You don’t need to go very far back to find an example of me being the Flava Flav to Brandin Cooks’ Chuck D. Back in July, I thought Cooks was still going to be an elite producer for the Patriots despite playing with Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. I projected him for a season line of 75-1050-7. Interestingly, that wasn’t far off from his 65-1082-7.
Oddly, his actual stat line was considered a disappointment by some – even though when I projected my original stat line, people thought I was nuts. That’s likely because Edelman was out for the year, and suddenly everyone projected Cooks to instantly turn into the next Randy Moss.
I thought it would be interesting to look at players who have been traded since 2010 and how they did after. The problem? I wanted players who had “star” seasons similar to Cooks. I was also ideally looking for players in their prime. Here’s the thing, until this past season trades of wide receivers were rare. Trading a young stud? You’d have an easier time finding a magical pony.
My theory is it takes at least a season for a traded player to adapt to the offense. Hell, you’re not just adapting to the playbook but to the new city you’re living in. It’s not hard to imagine some players have a chip on their shoulder. Maybe they press a bit because they want to prove the team that traded them wrong.
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I could end the article there. But I’m not the kind of guy to make a statement like that and not try to back it up. So, with that said, let’s look at a few players who I think are decent comparables to the situation Cooks found himself in. We’ll begin with Brandon Marshall.
Examining Brandon Marshall after his trade to Miami
In the off-season of 2010, Marshall was traded to the Dolphins from the Broncos for two second-round picks. The team cited off-field issues as the main reason for trading its best receiver. Marshall would go on to make them regret the trade by posting an 86-1014-3 line. However, that was significantly down from the 101-1120-10 line he posted with Denver.
What I find very intriguing is that Marshall only saw eight fewer targets in Miami than he did in Denver. The negative? His catch percentage dropped by nearly 7%. As for the lack of touchdowns, it’s almost like the Dolphins didn’t realize they had a red zone weapon. Going from Kyle Orton who had a decent year in 2009 to Chad Henne in 2010 likely played a factor, but I still believe learning the offense played a big part in the dip.
Why do I believe that? Because the following season he put up the second-best yards per reception of his career and brought his touchdown total up to six. It didn’t hurt that Miami woke up from their collective nap and targeted him 21 times in the red zone as opposed to 14 the year before.
Following his second trade to Chicago in 2012, Marshall returned fully to the player he had been.
You could argue this counters my thesis since he produced year one in the Bears’ offense. However, I believe being reunited with Jay Cutler and having gone through the trade process before allowed him to feel more at ease than his first year in Miami.
Enough about Brandon Marshall though. Obviously, he’s a favorable comp for what I’m trying to make you believe about Brandin Cooks. Let’s examine someone a bit messier for what I’m trying to prove.
Examining Anquan Boldin after his trade to Baltimore
Anquan Boldin was fresh off back to back 1000-yard campaigns when he was traded to Baltimore in 2010. In his first season there, he posted a 64-837-7 line. The touchdowns were up from the previous season, but he lost 20 receptions and over 180 yards. Not good for those of us in any sort of PPR format.
To be fair to Boldin, he went from catching passes from Kurt Warner to Joe Flacco. I don’t care how “elite” you think Flacco is, Warner was a better quarterback at ages 36-38 than Flacco has been in his career. Even if Flacco isn’t elite, you’d think that Boldin would get better in his second season with Baltimore if my theory held true, right?
Well, he did. Sort of. He put up a 57-887-3 line. You might be scratching your head at why I think that’s better, but he played all 16 games of the 2010 season while only playing 14 in 2011. In 2012, he continued to show progression by putting up a 65-921-4 line.
Like Marshall before him, Boldin was traded a second time, this time from the Ravens to the 49ers. Also just like Marshall, Boldin returned to the level of success he saw in his last season of Arizona when traded again. Starting to notice a pattern here?
Now to bring this all back to Brandin Cooks.
Examining Brandin Cooks
Despite the loss of Julian Edelman for the season, Brandin Cooks saw his lowest yardage, catch rate, and touchdowns in three seasons in his first season with the Patriots. He was notably traded by the Saints for demanding more target volume, and yet he saw even less on the Patriots. One of the few positives? He had a career-high 16.6 yards per/rec which demonstrates when he was catching the ball he was a bit more explosive with it.
I’m not about to say that just because two guys before him showed progression in year two after being traded that Cooks will, but there are a few positive signs. He’s had a chance to get to know Tom Brady. His offensive coordinator, much to the chagrin of Colts fans, is staying with the Patriots. Plus, there may be some additional target volume about to come his way.
I know many of you are likely questioning at this point where I think the additional target volume is coming from. One of the biggest knocks I’ve seen against Cooks is that Edelman is coming back. I’m not as confident as you folks are that a 32-year-old coming off an ACL injury will be a significant part of the Pats plans next season. I know Edelman and Brady have one of the biggest bromances in sports, but Brady wants to win more than he wants to throw to his BFF.
Additionally, there are rumors that Robert Gronkowski may retire to pursue an acting career. I won’t buy it until I see it, but if Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is Viagra for action franchises, you have to imagine Gronk would like to make an appearance in The Fast and Furious 69. It is at least somewhat believable that Gronk would want to leave football for a career that is less threatening to health so it’s a possibility we need to consider.
Honestly though, Cooks doesn’t need increased volume to beat expectations. He just needs to follow the Edelman plan and spend all off-season with Brady. His catch rate was the lowest of his career. If he can bring that up to career norms he should be good for about 75 receptions. Assuming he maintains the better yards per receptions to at least a degree, he’d then be on pace for his first 1,200-yard season.
This season Cooks finished as a top 12 option in .5 PPR formats. With just slight improvements like Marshall and Boldin in their second seasons, he could easily repeat. I’ve seen some people I respect suggesting you should sell Cooks right now. I’d argue that last year we got the raw dough, but this season we’re going to get the whole finished cookie.
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