New year, new team, same story for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Despite being traded all around the league the past few years, all he has done is produce quality numbers. From 2016-2018, he posted 1,000 receiving yards with at least five receiving touchdowns for the Saints, Patriots and Rams respectively. He had a down 2019, as Jared Goff couldn’t find him downfield, and the Rams traded Cooks to the Houston Texans.

With Deshaun Watson under center in 2020, Cooks caught 81 of 119 targets for 1,150 yards and six touchdowns. His 5.4 receptions per game and 76.7 yards per game were career bests, and his 9.7 yards per target was the third-best mark of his career. Barring a return under center by Watson for Houston in 2021, this will be the first season that Cooks doesn’t have an above-average quarterback throwing him the ball. How will he fare?

It was a slow start for Cooks in Houston, but from Week 5 on, he was solid. Cooks ended the year as the WR17 in PPR, but if you take away the first four weeks of the season, Cooks was the WR6 in PPR! From Weeks 11-17, he was the WR9 in PPR formats! The speedy veteran was exceptional last year and thrived in the Houston passing attack. Playing from behind a good bit helped, too, and while he was good when Will Fuller was on the field, he took it to a new level when Fuller was hit with his suspension. Cooks averaged over 22 fantasy points (PPR) per game in the four games he played without Fuller, including 25+ points against the Bengals and Titans in the final two games of the year.

At the end of the day, Cooks was awesome last year. Yes, he had a slow start to the season, but from Week 5 on, he had at least 11 fantasy points in all but one game, per RotoViz, and maybe it was buoyed by some big performances, but he was a guy you put in your starting lineup each week. Was it overly flashy at times? No, but he was a guy with massive upside and averaged over 10 air yards per target in the final six games of the year, per RotoViz. Additionally, if your league started three wide receivers and a flex, he was constantly within the top 36 down the stretch. Decent floor paired with massive upside kept Cooks in many starting lineups.

It seems that there are a couple big issues in drafting Cooks this year, so let’s attack them one by one.

1) Who is Under Center?

This is a legitimate question. In his career thus far, he’s played with Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Jared Goff and Watson. Unless Watson has a change of heart and steps under center for the Houston Texans, Cooks is staring down the barrel of a TyRod Taylor and rookie Davis Mills led team. Cooks is talented enough to make it work, but will it be good enough to extend his streak of being a top 20 wide receiver in PPR to five times in the last six years? More on that coming in a bit.

2) CoOKs iS INjUry PRoNe

This is lazy analysis and wildly overblown. Cooks is not injury prone. He’s had some concussions, but he’s on the field a lot. Since 2015, he’s played in all 16 games in four of six years, and in 2019 and 2020, he played in 14 and 15 games respectively. Is missing three games over the past six years injury prone? No. I didn’t think so.

3) Run-Heavy Offense

Without Watson, yes, a TyRod Taylor-led offense screams run heavy. However, the Houston defense is bad, and Houston will have to throw to try to keep up. There is going to be enough passing volume for Cooks to be safe in terms of his fantasy production. Fantasy points in garbage time count the same as those that are close within the final two minutes! Could there be some inconsistency for Cooks in 2021? Probably, yes. If you look at Taylor’s three year run in Buffalo as the starter, here was his top fantasy wide receiver and rank (PPR):

Other than Watkins, not exactly impressive results there, but the difference was that Buffalo had a defense those years that was right around league average in terms of points allowed, per Pro Football Reference. I can almost assure you that it won’t be that way in Houston in 2021.

In fantasy football, volume is key, and that will be there for Cooks as the unquestioned WR1 for this team. Also, if Watson returns under center, even just for half of the year, Cooks is an absolute steal. Even with Taylor or Mills under center, Cooks is a steal. Consider this:

Cooks averaged 7.93 targets per game in 2020, and for his career, that mark sits at 7.16. Let’s round down to an even seven targets per game, and say Cooks plays in 16 of 17 games this year, because, you know, he’s “injury prone.” That would come out to 112 targets. Since 2016, the lowest fantasy finish in a PPR format for a wide receiver with at least 112 targets was back in 2017 when Dez Bryant finished the year as the WR24, per RotoViz.

Per NFFC data, he’s the 42nd wide receiver coming off the board. The beauty of his current price tag is that he’s being priced as if there’s no way Watson steps under center for Houston this year. There are so many uncertainties around the whole situation that no one knows what can happen. What if Watson plays a few games under center? What if he plays the majority of the season? What if Houston trades Watson and gets Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts or Teddy Bridgewater as its quarterback? There are so many uncertainties, but Cooks is being drafted as if it is 100 percent certain that it’s the Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills show. Yes, I think that’s how it plays out, but worth noting nonetheless.

With a less than explosive offense, Houston will have to be creative with its playmakers, and Cooks is one of the best the team has at its disposal. There may be some inconsistency with his performances over the course of the year, but he’s grossly mispriced. Cooks can be your team’s WR3 at a WR4 price tag. Take advantage of this value.

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