What is a sleeper? The term is thrown around a lot this time of the year, and it often seems to me that people hype their “sleepers” like a bettor picks the horse with the longest odds to win. If they’re correct, they look like geniuses.
But a sleeper pick for fantasy football doesn’t need to be an obscure long shot or a trendy rookie buried on the depth chart. In fact, a sleeper is simply a player who no one is really talking or thinking about at all. They’re not your key draft targets, guys you’re building your Zero RB or Late Round QB strategy around (check out my “every strategy mock draft” for more on that). Maybe they’re the guy who is so boring that just reading this article will put you to sleep.
When you get to the 8th round of your draft, however, maybe I can help you get excited to be the person who drafts Brandin Cooks.
Cooks is entering his 10th NFL season and will turn 30 in September. He’s had a healthy career, missing only a few games last year with Houston (calf) and another few back in 2019 with the Rams. It’s a stat you know, but I’ll repeat it here: Cooks has surpassed 1000 yards receiving in six of his nine seasons. The outliers are his rookie year and the two injury-marred seasons. In that time, he’s played for some horrible offenses with some truly poor quarterbacks, which makes us wonder what he could have accomplished if he had 10 years with a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow.
Enter Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense.
Dallas was the fourth-highest scoring offense last season with 26.8 points per game. The team ranked sixth in passing touchdowns per game (1.7) thanks in part to Prescott’s 70 percent red zone completion rate, which led the league. Prescott also led the league in interceptions, with 15 in his 12 games played. Prescott knows that stat is on him: he had only 11 dropped passes, one of the lower numbers in the league, but threw an average of 2.33 interceptable passes per game. Reducing mistakes has been a key part of the Cowboys summer plan while working with new Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Schottenheimer is known for running a play-action offense and during his most successful seasons in Seattle the offense ranked eighth in play-action rate (28.4 percent) and sixth in run-play rate (42 percent, per PFF). You might be thinking, that doesn’t sound great for a sleeper wide receiver, but I believe it does. The goal with Schottenheimer’s offense, and Mike McCarthy’s offensive play-calling, will be to increase the efficiency of the pass game. With a freed Tony Pollard and exciting rookie Deuce Vaughn in the backfield, there are many ways for this offense to succeed. Defenses absolutely must respect Pollard, and even on obvious pass plays, will be more likely to double CeeDee Lamb than Cooks. Moreover, the Cowboys have practiced with Lamb and Cooks lining up on the same side of the field to confuse defenses even more. We should expect Cooks to get hit with a lot more passes in-stride than he did in Houston, which is where he can really shine in single-coverage.
The Cowboys haven’t had a true No. 2 receiver behind Lamb. Michael Gallup and Noah Brown were warm bodies on the field last season and neither did anything to distinguish their play. Dalton Schultz had his moments but has moved on to Houston, further paving the way for Cooks to immediately be that guy in 2023. He still relies on the skills that made him a first-round pick in 2014 – speed and good hands. He wins the contested catch battle 60 percent of the time, good for the sixth-highest rate in the league in 2022. Plus, he’s already winning teammates over with his speed – in the air, that is. Using his pilot’s license to take defensive players Micah Parsons and Stephon Gilmore for a ride over Seattle this past weekend was a move that shows his desire to gel with his new team. All the camp vibes around Cooks have been positive, so though we won’t see him in preseason action – Dallas is holding out all starters – we should feel confident in his role as the WR2 for a potent offense.
Last but not least when considering a sleeper like Cooks is what the other options are. According to FantasyPros half-PPR consensus ADP, Cooks is WR40 and the 91st player drafted. In this range are fellow wide receivers Treylon Burks (injured), Gabe Davis, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, running backs like AJ Dillon, Brian Robinson Jr., Samaje Perine, or tight ends like Pat Freiermuth and Evan Engram.
I’m high on Robinson this season with a typical draft leaving me WR-heavy at this point, but the only other real temptation here is the rookie Smith-Njigba, who will be the WR3 on a team that is expected to score fewer points than the Cowboys in 2023. I draft as if a player will play the whole season, and if that is the case, it’s hard for me to see how Cooks doesn’t outscore any WR in his draft range. No one will call you – or me – a genius if it happens, but you’ll have a reliable week-in, week-out WR3 or Flex player that cost you very little draft capitol…I think that’s smart.
(Top photo: Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)