#TFAthrowdown: Doug Baldwin vs. Brandin Cooks
Continuing with the #TFAthrowdown series, two writers take sides in a one-on-one matchup between two established wide receivers with similar ADP. Jeff Donovan makes the case that fantasy owners should draft Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, while Mike Robinson discusses his reasoning that new Patriots pass-catcher Brandin Cooks should take one of your roster spots. As you can see, Twitter followers lean towards Baldwin right now, but not by much.
— Mike Robinson (@mr_robinson42) June 24, 2017
Doug E. Fresh
What do Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Odell Beckham Jr. all have in common? They are three of the four players that finished inside the top 12 at the wide receiver position in both standard and PPR formats in each of the last two seasons. The other? Doug Baldwin. The UDFA receiver put together an incredibly solid first six seasons in the league. Post-merger, only two undrafted receivers have more seasons with a combination of 75-plus receptions and seven touchdowns (Rod Smith/Wes Welker). Baldwin’s short area quickness and burst (6.65 3-cone | Emmanuel Sanders – 6.64 3-cone), combined with elite route running skills, and underrated ability to create explosive plays are the foundation to Baldwin’s success.
The Transformation of the Seattle Passing Game – Cause/Effect
After a team-leading 2011 rookie campaign with Tavaris Jackson and Clipboard Jesus at quarterback, Baldwin has been waiting on the growth of Russell Wilson and the development of on-field chemistry. The Seahawks let Golden Tate walk in free agency heading into the 2014 season, and have gone through a transition into a more pass-happy offense with less stability at the running back position post-Marshawn Lynch. Seattle added tight end Jimmy Graham during the 2015 offseason but have struggled to get him involved near the end zone. That has not been the case for Baldwin. Lack of opportunity was Baldwin’s main obstacle early in his career, but as seen below, he has truly become Russell Wilson’s favorite target.
After tying for a league-high 14 touchdowns in 2015 on a meager 103 targets, it was more than obvious a regression in that category was to be expected. In 2016, Baldwin was able to account for the loss in touchdowns by catching 16 more balls on 22 additional targets. Last season was the first year that Seattle did not rank in the bottom five in team pass attempts during the Russell Wilson era. It’s no mystery that over the years Pete Carroll’s coaching philosophy has been predicated on playing sound defense, controlling time of possession with the run, and hitting teams with explosive plays in the passing game.
Inside the Numbers
[wpdatatable id=404 table_view=regular]
Seen in the table above, Baldwin and Cooks have strikingly similar totals in a number of different categories. Cooks is perennially known for his ability to blow the top of defenses. Seen here, Baldwin has done surprisingly well at creating big plays for someone who is most known for working the slot underneath. His 16 plays of 20-plus yards were one more than Cooks and ranked tied for 11th among wide receivers. Both Baldwin and Cooks finished in the top-10 at the position in plays of 40-plus yards. Baldwin has Cooks edged in nearly every category listed above, aside from yards per reception. One of the most important aspects of Baldwin’s game is his incredible efficiency, holding the fourth-highest catch percentage among wide receivers. Though Baldwin hasn’t been able to corral an outrageously high market share (20th), this capability of snatching the vast majority of his targets has allowed Baldwin to remain a WR1 in fantasy.
The Safe Play
In terms of Cooks’ prospects for 2017, Graham Barfield of FantasyGuru.com laid out how his ADP of WR13 simply doesn’t make sense. I suggest reading the entire thread below.
Since Gronk joined New England, these are the best WR finishes on the team. Only two top-12 finishes in that span. Brandin Cooks' ADP: WR13. pic.twitter.com/d6CKPPtxdX
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) June 26, 2017
While Cooks has dealt with a ‘share the wealth’ offense in New Orleans before, I expect that to be the case in New England as well. Conversely, Baldwin has and will continue to be the top target on an offense that until last season’s blunderous, injury-laden campaign, had previously ranked inside the top 10 in points per game every year of Wilson’s career. Cooks’ likely weekly volatility makes him a far more intriguing best ball selection over traditional redraft leagues. Baldwin remains one of the safer picks in MFL10 formats at the 2/3 turn as well as at his early-to-mid third round ADP in standard (3.05) and PPR (3.02) redraft leagues (Fantasy Football Calculator).
In perhaps one of the biggest offseason moves of 2017, the New England Patriots acquired New Orleans’ WR Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick (No. 118 overall) in exchange for their first-round pick (No. 32 overall) and a third-round pick (No. 103 overall). Cooks is lightning in a bottle. Pairing his speed, agility, and route running skills with Super Bowl MVP QB Tom Brady adds fuel to an already potent offense. To say that everyone inside and outside the organization is excited about this opportunity is an understatement. Anytime Brady delivers the ball to Cooks in space this fall, it creates an opportunity for a big play. This is perhaps the biggest reason I’m higher on Cooks than Baldwin in 2017.
