Derrick Henry and Brandin Cooks Are Being Overdrafted
It’s that time of year. Free agency and the NFL Draft are over, and the fantasy football draft season begins in earnest. Best-ball drafts are picking up and there’s more data available to gauge a player’s average draft position (ADP) and how it might change by August.
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Henry is the 19th running back off the board in late-May MFL10s (after Dion Lewis was signed) and the 16th back off the board at DRAFT, but that contains some pre-free agency ADP data. Either way, he’s going too early.
I could understand Henry’s ADP landing in the late-third/early-fourth had the Titans cut DeMarco Murray and replaced him with a middle-round rookie in the NFL Draft, but Tennessee signed Lewis to a four-year deal worth $19.8 million, with $8.3 million guaranteed. Lewis’ deal has the most guaranteed money of any 2018 free agent running back not named Jerick McKinnon.
Here’s a look at how teams used free agent running backs in the season after they were signed. I looked at the eight backs who received at least $6.0 million in guaranteed money since the 2013 season.
So, on average, backs that received at least $6.0 million in free agency averaged 14.7 touches per game the ensuing season.
(Note: Latavius Murray certainly benefited from the injury to Dalvin Cook, but the Vikings drafted Cook after signing Murray, so they were likely planning to give Murray a big workload before drafting Cook.)
Last year, DeMarco Murray handled 14.9 touches per game for the Titans, and that left 11.7 touches per game for Henry. If Lewis sees the aforementioned 14.7-touch average, it’s not going to leave much opportunity for Henry’s touches to grow. And let’s not forget—Lewis is good. He’s still only 27, has a career 4.8 yards per carry, and is a very capable receiver out of the backfield.
Last year, Henry finished as the No. 25 running back in standard leagues and No. 37 in PPR formats, so I don’t see how he can be going in the top 20 in best-ball PPR drafts with Lewis in town. I have him ranked 27th/36th in standard/PPR.
Cooks’ early ADP has him going off the board in the late-third/early-fourth round. This makes him the 14th receiver off the board at DRAFT and 18th off the board in the last week in MFL10s. Superficially, I understand why drafters are willing to pay that price. He has three straight top-12 finishes, including back-to-back finishes in the top 10 (in standard formats). He’s not a high-volume receiver, so he has finished in the No. 10 to No. 15 range in PPR formats in the same three-year span. He’s good at football.
There’s definitely a scenario where Cooks could live up to his draft position, but I think it’s more likely than not that he disappoints.
Cooks replaces Sammy Watkins in the Rams’ offense, and at this point, he’s a better and more productive player than Watkins, who caught 39 passes for 593 yards and 8 touchdowns for the Rams last year. The issue for Cooks is available volume. Working backward, he has received 114, 117, and 129 targets per season. Watkins averaged 4.7 targets per game for the Rams last season, which equates to 75 or so targets for a full 16-game season.
Look at it this way—Cooks has averaged 1.97 fantasy points (PPR) per target over last three seasons. Last year, the No. 14 PPR receiver (Doug Baldwin) scored 221 fantasy points, while the No. 18 receiver (Robby Anderson) scored 200 fantasy points. For Cooks to finish in that range given his three-year per target efficiency, he would have to see 102 to 112 targets. This assumes that targets from Jared Goff will be worth as much as targets from Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
The good news is that Goff’s 2017 efficiency was better than the two-year efficiencies of Brees and Brady, though I’m not sure I’d bet on that happening again in 2018. The bad news is that Goff only attempted passes at a rate of 31.7 per game. This means Cooks would have to see 20 to 22 percent of Goff’s pass attempts to hit the targets necessary to justify his current cost.
For the 12 games where Watkins, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp were all healthy, Watkins saw 13 percent of the targets, while Woods saw 23 percent, and Kupp saw 19 percent. So, not only will Cooks have to take over Watkins’ role, he’s going to have to pull three to four percent from both Woods and Kupp, or find those targets elsewhere. I could see Woods’ role diminishing a bit, but he was excellent last year. I doubt Kupp’s involvement takes a hit in his second year in the league.
To me, Cooks is being drafted at or near his ceiling in this offense, assuming everyone stays healthy.