Let’s give some appreciation and admiration for one of fantasy football’s most underrated stars: Brandin Cooks.
He doesn’t do anything great, which usually results in being overlooked every season and even every week. He doesn’t catch the ball all the time. In 2020, 18 players finished with more than 85 catches. Cooks has never ended a season with 85 or more receptions. His most receptions came in his second season when he finished 17th in the league with 84.
He’s never blown away the field in receiving yards, or even come close to leading that category. His highest finish in receiving yards was seventh in 2016 when he recorded 1,173. Eleven players finished with more than 1,173 yards in 2020.
Partly because of his diminutive stature, he doesn’t find the end zone with regularity either. There have been 42 instances of a player recording 10 or more receiving touchdowns in a season since 2015. Cooks has never reached that mark. His most receiving touchdowns? That came in 2015 when he had nine, which was tied for 14th in the NFL.
Yet, outside of an outlier season in 2019 when the Los Angeles Rams were suffering from a Super Bowl hangover, Cooks has been as consistent as any wide receiver in fantasy football. He has finished inside the top 30 in receptions, top 15 in receiving yards, and top 40 in receiving touchdowns in every season (again, minus 2019) since 2015.
And from a fantasy perspective, here’s where he finished in PPR formats in those years: WR6, WR7, WR13, WR12, WR17.
Entering the season, Cooks’ consensus ADP on Fantasy Pros was WR37. Now, one of the factors certainly baked into that low ranking was the uncertainty surrounding the QB position in Houston this season. And yet, despite original starter Tyrod Taylor being hurt and Davis Mills being forced into action and getting his first career start last Thursday against a strong Carolina defense, Cooks did what he always has: produced. He finished with nine catches on 11 targets for 112 yards. Another ho-hum 20 fantasy points.
Through the first three weeks of the season, Cooks is tied for third in receptions. He’s third in receiving yards and has one receiving touchdown. Through three weeks, Cooks is WR6.
Cooks is not going to win you your league. Depending on your roster sizes, he might not even crack your starting lineup each week (Fantasy Pros has him as WR22 for this week, we have him as WR21). But there’s definite value in having a player on your roster who is rock solid, and Cooks is just that. Don’t be surprised if Cooks is somewhere around WR12 at the end of the year. That’s what he does.
As always, let’s jump around and evaluate some Week 4 projections gathered from some of the top data-driven projections available using several of our AI-powered models. We’ll get into some yays and nays before highlighting a few DFS value plays.
Note: The ranking to which we compare ours in this piece is the expert consensus ranking (ECR) from Fantasy Pros. These rankings update throughout the week. (We pulled these numbers from Thursday.) Once again, we are using PPR unless noted otherwise.
Aaron Rodgers, QB (GB) vs. PIT (ECR: 11, Our Rank: 3): Rodgers is a magician, one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. And just like most players, he too benefits from a simple idea: he’s better at home than on the road.
Since Matt LaFleur took over as the Green Bay head coach in 2019, Rodgers’ home statistics are mind-blowing. How about 266.3 passing yards and 2.4 touchdowns per game, with only four interceptions in 17 home games? That’s pretty good, here’s something even better from a fantasy perspective. In Rodgers’ last nine home games, he’s recorded at least three touchdowns in eight games and 20 fantasy points in seven of them.
Coming off an emotional Sunday night win with some momentum, now he gets a Pittsburgh team that is one of only two teams that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season. Expect a lot of Green Bay passing in the red zone. Fire him up, he’s got a great chance of scoring three more touchdowns and finishing the week as a top-five QB.
Chuba Hubbard, RB (CAR) vs. DAL (ECR: 17, Our Rank: 10): Hubbard replaced Christian McCaffrey mid-game last week and now looks set to take over the bulk of the work in the Carolina backfield. As the stalwart in the Oklahoma State backfield the last couple years, Hubbard averaged 22 carries and 132.2 rushing yards per game over his final 25 games in Stillwater. So we have no concerns about his ability to handle a large load in the NFL.
Carolina has given its backs a lot of work so far this season, with 96 combined touches through three games. And getting a lot of work against Dallas is a good thing. The Cowboys allow 4.69 yards per carry, seventh worst in the NFL. Even through the air, things are promising, where Dallas has allowed 26 receptions to running backs through three weeks.
With a career average of 6.17 yards per touch during his college career, Hubbard is a must-start this week. Our models love his chances of finishing either as a solid RB1 or a high-end RB2 this week.
Calvin Ridley, WR (ATL) vs. WAS (ECR: 11, Our Rank: 3): It’s been a relatively disappointing start to the season for Ridley’s fantasy managers, with only one 15-point performance so far.
