Brandin Cooks Wins His Routes
It’s not too difficult for receivers to catch passes as long as the chess pieces are arranged in their favor. Pretty much any receiver can beat Jo-Lonn Dunbar (-6.5 coverage in 2014) or any other poor coverage linebacker if the play is able to isolate him.
But like chess, football is a complex game where the likelihood that a receiver will win on his route depends on both his team’s strategy and his opponent’s. The more a receiver wins, the more likely his opponent will scheme to stop him. And where Dunbar has allowed receivers to win* on 90 percent of their targets since 2012, the best corners provide a far fairer fight.
*I am defining a win for a receiver as a target with either a reception or a drop and a loss as a target with neither a reception nor a drop.
|Lowest Win Rate Allowed, 2012-2014, Min. 100 Targets|
Unsurprisingly, Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis lead the list of defenders with the lowest win rates allowed over the last three seasons, and Sherman, in particular, is separated from the rest of the field. Receivers have been nearly 40 percent less likely to win their targets with Sherman defending than with the worst coverage linebackers.
Because of the big differences in coverage skill among relevant defenders, it does not make sense to award a receiver the same credit for every win. If an ill-fated receiver caught 50 balls and all 50 of them had Sherman in coverage, then that is much more impressive than a receiver who caught 50 balls with Dunbar or even Orlando Scandrick (70 percent win rate allowed) in coverage. To account for those differences, I have calculated a Wins Above Average (WAA) stat that credits receivers with caught or dropped targets and debits them for non-caught, non-dropped targets relative to the win rates allowed by the defender in coverage against them.
Here are the 2014 Wins Above Average leaders:
|Most Wins Above Average, 2014, Min. 50 Targets|
A quick glance at this leaderboard might lead you to believe the results are biased toward slot receivers. Julian Edelman, for example, ran 40 percent of his routes in the slot and led all receivers with 15.3 Wins Above Average. However, Antonio Brown, Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills and Jordy Nelson all had slot percentages under 30 percent and only Jarvis Landry and Randall Cobb were above 60 percent. In reality, these are possession receivers by virtue of consistently winning their routes.
The leaderboard is biased toward receivers who saw a lot of targets. For a receiver that wins at a higher rate than average, the more targets he sees the higher his Wins Above Average total will be. In fact, six of the receivers in the top 10 of WAA were also in the top 20 of total targets. However, one receiver stands out in making the top 10 with a low target total. That is Brandin Cooks. If you look at Wins Above Average per target, then Cooks really stands out.
|Most Wins Above Average Per Target, 2014, Min. 50 Targets|
Last season, Cooks had nearly 0.03 wins more per target than the next best receiver. Only 27 of the 105 qualified receivers even had a WAA per target of 0.03 or higher. Meanwhile, as excellent as Jimmy Graham has been for the Saints, his presence with the team did not stop Cooks from receiving some of the best defensive attention. Twelve defenders covered Cooks on two or more targets last season, and six of them—Alterraun Verner, Davon House, Adam Jones, Xavier Rhodes, Tramon Williams, and Darius Slay—are in the top 52 in win rate allowed of the 185 defenders with 100 or more targets since 2012.
|Brandin Cooks’ Frequent Defenders, 2014|
Cooks’ injury last season has not depressed his draft value much. He has been selected as the No. 16 receiver in MFL ADP. Still, I’d prefer him to Sammy Watkins, who has been taken a round earlier. The better buy might be Jace Amaro, who is the closest tight end in WAA per target to everyone’s favorite tight end Travis Kelce but is available 13 rounds later in drafts.
Scott Spratt is a Sloan Analytics Conference Research Paper Competition and Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. He also writes for RotoGraphs and contributes to ESPN Insider as a research analyst for Baseball Info Solutions. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @PFF_ScottSpratt