With Julian Edelman and his 159 2016 targets now out for the year, there’s been lots of speculation about which receivers will benefit most. The answer is all of them to varying degrees, but I think looking back at who lines up in the slot or has experience running most of Edelman’s routes is largely missing the point. The Patriots will get the ball in the hands of the players they feel will most hurt the defense, period. Who ran what route last year, or what a player did in the past isn’t especially relevant.
When valuing a fantasy player for the upcoming season, there are four factors to consider: (1) Health; (2) Skills; (3) Role; and (4) Team Context. For Brandin Cooks, categories (1), (2) and (4) were as good as one could hope for. He’s not injured now, nor has he had a recent injury. He’s also small and quick and not prone to taking big hits. He’s 23 years old, in the prime of his career, ran a 4.33 40 out of college, is quicker than he is fast and averaged a monstrous 10.0 YPT in New Orleans last year (3rd in the NFL among 100-target WR, behind only DeSean Jackson and Julio Jones.)
The team context is off the charts good with Edelman, the team’s 159-target WR out for the year, arguably the greatest QB of all time throwing him the ball and a team that isn’t apologetic about running up the score and doesn’t sit on leads in the second half of games.
The only question, therefore, was (3) Role, and with Edelman out, that’s likely to be somewhere between 120 and 160 targets, many of them downfield, from an all-time great QB. Why do I think he’s likely to have so many targets? Because the Patriots aren’t shy about feeding their top receiver (last year Edelman had 159 (3rd), the year before Edelman had 89 in nine games – same pace as 2016 – and in previous years Wes Welker and Randy Moss saw massive volume under this same regime.) Moreover, the Patriots who almost always trade *for* extra draft picks, gave up a first rounder while downgrading 15 spots on another pick (3rd for a 4th) later in the draft. This isn’t a move they’d make for a bit player – and that was while Edelman was healthy.
There’s been buzz about Chris Hogan who had a big preseason game Friday night – as well as a huge game in last year’s postseason – but consider the 6-1, 210-pound Hogan thrived while the far bigger Rob Gronkowski was out, and Cooks is much more suited to running short quick routes as well as stretching the field. Finally, Hogan going off and Cooks doing nothing in a preseason game is probably indicative of Cooks being slated for the far bigger role. The Pats won’t tip their hand in meaningless games, so if anything, bet on the guy with a guaranteed role who didn’t get the looks – they’re saving him for the games that count.
If Cooks is on the low-end of the 120-160 target role, he’ll have ~1,200 yards and seven scores while playing in this system. If he’s in the middle end, we’re looking at ~1,400 and eight or nine. At the high end, it’s ~1,600 and 10, essentially Antonio Brown.
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