The Oregon State product burst on the scene leading not only all the Pac-12 but all NCAA receivers in receiving yards as a junior in 2013. During that year, he had 128 receptions, 1,730 receiving yards, and 16 touchdowns. His credentials include First-team All-Pac-12 (2013); Consensus All-American (2013) and Biletnikoff Award winner (2013). Cooks chose to forgo his senior season and declared for the NFL draft in 2014. He ran the fastest 40 yd. dash time of 4.33 sec. and had a 36 in. vertical at the combine. To put that in modern terms, he was the John Ross of his combine. New Orleans’ secured Cooks with their first round selection as the 20th overall pick in the draft.
When you look at the tape, several things jump out at you including his route running skills and his uncanny ability to catch the back shoulder throw as well as “high point” the ball for contested catches in traffic. He’s tough as nails, able to run routes across the middle, and also absorbs big hits while securing the catch. Perhaps his best attribute, speed, is seen as he performs a double move and flat outruns defenders burning them for long bomb TDs (50T, 71T, and 98T). He is able to do this at will from anywhere on the field. This game-breaking capability is what separates him from Baldwin.
Here’s a look at what Cooks did during his first three years in New Orleans.
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If we look at Cooks’ performance over his time in New Orleans, keep in mind that he came in during Jimmy Graham’s final season. In two short years, he filled the void left when Graham was traded to Seattle in 2015 and made us forget about Marques Colston. Drew Brees was as comfortable throwing to Cooks as he was to Jimmy. While Jimmy was a red zone wonder, Cooks is a threat to score from any given field position. He is on the precipice of filling the same void for New England in the event Gronk suffers another mid-season injury. Cooks is on an upward trajectory with his best years yet to come while Baldwin is in the latter stages of his career.
Compare Cooks’ stats above to Baldwin’s last three years shown below and we see how Cooks is already performing at levels above Baldwin’s best years.
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Word from minicamp is that Cooks has adopted the “Patriot Way”. His work ethic has been noticed by Coach Belichick. These are all good signs that Cooks is doing all the right things to set himself up for a successful season as a key member of the New England offense. Cooks is used to being in an offense where the ball is spread around to multiple targets and still managed to find success. Tom Brady will always find the open man and Brandin Cooks has a knack for getting open. The Patriots offense is full of familiar faces to Tom Brady and some may question his ability to work into that rotation. Cooks bring something to the party that no one else in the roster brings, a complete route tree.
New England has been known for its WR by committee approach over the past several years. Brady spreads the ball all over the field to Edelman, Amendola, Gronk, James White, Dion Lewis, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan. This program has been born out of necessity due to a lack of skill sets in any one player. It’s more a testament to the coaching ability of Belichick to use what he has available versus a planned mode of operation. With Cooks, the Patriots have a legitimate WR1 with the ability to run all the routes from various formations and to all the different ranges as dictated by the game plan from week to week.
For some perspective on the opportunity waiting for Cooks, here are the last 3 years for the top WR in New England, Julian Edelman (Gronk numbers excluded).
[wpdatatable id=400 table_view=regular]
For Cook’s possible ceiling projection, let’s look at Wes Welker’s Top 3 Seasons with Brady:
[wpdatatable id=401 table_view=regular]
Let’s say for argument’s sake that Cooks performs at a conservative 80% level of Wes Welker’s best years. This translates to the numbers shown above. Considering Brady’s tossed the ball 624 times completing 402 passes during his last full 16 game season, this figure of 97 catches represents about 24% of completed passes. With Cooks’ catch rate of 67% that equates to about 145 targets. On a per game basis, this metric is about 6 catches for 75 yds. on 9 targets (scoring about one TD every three games). Even if Cooks has some growing pains at first, he stands to improve as the season progresses and gets an additional bump if Gronk is not on the field.
Bottom line is that although Cooks is leaving Drew Brees, he is going to a better overall team (defending SB champs) and playing with arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Baldwin meanwhile, remains with a competent QB in Russell Wilson, in a run-heavy offense with fewer opportunities in the passing game (about 110 less passing plays). Seattle’s addition of Eddie Lacy at running back and a healthy C.J. Prosise could begin to erode some of the targets for Baldwin. Where Baldwin offers a stable target share for short yardage throws, my money is on Cooks who offers a variety of medium to deep route options with a high ceiling including the ability to have breakout performances on any given week in 2017.
Liked this post? Check our 2017 draft rankings here and don’t forget to pay attention for future #TFAthrowdown pieces in the weeks to come!