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We're going to find out whether Brandin Cooks is the real deal or if his numbers were the by-product of playing with great quarterbacks.
Say what you will about Jared Goff, he of the 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns last season, but he's not quite good enough to be in the same tier as Drew Brees or Tom Brady. That's the standard Cooks has been used to – and things are changing now that he's been traded to the Rams in a deal involving multiple draft picks including the Rams' first-rounder in 2018 going to New England.
It's as clear as a summer day in Thousand Oaks that Cooks is coming to the Rams to give them the speedy dimension Sammy Watkins was supposed to give them in 2017. All but one of Watkins' touchdowns came in the red zone and only three of his receptions were good for 30-plus yards in a disappointing season in L.A.. This in spite of 30 percent of Watkins' total targets – 21 of 70 – being considered deep.
And no, that's not a typo. Watkins had 70 targets in 15 games last season. That's 4.7 per game. That's it.
Part of the Rams' magic is that they managed to finish first in points per game and 10th in total yards per game without a bona fide No. 1 receiver. Shoot, Todd Gurley led the team in receptions. That guy had a lot to do with their success. The Rams' tendency to involve and utilize everyone to their strengths without a heavy workload for their wide receivers could throw the proverbial wrench into Cooks' stats.
It doesn't help that Cooks will now play 12 games outdoors on natural grass including all eight of the Rams home games (including one expected to take place in Mexico City). He has historically not been as explosive on the natural stuff versus turf.
Fewer targets from a good-but-not-great quarterback, in an offense that doesn't flow through its receivers and will play on a slower surface won't lead to another 1,000-yard season for Cooks. Tack on a Rams defense that got better and will probably dictate the flow of their games, and Cooks' numbers are... well, cooked. At least by comparison to what we've seen from him before.
Early 2018 projection for Brandin Cooks: 94 targets, 57 receptions, 827 yards, seven touchdowns.
He falls to a decent pick in Round 5 or 6 regardless of format as a No. 3 Fantasy option.
The move doesn't do much good for Cooper Kupp or Robert Woods. Already assumed to finish with similar numbers than they had last year, both will probably take a small hit in targets, catches and yards since Cooks figures to eat a bigger piece of the pie than Sammy Watkins did. Both had under 900 yards and five touchdowns last season, they will again in 2018.
It's a nice pick-me-up for Jared Goff, however. It's certainly better than going into the season with Josh Reynolds or some rookie as his deep-ball receiver. Cooks is better than that and will help Goff have a shot at matching his stats from 2017. He remains one of several value quarterbacks you'll find late on Draft Day.
Back in Foxboro
Let's not lose sight over what this means for the Patriots. Cooks was New England's best deep-ball receiver. Their current in-house replacements are Phillip Dorsett, newly acquired Cordarrelle Patterson, Malcolm Mitchell and Kenny Britt. Wow, it's a lineup of massive Fantasy disappointments. If the Patriots stand pat with that group they'll have speed on the field but nothing as complete as what Cooks gave them. Mitchell has the most Fantasy appeal of the gang as the devil we don't know versus the devils we do know.
The 2018 NFL Draft has a handful of receivers – D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley, D.J. Chark – who could fill that role. Or perhaps the Patriots make a trade for a speedy wideout entering a contract year – Josh Gordon, Martavis Bryant or Tyrell Williams ... or Odell Beckham. That would be something.
At the very least we can get excited about Julian Edelman all over again. If Cooks (and Danny Amendola) had stayed in New England, Edelman could have seen his target share dip, particularly with Rob Gronkowski hogging looks from Brady. Now, Edelman should fall right back into a spot where he finds well over 100 targets in 2018. That helps his upside, especially in PPR leagues.
Chris Hogan should also re-establish is role in the offense, though it doesn't mean he'll suddenly blow past the 680 yards and five touchdowns he's maxed out at through two seasons in New England.