The Curious Case of WR Co-Dependency (2019 Re-Publish)
Recently, while filming a series for my YouTube channel on the top 50 veterans, linked my cohost Mark said that he is down on Brandin Cooks in 2019. The reasoning behind his conclusion is that with the return of Cooper Kupp (from his 2019 ACL tear) Cooks will be less productive in coach Sean McVay's offense. It seems like a logical connection, right? More mouths to feed means less targets and less production from each player. This is exactly the speculation that I am here to explore.
Since joining the Rams in 2018 Brandin Cooks played in all 16 games, split 8-8 for games with Cooper Kupp and games without.
In the games WITH Cooper Kupp on the field Cooks had 59 targets for 44 receptions, 719 yards, and 2 touchdowns. In the games WITHOUT Cooper Kupp playing, Cooks had almost the same amount of targets with 58 while tallying 36 receptions for 485 yards and 3 touchdowns. While we see a small bump in touchdowns when Kupp is OFF the field, receptions and yardage dip during that same period..
With Kupp healthy for a full 16 we could expect a stat line for Brandin Cooks of 88 receptions for 1,438 yards and about 4 touchdowns. That would give Cooks 211.8 fantasy points playing alongside Kupp which would land him at WR 12 just before Keenan Allen.
On the other hand, Cooks without Kupp could expect to see 72 receptions, 970 yards and 6 touchdowns for a score of 169 points, landing him as WR 23 just before Emmanuel Sanders.
So in this instance, we can conclude that Kupp makes Cooks a BETTER fantasy option. And this makes sense- why wouldn't a quality slot receiver open up more plays down the field?
A week later I was working on predictions for Davante Adams for a similar podcast. Last season there was no true #2 once Geronimo Allison left with a core muscle tear. According to my previous study on Kupp and Cooks, one might assume that Davante Adams would put up better stats next season when we add valuable pass options. Once again I went to the stats to see how this correlation worked out.
First, I am going to assume the Geronimo Allison was the second most valuable pass threat on the Packers in 2018- after all he looked sharp in the games he played last season. In his first four games he was averaging 7.25 targets, 4.75 catches, 72.25 yards, and .5 touchdowns a game. That, over 16 games, could be as high as 116 targets for 76 catches, 1,156 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Yes, those are good #2 numbers- in fact that would be 201.6 fantasy points, or enough for WR 23 just behind Calvin Ridley.
So how does the inclusion of Geronimo Allison effect the numbers of Davante Adams? Do they go up? Lets take a look.
In 2018 Allison and Adams played 4 games together. During those games Adams averaged 10.75 targets for 7 catches, 71.25 yards, and .75 touchdowns per game. That could be a stat line of 112 receptions for 1,139 yards and 12 touchdowns, or 241.9 points when adjusted for 16 games. These numbers would land Adams at WR 14 just behind Brandin Cooks.
In 2018 WITHOUT Allison, Adams averaged 11.45 targets for 7.55 receptions, just over 110 yards, and .9 touchdowns a game. This could amount to a gaudy stat line of 121 receptions for 1,760 yards and 14 touchdowns over 16 games, or 320 half PPR fantasy points. These numbers land Adams WR 1, ahead of Tyreek Hill but 35.5 points!
With a true WR 2 on the Packers, Adams could score up to 62 points less during a full season and fall from WR 1 to WR 14.
And in a final case, one where a wide receiver's value changes very little based on his supporting cast, we can look back at the Rams, this time to Robert Woods who is much less effected by who is on the field around him.
In games with Kupp on the field in 2018 Woods caught 45 of 65 targets for 684 yards and 3 TD. During games WITHOUT Kupp, he caught 41 of 65 targets for 535 yards and 4 touchdowns. While his yards per reception and total targets did have some wiggle room, the difference over a half season with or without Kupp changed by only 10.5 fantasy points.
So what do all the stats and numbers mean?
What conclusions can we draw from this data?
For me, it means that as an analyst you need to look at numbers and not ASSUME value gained or value lost when one part of a wide receiver tandem goes missing. In the case of Brandin Cooks, he is actually BETTER with Cooper Kupp ON the field. However, with Davante Adams, he is better being the only passing threat around. Slot receivers can ADD value to outside threats by changing coverages and keeping defensive backs on their toes. Keep an eye out if a member of one of these tandems goes down- it could be decreased value all around.
It is lazy analysis to look at a team and say "more mouths to feed, less value" while ALSO being lazy analysis to EXPECT the inverse. We must look at the numbers and see how the codependent relationships of the wide receivers work out.
Only THEN can we make accurate fantasy predictions and capitalize on injuries and trades to wide receivers in the fantasy world.
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Thanks, and happy drafting. Lets make some money together in 2019!