Brandin Cooks and Recency Bias

Los Angeles Rams

Brandin Cooks is the #1 WR for the Rams

Most of us are vulnerable to recency bias. We reflect on what we just saw one season ago and imagine more of the same is on store. Such is the case with the Brandin Cooks and the Rams receiving corps.

Let’s start by having a look at the 2017 receiving totals

Todd Gurley: 64 receptions, 87 targets, 788 yards, 6 TDs

Cooper Kupp: 62 receptions, 94 targets, 869 yards, 5 TDs

Robert Woods: 56 receptions, 85 targets, 781 yards, 5 TDs

Sammy Watkins: 39 receptions, 70 targets, 593 yards, 8TDs

Higbee + Everett: 51 receptions, 77 targets, 539, 3 TDs

Recency bias would have us assume that Cooper Kupp is about to take the next step after posting an excellent rookie campaign, that Robert Woods will continue to split time with Kupp as Jared Goff’s primary target, and that Brandin Cooks would post similarly disappointing numbers to Sammy Watkins.

But probably not.

Watkins apologists (this writer included) blame the lackluster season on his late arrival to camp. Having been traded for late in the offseason Watkins, was not provided the time necessary to learn the offense and build rapport with Goff. Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and company all got a head start on Watkins and as a result were leaned on more heavily by Goff.

Still others Watkins supporters will blame Goff for his yardage total, suggesting the second year QB had made progress from his rookie season, but still couldn’t deliver the deep ball with accuracy. Watkins sluggish numbers were Goff’s failure, not his. This argument holds less credibility than the first. Goff was hardly the best deep ball thrower, but stats rank him closer to the middle of the pack, and even above average.

So exactly what happened to Sammy Watkins is still unclear, but let’s agree that the late arrival narrative holds some weight.

Enter Brandin Cooks. Cooks seems to have suffered an ADP drop in the wake of the trade to the Rams. While there are a number of reasons for this, namely: the fact that he was traded twice in two years being a red flag, an apparent QB talent drop having moved one from Brees/Brady to Goff, the one that seems to be put forward most frequently is that a player of his skill set simply can’t succeed in Los Angeles, and like Watkins will be regulated to a deep ball/decoy role, while Goff leans on the more familiar talents of Woods and Kupp.

A few things to consider about Cooks:

  1. at 24, he is younger than both Woods (26) AND 2nd year Cooper Kupp (25).
  2. He has posted 1,000+ yards in three of the last four seasons.
  3. 2017 was Cooks first season in a new offense with a new quarterback.
  4. He posted 1,082 yards on 65 catches and 114 targets in 2017, in that new offense.

Hey, about that narrative

The other side of being traded twice in two years, is that we can get an idea of how Cooks might adapt. While Watkins was only given a few weeks to familiarize himself with his new team, Cooks was given several months to immerse himself in the “Patriot’s Way”. The Patriots are known to run a complex and nuanced offense. Brady is known to be demanding of his teammates, with an offensive system, like many dependent on QB/WR reads, trust and chemistry. Many WRs have arrived in New England and quickly failed to live up to Brady and Belichick’s high standards. Not so with Cooks. He won their trust and became a key contributor, right up until the moment he was knocked out of the Super Bowl.

Also consider the situation Cooks was going into in New England. The Pats were hardly a team starved for talent. Brady was quite comfortable throwing to the likes of Gronkowski, Amendola, Hogan, White, Lewis, Burkhead and others. Despite walking into a room of entrenched veterans, Cooks finished the season only two yards behind Gronk for the lead in receiving yards and led the team in targets. If he is able to compete for targets with that group, it should be safe to assume he might be able to best his two elders in Los Angeles, Kupp and Woods.

It is likely that the Rams traded for Cooks with the intention of making him their clear number 1 receiver. The tell-tale sign will be what happens with Cooks’ contract. He’s up for free agency at the end of this season. It seems hard to believe that the Rams do not intend to invest in Cooks for the long-term. Last year they traded a first for Watkins only to watch him walk in the offseason. It would be hard to imagine them recklessly spending 1st round picks in consecutive seasons with nothing to show for it. A new contract is coming and likely soon. And why not, they will be signing a 24-year old receiver with three 1,000-yard seasons and pairing him with a 3rd year quarterback on what many consider one of the best young teams in the league. If and when he is signed and the Cooks-Goff chemistry takes hold we could be looking at one of the best QB/WR stacks for the next 5+ years.

Fantasy-wise:

Dynasty: Current value is likely very cheap. He s a potential #1 on a young team on the rise. If he re-signs long-term his value should get a nice jolt upwards. Buy the current dip.

Best ball: Current ADP is 51 on PlayDraft and he is the 21st receiver going off the board, behind a number of possible disappointments. Again, this seems like more than fair value for him. I’d consider sneaking him in on a few teams as he could very well finish as the #1 Rams receiver.

 

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