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With the mass exodus of talent from the Saints offense this summer, Brandin Cooks looks poised to become Drew Brees’ most voluminous target. He seems like the clear frontrunner to lead the team in receptions and yardage and generally serve as the focal point of an offense suddenly without Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills. But what if he were to falter, or lose a chunk of his second season to injury?
That’s not particularly likely; Cooks never missed a game in three years at Oregon State. The first lost time of his football career came last season, when he fractured his thumb in Week 11 and was sent to IR for bookkeeping purposes. He’s a small inside receiver who’s in line for heavy volume, so you worry about traffic over the middle, but Cooks has never presented us with any reason to brace for injury.
In any event, the Saints offense is a high-scoring unit we need a grasp on for fantasy purposes, and that includes an understanding of their depth and contingency plans. So, what if Brandin Cooks was lost for the year?
WR Marques Colston – If Cooks goes down, it’s time to float offers for Colston. You won’t be “scooping” anyone here – Colston’s value jump would be obvious to everyone – but you’d probably still be able to grab him at a slight discount. With Cooks out and a cast of untested prospects and role players rounding out the depth chart, Colston would dominate the Saints pass game and bring real WR2 value to the table. He’s already the regular slotman, and taking on a chunk of Cooks’ slant and dumpoff targets would make him a threat for 8-9 targets a week. But considering his age and lack of sexiness, Colston owners may underrate that ceiling and part with him cheaper than they should. Shrewd owners will be pouncing.
RB C.J. Spiller – Spiller would make for a fine target because he’d find himself absorbing more of Cooks’ role than almost anyone. As a rookie, Cooks saw 41 of his 65 targets (63%) within nine yards of the line of scrimmage. That’s an area where a scatback can fill in nicely, and the Brees/Sean Payton braintrust knows that quite well. Saints backs and fullbacks have averaged 175 targets over Payton’s nine seasons. As the likely receiving pace-setter among the backs, Spiller stands to benefit tremendously from a lineup without Cooks.
WR Nick Toon – Toon has yet to distinguish himself as belonging in the NFL. In fact, here in early August, he’s still no sure thing to cleanly seize the #3 job. But the fourth-year wideout has real physical tools: in terms of measurables, he’s strikingly similar to the man he’s looking to replace, Kenny Stills. And like a Stills, Toon has flashed efficiency in his limited usage, catching 17 of 23 (73.9%) of the balls thrown to him in 2014. Brees’ #3 wideout has never been a very consistent fantasy presence, but Stills showed us that the right talent can indeed find his way into the rotation and contribute sporadically. If Cooks is lost, Toon would likely start and see WR3/4 opportunity.
QB Drew Brees – Brees is a Hall of Famer and only inching toward the end, but it’s hard to imagine his QB1 status withstanding the loss of Cooks. He’d almost surely see a volume drop as the Saints, already desiring a more balanced attack, entered desperation/conservatism mode and drastically dialed up the run game. But even with steady volume, we’d have to question Brees’ effectiveness with such an eroded supporting cast. The pass game would likely revolve around quick hits to Colston and Spiller, intermingled with a handful of relatively low-percentage downfield strikes. Last year, after Cooks’ Week 11 injury, Brees posted fantasy totals of 33, 33, 14, 31, 14, and 12. That’s pretty volatile, and it came with Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills on board. Those 30-point weeks don’t seem like such strong bets if the team continues to hemorrhage receivers.
WRs Joe Morgan / Brandon Coleman – The battle for the Saints’ #4 wideout job isn’t particularly juicy for fantasy purposes. Last year, prior to Cooks’ injury, Morgan, Robert Meachem, Nick Toon, and Jalen Saunders combined to draw just 22 targets in 10 games. But climbing a rung on the ladder via injury could make the winner of this fight noteworthy. Morgan is a devastating speedster who boasts an obscene 33.6-yard average and three touchdowns over his 14 career catches, but he’s been awfully boneheaded as a pro. His 2014 included a team suspension and a late-season release. Coleman, a tall (6’6”) target who went undrafted last year, also looks likely to make the roster. He’s exceptionally raw, but turned 94 catches into 20 touchdowns at Rutgers. Neither can be counted on for more than 15-20 catches as the #4, but an injury above them brings streaming flex appeal.