Ask any seasoned fantasy player and they’ll tell you most owners follow the flock. They adhere to conventional wisdom no matter the evidence to the contrary.
Grab a high-volume running back early.
Don’t trust any Jacksonville Jaguar.
Never shoot tequila and draft.
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To a certain degree many draft day rules are steeped in logic. However, one widely believed axiom doesn’t coincide with modern thinking, potentially leading fanatics to avoid legitimate difference-makers:
Ignore rookie wide receivers, unless available very late, at all costs.
For the vast majority of first-year receivers, history hasn’t been particularly kind. The increased speed of the game, talent on NFL defenses and system terminology has widened the learning curve for even the most naturally gifted target. Heck, Calvin Johnson, arguably the purest commodity in terms of baseline skill since Randy Moss entered the league in 1998, only caught 48 passes for 756 yards and four scores his rookie year. If he couldn’t leave an indelible mark, skeptics contend, what’s the point of entertaining any unproven receiver?
Don’t be so bullheaded.
The transition to the pro game is easier than it’s ever been. Elements mined from the college level (e.g spread and pistol offenses) are now staples in many NFL playbooks, a development that's lessened the burden for many. As the chart above depicts, since 2010 six wide receivers have churned out at least a WR3 line in 12-team standard or PPR leagues. Last year, Keenan Allen, an early season waiver wire darling, totaled 71 receptions for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns, a top-10 output all-time (in yardage) among first-year WRs. A.J. Green, Mike Williams and Julio Jones also chipped in highly useful numbers in their inaugural efforts. It’s important to view players on a case-by-case basis, but wake up and smell the stats, green WRs, particularly those in ideal situations, can be trusted.
New Orleans dynamo Brandin Cooks is one of them.
As Saints insider Mike Triplett has repeatedly reported this summer, there’s no player who’s generated more camp buzz than the Oregon State product. Drew Brees has lauded his “rare” work ethic, quick absorption of the playbook and hunger to improve. David Hawthorne has been astonished by how “dangerous” he is in space. And a spellbound Curtis Lofton called him and his blazing 4.33 40-yard speed “really special.” This Vine recently snapped by the Saints of Cooks taking a simple screen to the house is pure fantasy porn:
Doubters will continue to hammer his lack of size (5-foot-10, 189 pounds) and overall inexperience, but Cooks is a certifiable Mighty Mouse. He’s ultra-versatile, the definition of durable – he hasn’t missed a game stretching back to his high school days – and highly explosive. His comfort level whether slotted inside or out is also a plus attribute. Last season for the Beavers, he caught 128 passes for 1,720 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s more than a Darren Sproles filler. He’s more than a fantasy late-round stab in the dark.
In the club’s Black and Gold scrimmage over the weekend, Cooks was the exhibition’s shining star. With Ryan Griffin throwing him the pill (Brees was sidelined with an oblique strain), he hauled in six receptions and topped 100 all-purpose yards. He outmuscled corner Patrick Robinson on a deep connection and devoured large chunks of real estate on special teams. It’s easy to see why New Orleans traded up to No. 20 in the draft to secure his services. The proof is in the production.
Once prospective buyers see him in game action they will line up.
Yes, New Orleans will continue to be a socialist offense. Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and sophomore target Kenny Stills will surely play significant roles. However, the latter pair isn’t free of downside. Colston, a true king of inconsistency week-in, week-out in recent years, isn’t exactly a spring chicken and Stills is more of a deep-only threat. When defenses attempt to pinch Graham, the underneath game will open up, an area where Cooks thrives. Clearly, in an offense that’s averaged 658.7 pass attempts over the past four seasons, he’ll be relied upon heavily, possibly netting 110-130 targets. Keep in mind Sproles alone racked 101.3 looks per year from 2011-2013.
Those getting him at or near his 114.2 Yahoo ADP (WR41) should be arrested for thievery. There’s no way Riley Cooper, Anquan Boldin or Cecil Shorts, all players going ahead of him, will be better, especially in PPR.
Break the rule, risk-taker. The Mario Batalli of rookie wide receivers is about to serve up quite the delectable dish.
Fearless Forecast: 81 receptions, 956 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns, 88 rushing yards
Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise. Also check out "The Noise' along with colleagues Andy Behrens and Brandon Funston for another season of 'Fantasy Football Live' every Tuesday-Thursday at 6:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.