Why Saints WR Brandin Cooks Will Be Fantasy Football's Top Rookie WR in 2014

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystAugust 12, 2014

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) gets past St. Louis Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (20) on a touchdown reception in the third quarter of a preseason NFL football game Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

In fantasy football, more often than not, the leading rookie wide receiver isn't whom people expect. Very few people, experts and amateurs alike, believed heading into last season that player would wind up being Keenan Allen of the San Diego Chargers.

Even the great A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals, who led all rookie receivers back in 2011, was picked second among wideouts in rookie drafts that year, behind the equally great Julio Jones.

In 2014, an incredibly deep class of first-year wide receivers has led to any number of viable candidates, with Sammy Watkins of the Buffalo Bills emerging as the first rookie receiver being drafted, according to the average-draft-position data at My Fantasy League.

However, it's the player roaring up draft boards behind him who is the best bet to lead rookie wide receivers in fantasy points in 2014, because for Brandin Cooks of the New Orleans Saints, the stars are aligning for talent and opportunity to come together.

The talent part has been on display since Cooks posted an eye-popping 128 catches for over 1,700 yards at Oregon State a year ago.

That and a blistering 4.33-second 40-yard dash at February's scouting combine were enough for the Saints to make Cooks the 20th overall pick in the 2014 draft.

The youngster didn't waste any time making an impression on his new team.

As Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune recently pointed out, there hasn't been a more consistently impressive newcomer in Saints camp than the 5'10" 185-pounder:

There's a moment nearly every training camp when a rookie shows up a highly skilled veteran. The player with years vested in the NFL is initially taken aback and humbled. Then, after a moment of reflection, the only word he can utter is: "Wow!"

Top-notch New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis experienced such a moment during Monday morning's training camp practice session when faced with the challenge of attempting to track down first-round pick Brandin Cooks.

It's a play in which we've seen Cooks explode a couple of times already this training camp. The wide receiver snatched a bubble-screen pass, dashed through the holes created by his blockers and zipped through the open field in an instant.

Cooks has also caught the attention of the player whose attention he most needed to catch, Drew Brees:

"Yeah, you can say they're [some players] straight-line fast but not real quick, or they have long strides, or short-area quickness but not long speed. [Cooks] has it all. He's got short-area quickness, great transition ability and phenomenal straight-line speed.

Of course, there have been any number of players who look great in practice only to fade just as quickly in game action. That wasn't the case with Cooks.

In his preseason debut, Cooks reeled in five passes for 55 yards, including a pretty 25-yard scoring grab in the third quarter on which Cooks made some nice moves in the open field.

Sure, Cooks is currently listed third on New Orleans' depth chart. However, Marques Colston is the wrong side of 30, Kenny Stills has been nicked up in camp, and Robert Meachem is—well, he's Robert Meachem.

If Cooks continues turning heads at this rate (and there's been nothing to this point to indicate he won't), then the youngster is going to get his chance.

And when Cooks does, it's going to come in a fantasy gold mine.

Yes, superstar tight end Jimmy Graham is no doubt Drew Brees' top option in the passing attack. But this is also a passing attack that has averaged over 5,000 yards a season over the past four years. In three of those seasons, the Saints ranked in the top five in passing yardage.

In other words, there's plenty to go around, especially with the Saints in need of a young player to emerge and take Colston's mantle as the team's top wideout.

Meanwhile, Watkins will play his rookie season as the primary receiver for a Bills team that ran the ball more than any other in the NFL, largely due to an unproven quarterback in EJ Manuel.

Does that mean that Cooks is a better receiver than Watkins? Hardly. But Cooks doesn't have to be the most talented (or even third-most talented) wide receiver in his class to be the best fantasy option at his position.

Because in fantasy football, talent will only take you as far as opportunity lets it.

And in 2014, Brandin Cooks has just the right combination of both.


Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.