His five receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown in that matchup just sent it into overdrive.
Currently, Cooks' average draft position (ADP) stands at 75 overall and 31 among wide receivers, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. He has jumped ahead of fellow rookies Sammy Watkins and Kelvin Benjamin and even established veterans like Reggie Wayne, Eric Decker and Dwayne Bowe.
Cooks' ADP proves that some owners are buying into the hype generated by the media, his teammates and, of course, his performances in training camp and the first preseason game, which speak for themselves.
It's a smart move.
Cooks began impressing immediately in camp, when he took a quick screen from Drew Brees to the house on July 29.
"This guy has it all," Drew Brees said about Cooks earlier in camp, per Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune. "He's got short-area quickness, great transition ability and phenomenal straight-line speed." The 5'10", 186-pound receiver ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash at the NFL combine after Dri Archer.
That speed could help him earn the slot receiver job that Darren Sproles' departure this offseason opened up. But don't expect the Saints to confine him entirely to the slot. Cooks' fantasy production will depend on how often he lines up on the outside as well, and he's already proved he's capable in that role.
Holder noted that on practice on July 29, the same day Cooks took off with the touchdown screen pass from the Vine above, he also hauled in a 20-yard back-shoulder pass from Brees along the sideline.
That kind of versatility is why Cooks is worth betting a mid-round pick on as a rookie receiver.
Conventional fantasy wisdom has generally held that rookie receivers are rarely worth the risk. But as this chart by Yahoo Sports' Brad Evans shows, evidence since 2010 demonstrates that the rule continues to be broken.
|Standout Rookie WR Fantasy Production Since 2010|
|Player||Year||Line||PPG Rank among WRs|
|Julio Jones (ATL)||2011||54-959-8||9|
|Mike Williams (TB)||2010||65-964-11||15|
|Keenan Allen (SD)||2013||71-1046-8||16|
|A.J. Green (CIN)||2011||65-1057-7||16|
|T.Y. Hilton (IND)||2012||50-861-7||28|
|Torrey Smith (BAL)||2011||50-841-7||29|
If drafting prior to the Saints' second preseason game against Tennessee on Aug. 15, owners may still be able to target Cooks for a late-round value.
But the Saints are game-planning around him, which will become more apparent the further we get into the preseason and potentially drive his ADP up. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport wrote on Aug. 7 that "the Saints landed a lightning bolt" with Cooks and "they already have a package of plays designed to unleash him."
It's time to buck the trend against rookie receivers and draft aggressively if owners want to see high reward at the position. Cooks' ceiling is extremely high, and his road to playing time is clear. Sproles earned 89 pass targets alone in 2013, and he's not even a receiver. Expect Cooks to be on the receiving end of Brees' throws early and often in 2014.
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