Monday, August 14, 2017

With Cooks, Fantasy Equals Reality

In the world of situation football, Brandin Cooks is a pawn.

When the New England Patriots traded their top draft pick to the New Orleans Saints for the three-year NFL veteran, many had visions of a sugar plumb named Randy Moss running through their heads, with the notion of a quick-strike vertical game that would render even the best cornerbacks in the league a staggering shell of themselves.
Cooks in camp with Amendola (80) and Edelman

And why not?  After all, Cook does run a sub-4.4 forty yard dash and has proven time and again that he can gain separation and outrun defenders like a gazelle running from a hungry lioness, and when you combine that kind of speed with sure hands and quick feet to win off of the line of scrimmage, there is every reason to believe that the Patriots do have the vertical game that can take the top off of any defense.

So why isn't Cooks listed on the fantasy football sites as a top ten wide receiver?

Fantasy football sites are our very best source of information on professional football players, because they weigh a player's athletic gifts and combine that with the talent around them and the overall scheme of an offense, which gives them a pretty good idea on how to project the production of  an individual player.

So it's not going to surprise anyone to hear that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are the top fantasy quarterback and tight end, respectively, in the National Football League, given that Brady leads an offense that has as much firepower as an in the game, and that Gronkowski is the biggest matchup nightmare in the pattern.

But Cooks isn't listed among them - in fact, not even in the top ten of receivers - but there are some very good reasons for that.

First of all, Cooks isn't Moss no matter how much fans want him to be.  There will probably not be another player in our lifetime with the combination of size, speed, hands and instincts that Moss possessed.  When he played with in New England, Patriots fans were treated to a showcase of everything Moss was, and is probably the only player in the world of football that could make Brady a better quarterback... all Brady had to do was to put the ball up in the air and Moss would find a way to run underneath it, making the entire exchange appear effortless - as if Brady were throwing Moss open which, in essence, he was.  Many feel that just because Bob Kraft mentioned Cooks in the same breath as Randy Moss that they should expect the same production - but that's a lot to lay on a diminutive slot receiver.

Secondly, Cooks plays on a roster so loaded with skill position players that he is realistically the second or third option in the pattern, depending on the play call.

The offense revolves around Gronkowski, whose size/strength/speed ratio demands double coverage - and even then it's a crap shoot for defenders, who are reduced to going after the man-child's knees to even their odds of taking him down.  Then there's Julian Edelman, who has the quickest feet of any receiver in the game and is known league wide as the toughest cover in football... take nothing away from Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell or the clutch Danny Amendola, while on some plays, Brady will go to his backs first, as James White and Dion Lewis are most dangerous passing back tandem in the league.

Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that head ball coach Bill Belichick prefers a ball-control, move-the-chains, methodical offense that grinds opposing defenses into the dirt and saps their will to compete.  In that mindset, Cooks is an entity that will more often than not be used in the slot to take advantage of his elite quickness and yards after the catch ability to move the chains.

All one has to do is look at a replay of Super Bowl 51 to see how effective that philosophy works when a team sticks to it and doesn't panic.

In fact, coming out of college. most scouts saw Cooks as a slot receiver with some utility as a boundary receiver due to his balance and uncanny ability to gain immediate separation and run away from the defender. If, however, they find themselves in a position where they need to become vertical, say at the end of the half or the end of the game where they are behind, it's nice to know that they have the capability to do so, and do it right.

So, in regard to Brandon Cooks, what fantasy football sites believe is what the reality of his situation is.

Yes, he's got speed to burn and has been lighting up camp.  Yes, he developed a bond with Brady and they are clicking.  But so has Brady and Gronkowski, Brady and Edelman, Brady and White, etc., etc., etc., but the Patriots way is about leaving your individuality locked in the trunk of your car and embracing the team.

This is not to say that Cooks won't have games where he's the main attraction, because in a game plan offense, a star is born on any given Sunday and Cooks is bound to have a tremendous impact - but how his presence impacts the team could be in any number of capacities ranging from playing catch with Brady in the intermediate zone to playing decoy to clear out the safeties for another player...

...because truth be known, to use a weapon like Cooks as just a vertical threat to take the top off a defense is limiting what he can do for any individual game plan, and is a waste of resources.

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