It’s provocative to say, but it should be taken seriously. The New Orleans Saints 2014 first round draft pick wide receiver Brandin Cooks will be a disappointment in 2016, and that is good news for Saints fans everywhere.
The soon-to-be 23-year old wideout (September 25) will start the season as the longest tenured Saints receiver on the roster. Think about that for a second, a third-year player having the most experience at his position. The New Orleans Saints are definitely in a youthful transition among its receiving corps.
After a stellar 2015 season where Cooks led the team in receptions (84), receiving yards (1,138) and touchdowns (9), it is easy to conclude that the arrow is only pointing up for the speedster from Oregon State. As the leader of the receiving corps and favorite target of quarterback Drew Brees, 2016 should be a record-setting year for Cooks, right?
As ESPN College GameDay analyst Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.”
Drew Brees at his best
Saints quarterback Drew Brees is at his best when he has multiple options in the passing game. His best statistical year (2011) would produce a tight end (Jimmy Graham) as a leading receiver and a running back (Darren Sproles) with over 100 targets. When Brees can divvy up his pass attempts among multiple players and position groups, it is usually bad news for fantasy football owners of Saints receivers, but good times for the Saints offense.
Cooks is not a No. 1 option
Brandin Cooks has great speed, soft hands, and amazing route running ability, but his 5-foot-10 175-pound frame is better suited as a flanker (Z receiver) who can speed past corner backs for long pass plays. Cooks flourishes when he can play off the line of scrimmage and get into his route before a cornerback has a chance to jam him off the route.
Against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 of the 2015 season, Cooks was blanketed by All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson, and never could break free for a big play that might have helped the team stay in the game early. Cooks finished with four receptions while being targeted eight times, and did not reach the endzone in a 31-19 loss to the Cardinals.
C.J. Spiller is healthy and will be the check down option
Sean Payton’s passing game is multi-faceted and requires a running back that can get underneath a defensive zone coverage to work as a last option in the passing game. In 2014, Spiller looked lost in the Saints offense and spent most plays unable to break through the first wave of defensive players. The one exception was a game winning 80-yard touchdown pass in a Week 4 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys that went into overtime.
Spiller lined up inside of Brandin Cooks on the right side of the offensive formation. Cooks worked as a decoy, and ran a drag route over the middle of the field. Spiller ran a wheel route down the right sideline and his speed took him past the trailing linebacker and the deep safety.
The touchdown play against the Cowboys is what Spiller was signed to do, and if he can get healthy and be more comfortable in the offense, then his numbers will increase exponentially. Cooks will no longer have to take those check down passes and his reception numbers will decrease.
The receiving corps is young, but experienced
The average age of the probable four starting wideouts for the New Orleans Saints is just 22. However, the group does not lack experience. Brandin Cooks and Brandon Coleman both played in all 16 games in 2015, while Willie Snead played in 15 of 16 games. That added experience will be key in the passing game, as Brees will trust the veterans during third down passing situations.
Last season, it was evident that Brees felt more comfortable targeting Cooks on third downs because he knew Cooks possessed great catching ability and elite speed to get passed the first down marker. Being able to trust Snead and Coleman will open up the passing game, and will take targets away from Cooks.
Brandin Cooks is not a diva
Unlike a lot of starting wide receivers, Cooks is not a ‘me first’ player. He will run perfect routes, whether the ball will be thrown his way or not. If the play calls for a run to his side of the field, he will engage the defender and take him out of the play.
Cooks will not complain about a lack of targets and can go an entire game without a catch if it means the team will win the game. These are great qualities in a team player, but not so great for a fantasy team owner.
The Saints offense is much younger going into the 2016 season, but they have playmakers throughout the depth chart. There is still only one football on the field per play, and Drew Brees is keen on spreading that ball around to the entire offense. This may be a perfect situation for the offense, but Brandin Cooks’ statistical disappointment in 2016 should be great news for the New Orleans Saints.