Adding to a string of questionable trades made by Houston HC/GM Bill O’Brien, the Texans traded their 2020 second-round pick (No. 57) for Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round selection in 2022. This is deceptively one of the more impactful moves of the offseason, but also one of the most difficult to parse.
Cooks has eclipsed 1,000 yards in four of his last five seasons and is still just 26 years old. Okay, true, but he’s also been traded three times in that span. He’s had three concussions over his last 17 games, with two more since his rookie season. Last year he totaled just 583 yards and two scores across 14 games, and, according to PFF, ranked just 70th of 86 qualifying wide receivers in yards per route run.
Cooks, with 4.33 speed, is one of the league’s best deep threats, so, I suppose it’s good news he’s now catching passes from one of the league’s best deep ball passers in Deshaun Watson – something that was never Jared Goff’s specialty. Last year, according to PFF, Watson totaled 1,111 yards on deep passes, which was more than double Goff’s total of 544. Watson also led the league in deep accuracy percentage (37.5%), while Goff ranked seventh-worst of 28 qualifiers.
Okay, true again, however, as Cooks showed last year (struggling to put up yards as Goff struggled with accuracy deep), he’s little beyond a deep threat. Since 2014, 40% of his total receiving yards have come on deep passes, which ranks eighth-most of 80 qualifying wide receivers. That’s a high number, but somehow less than Kenny Stills who ranks second (48%) and just slightly more than Will Fuller who ranks 10th (39%). So, clearly, it’s hard to see how he fits into this offense. He appears redundant to Stills who appears redundant to Fuller. Watson throws a terrific deep ball, but there’s no established pass-catching tight end working underneath. And with a bottom-10 offensive line, will Watson have enough time in the pocket for this sort of offense to work effectively?
If I had to guess, I’d say we should view Will Fuller as the team’s WR1, Cooks as the team’s WR2, Randall Cobb as the WR3, and Stills as the WR4. Fuller should see a hefty jump in volume, but I don’t know how much that will offset a decline in per-target efficiency following the departure of DeAndre Hopkins, who routinely drew bracket coverage and elite shadow CB1s. Cooks should improve on the 8.0 fantasy points per game he averaged last year, and the 9.7 fantasy points per game Stills averaged (including playoffs), but I wouldn’t expect too much more than that barring an injury to Fuller (which, OK, maybe we should bake that in).
What about the Rams?
Turning to the other side of the equation, things seem equally murky. Bill Belichick might be the most frustrating head coach for fantasy, but Sean McVay is a close second. Both are brilliant offensive minds, notoriously tight-lipped, hard to anticipate, and their entire offense can and will change dramatically week-to-week depending on the opponent. However, simple intuition suggests this move will be most beneficial for Tyler Higbee, Josh Reynolds, and Robert Woods.
Since Week 8 of 2018, Cooper Kupp and Cooks have missed a combined nine games. In those games, Reynolds averaged 6.3 targets, 50.0 yards, and 11.8 fantasy points per game, which would have ranked 41st at the position last year. However, it should be noted that all of these games came before Week 13 of last season, and the rest of the time, he averaged just 2.7 fantasy points per game.
In 2018, Los Angeles played out of 11 personnel (3WR) 81% of the time, which led the league. Through the first 12 weeks of the 2019 season, they played out of 11 personnel 76% of the time (second-most). In both samples they played out of 12 personnel (2TE) only 17% of the time. From Week 13 on, only one team played out of 12 personnel more often than Los Angeles’ 40%. That extra time on the field paid dividends for Higbee, who yielded outputs of 23.7, 18.6, 23.1, 19.4, and 22.4 fantasy points over his final five games, and with four 100-yard performances over this span.
Trading Cooks doesn’t guarantee an increase in 12 personnel, but it does feel like the easy bet. If Higbee was just 80% of what he was towards the tail-end of last year, he should be a top-five-overall pick in fantasy, rather than just the sixth-round pick he currently is. Baked into his price-tag is the fact that he averaged just 5.3 fantasy points per game the rest of the time. And perhaps that much of his uptick in production came while fellow tight end Gerald Everett was banged up dealing with a hyperextended knee suffered in Week 12. Prior to that, Everett had out-targeted Higbee in nine straight games (56 to 22). Might a healthy Everett supplant Higbee as the TE1 in 2020? Or has Higbee already cemented that role after an immensely impressive final five games? Or is that a role they’re destined to share, capping the upside of both? All are questions I can admit I have no answer to.
Reynolds no doubt sees a bump in value, moving from the WR4 to the WR3 in this offense. However, if there’s an increase in 12 personnel (the WR3 is on the field less often), it might not be as valuable as the numbers previously cited seem to imply. It’s also possible an increase in personnel hurts Kupp, who runs roughly two-thirds of his routes from the slot. His snap share dipped from 88% to 64% at the tail-end of last season, along with 3.5 fewer targets per game. Subsequently, Woods saw a massive increase in target volume, potentially supplanting Kupp as the team’s WR1. He’s a quiet winner from this trade, and probably the best ADP value of anyone mentioned thus far.