The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
Concussions Are Hard for Fantasy Managers to Forget
Brandin Cooks lost consciousness in a Week 5 matchup against the Seahawks in 2019. It was his second concussion in a calendar year. The injury was terrifying and memorable, as it happened on a nationally-televised Thursday Night Football broadcast. That concussion marked the second time in as many years that Cooks had been seen unconscious on national television; Malcolm Jenkins also knocked him out of the Super Bowl in 2018. The 2018 injury wasn't Cooks' most recent concussion, though. He experienced two more in the 2019 season just a few weeks apart, causing the most extensive shelf time of his career as he missed three weeks, considering he played just three snaps before the second head injury in Week 8. Though mostly in the distant past, his five documented concussions have played a role in Cooks being perennially undervalued. Misconceptions about durability and availability constantly push his preseason ADP down, and Cooks routinely outperforms his draft position. And in 2022, Cooks should once again be the focal point of a pass-heavy offense and, on volume alone, could finish inside the Top 15 wide receivers.
The Availability Myth
Brandin Cooks is notably durable. Since entering the league, he has played in 92% of eligible games. Excluding his rookie season, he has played 96% of games, missing just four total games (five if including the three-snap outing in 2019) in that timespan. Wideouts that receive massive volume in the way Cooks has throughout his career don't typically show that kind of durability. The 2014 class of receivers has had its share of fantasy performers, and Cooks has been one of the most available.
|Player||Games Played||% of Total|
|Odell Beckham Jr||96||74.42%|
Cooks is one of the most durable receivers from his draft class. So why is there a perception to the contrary? It comes back to the aforementioned head injuries and fears that CTE and brain trauma can lead to early retirement. But Cooks has dispelled concerns.
"Zero," Cooks told reporters Thursday. "I'm not worried at all. If there was any hesitation or worry, I wouldn't be here right now. I feel great."
Outside of the concussions that plagued him during those two years, Cooks has stayed healthy. He only missed one game last year by being on the Covid-19 restricted list.
The Target Hog
Wherever Brandin Cooks goes, targets follow. Cooks' 8.4 targets per game clip in 2021 finished tied for 14th among pass catchers with at least 50 targets. And a high volume of targets has been the norm throughout his career.
2022 should be no different. With the unfortunate John Metchie III news, the receiver room suddenly looks as thin as it did in 2021. Nico Collins will look to take a second-year leap following a 60-target rookie year, and tight end Brevin Jordan's late-season surge should put him firmly in the mix to earn a higher share, but the cupboard is otherwise bare. Cooks' 25.6% target share in 2021 was the highest of his career, and he didn't sacrifice efficiency with the higher volume. Texans' quarterbacks had a rating of 95.9 when targeting Cooks, the highest among his teammates with at least 30 targets. And Davis Mills' presence as the starting quarterback on a full-time basis could increase both the raw targets and the efficiency.
|With Davis Mills||8.8||6.2||65.5||0.42|
|Without Davis Mills||7.3||4.0||62.8||0.25|
Young quarterbacks often attach to a favorite target, and the offense will run through the connection between Mills and Cooks. Some may argue that the bare cupboard will harm Cooks' production, as defenses will hone in on him and do everything they can to take him out of games. But Cooks' 2021 showed that he could be the top target in an offense without real help on the opposite side of the field. As mentioned above, Cooks missed a game last year, and his 27% per game target share would rank among the NFL's best. Cooks is a No. 1 option. His ADP doesn't reflect that reality.
The Power of the Game Script
The Texans ranked 25th in weighted defensive DVOA in 2021. The improvements have begun with the addition of rookies Jalen Pitre, Derek Stingley Jr Jr., and Christian Harris, but the defense is not yet in the league's upper half. Despite this, Houston ran the ball 42% of the time in 2021, just under the league median; that's a relatively high rate for a team that was often trailing. And while the Texans backfield has also improved with the additions of Marlon Mack and rookie Dameon Pierce, the team's successful run rate of 39% was far and away worst in the league. When combining the perceptively uninspiring defense with the lack of historical success on the ground under this leadership group, Houston should allow Mills to throw the ball more in 2022. The coaches and front office believe in him, and his performances down the stretch were good enough to justify such a transition. Here's what Cooks' season would look like if we hold his usage steady but add just two more passing attempts to the game script:
- 157 targets
- 106 receptions
- 1,219 yards
- 7 touchdowns
That wouldn't even factor in the increase in efficiency Cooks would naturally see with Mills as the full-time starter. That stat line would have seen Cooks finish as the WR9 with 269.9 fantasy points. Transposing in a one-for-one manner is flawed; many variables are indeterminable with the introduction of hypothetical situations. But an increase of just two pass attempts per game is more likely than not, as Mills attempted 32.9 passes per game in his 11 starts. Tyrod Taylor threw a bit less at 31.5 attempts per game. And the trend is more encouraging, as Mills averaged 34.2 attempts over his final five games.
Projections and Stats
Brandin Cooks is the perennially undervalued receiver that consistently outperforms his ADP, and his situation has never been clearer. His ADP of WR20 is identical to his 2021 finish, but that could prove to be his floor in 2022. Fantasy managers should be salivating at the opportunity to change the latter in the middle rounds.
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