trading for Dwayne Allen, who is a red zone presence in his own right.
Now onto the common sense portion – you don’t trade away a first and third round pick for a player that you don’t intend to use in your offense. Cooks is going to be used, but realistically, he isn’t going to be anything more than the No. 2 option behind Gronkowski.
So looking at where Cooks’ targets will be coming from, you have to start with Julian Edelman, who has seen a ridiculous 9.8 targets per game over the last three seasons. For a possession style receiver, he’ll see plenty of targets, but he’s the most logical choice to see his numbers dip. Even when you look at Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell, they only saw a combined 3.7 targets per game in 2016. That number started to go up towards the end of the season, but there aren’t many to take away from them.
The reason the wide receivers target numbers are so low is because the Patriots use their running backs in the passing game more than 90 percent of the teams in the league. In 2016, their running backs made up for 20.7 percent of their targets, the fourth-highest percentage in the league. It was similar in 2015 when they targeted them 20.2 percent. With James White and Dion Lewis under contract, it’s hard to imagine that ending any time soon.
Anyone who tells you they know exactly how the Patriots will use Cooks is lying to you, because the Patriots have been fooling teams for a long time now. Heck, it’s the reason they just won their fifth Super Bowl since 2002. What I will tell you is that it’s extremely unlikely that Cooks will see the 123 targets per year that he did with the Saints. And when you figure that his targets were coming from Drew Brees, can you really adjust his efficiency? Cooks is going to give you plenty of excitement, but he’s also going to give you some heartache. As of now, consider him a boom-or-bust WR2.