A new favorite for top fantasy rookie wideout has emerged, and his name is Brandin Cooks, not Sammy Watkins.
The No. 20 overall pick in the 2014 draft and the crown jewel of offensive guru Sean Payton's eye, hence the trade up to acquire his services, fantasy owners can be forgiven for being rather hesitant in regards to the Oregon State product.
After all, rookie wideouts generally struggle from a fantasy production standpoint. The speed of the game is different, the playbooks are bigger than any religious text and the timing and chemistry necessary with a quarterback—if they are fortunate enough to play with just one—is a significant investment.
Really, the lengthy list of failures is too much to list. But a compilation of the top 20 rookie wideout seasons in history, by ESPN's Tristan H. Cockcroft, shows that drafting them is akin to throwing darts at a board with a blindfold on—and the board isn't even in the room.
With all of that digested, the early rumblings out of New Orleans are difficult to ignore.
Here's a guy who's obviously extremely talented. But more so than that, very intelligent. You get this feeling that he wants to be great, he loves football, he wants to learn. Every time he comes up to me, it's eyes wide.
Feed me, feed me information. He absorbs it very quickly and goes out and applies it. I'd say that's pretty rare for a young guy. Typically their head is spinning for a little while. Doesn't seem like anything is too big for him.
There have been other positive reviews from among the roster, too, such as one from 10-year pro Benjamin Watson, via ESPN's Mike Triplett:
When you see a guy catch a pass and you see his first two steps look like he's about to run a 40-yard dash, you know that the guy is quick and fast. And when you get the ball to him and he learns what to do, there might be problems [for opposing defenses]. And that's what we all saw from the first pass he caught.
Everybody looked at each other like, 'Wow, this kid is definitely at a different speed.'
Alright, so Cooks is fast. But we have known that since he blazed a 4.33 40-yard-dash at the combine. Fret not, as a storied history of production follows Cooks to the pros, too:
That pro-style offense at Oregon State, paired with a coach in Payton who puts players in the best position to succeed, will catapult Cooks over other major rookie names in terms of production now that reviews are beginning to file in.
Cooks enters an offensive system that features the game's best tight end (er, pass-catcher) in Jimmy Graham. Veteran wideout Marques Colston is reliable and still around. Sophomore Kenny Stills led the NFL in yards-per-catch average in his debut year.
So defenses will not normally key on Cooks, which should make it even more exciting when one remembers that Darren Sproles and Lance Moore are gone—meaning an offense that passed the ball 651 times last year now has to find a way to replace 143 targets.
The only real issue is that Brees loves to spread the ball around. But the sheer quantity of the attack will still presumably help Cooks past Watkins (quarterback issues), Mike Evans (quarterback issues and Vincent Jackson), Odell Beckham Jr. (other targets and a rebounding quarterback) and Kelvin Benjamin (run-first offense, iffy hands)
There will undoubtedly be specific plays drawn up for Cooks, and he will line up in the slot, on the outside, at running back and even return kicks on special teams. Versatility has been a key part of his camp thus far, along with highlights, as captured by Ramon Antonio Vargas of The New Orleans Advocate:
Your daily Brandin Cooks highlight: hit with a short pass to left, the rookie turned it upfield and outran the pack for like a 50-yard score— Ramon Antonio Vargas (@RVargasAdvocate) July 29, 2014
As usual, Brandin Cooks showing a bit of everything. Turned up 2 bubble screens impressively quick, cleanly hauled in back shoulder throw.— Ramon Antonio Vargas (@RVargasAdvocate) July 31, 2014
It helps that Cooks has also shown a trait that will score him trust points with Brees, too:
Cooks was explosive enough without the help of a guru like Payton, a future Hall of Famer like Brees and an overall formula ripe for exploitation by fantasy owners.
The fact he is already showing a proper adjustment to NFL speed, pads or not, and blowing by veterans while impressing them at the same time speaks volumes about his budding fantasy value.