Targets haven’t been a concern as Ridley’s 29 targets are 12 more than the next closest Falcon and tied for 14th most in the NFL. His 9.7 average targets per game are actually more than he received in his breakout season last year (9.5). That means Ridley just needs a get-right game and he’s facing a good opponent to do just that.
To the surprise of most, Washington has struggled mightily on defense all season. It’s one of five teams allowing 300.0 passing yards per game and have allowed the second most fantasy points to wide receivers this season. Washington’s 32 passes allowed between 11-20 yards is most in the NFL and its opponents’ rate of converting third downs (58.7%) is second worst. The team has struggled getting off the field and is allowing teams to throw all over it.
Having already allowed four receivers to notch at least eight catches and 80 receiving yards on the year, RIdley seems primed to be the fifth receiver to do so against Washington. His 96.2 projected receiving yards are the third most this week. Ridley has a strong chance of finishing inside the top five amongst wide receivers.
Jakobi Meyers, WR (NE) vs. TB (ECR: 32, Our Rank: 18): Another theme that’s appeared multiple times through our pieces is avoiding Tampa’s strong rushing defense and piggybacking on its weaker secondary. That once again remains true, as the Bucs are third in yards per carry allowed (3.08) and fourth in the NFL in total rushing yards allowed (63.7). As a heavy underdog, New England will likely be forced to abandon the rushing attack relatively early and rely on a passing attack.
Despite Mac Jones’ early struggles, Tampa’s defense presents a great opportunity for him and the Pats to get on track. Tampa’s 338.3 passing yards allowed per game is the worst in the NFL, as is its nine passing touchdowns allowed.
This is where Meyers comes in. If you read our preseason piece, we mentioned the barely believable fact that Meyers, now in his third NFL season, had not yet scored an NFL touchdown. Unfortunately for Meyers and his fantasy managers, he’s still got a goose egg in the touchdown column. Well, this week, despite being our WR18 on the week, you have to go all the way to WR54 to find a player with a touchdown projection that is lower than Meyers’ TD chances.
So how is Meyers 18th? Well, he’s projected to see the third most targets (10.9) and notch the second most receptions (7.1). Since the Pats are going to throw a lot, we like Meyers’ floor as a solid WR2. And if he can finally notch his first career touchdown, he can challenge a top-10 weekly finish.
Derek Carr, QB (LV) vs. LAC (ECR: 13, Our Rank: 20): The early season passing leader by a wide margin (1,203 passing yards), Carr leads his 3-0 Raiders into a Monday night showdown with Justin Herbert and the 2-1 Chargers.
Carr will face a real challenge in continuing his hot start to the season, facing the excellent Chargers defense. Los Angeles has yet to allow a QB to throw for more than 260 yards and is coming off a brilliant Week 3 performance at Arrowhead where it forced two Patrick Mahomes interceptions and held the Chiefs to 24 points.
Carr’s chances of throwing for 380 or more yards for a fourth straight game are minimal. With only two passing touchdowns in each game, Carr has relied on passing yards to carry him to QB9 through three weeks. With an ECR that indicates a potential to finish closer to QB1 status, it might be difficult for Carr to provide anything more than low-end QB2 value.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB (DAL) vs. CAR (ECR: 9, Our Rank: 19): Zeke and the Cowboys have been mostly excellent rushing the ball to start the season. During the last two weeks, the Cowboys have rushed for 358 total yards on their way to being the only NFC East team above .500 through three weeks.
So why the hesitation with Elliott? Well in Week 1, when facing the stingy Tampa Bay rushing defense, the Cowboys only managed 60 yards on the ground. Zeke finished with 33 yards on 11 carries. And this week, they face a defense that’s been extraordinarily good defensively. Carolina plays out of a unique 3-3-5 base defense, and it has led to league-low marks in a host of defensive metrics.
The Panthers have yet to allow any player to rush for 25 yards in a single game. Let that sink in. Go check the box scores. We’ll wait.
The longest run they’ve allowed is 12 yards. And in their demolition of New Orleans in Week 2, they held Alvin Kamara to five rushing yards on eight carries. As a result of Carolina’s incredibly strong start on defense and Tony Pollard’s effectiveness when he gets the ball, Zeke is only projected for 42.0 rushing yards, well below the 83.0 rushing yards he averaged in Weeks 2 and 3.
If you have Zeke, you likely have no better options. But if you’re hoping for a replica performance of Week 3 when Zeke finished as RB3, you may be disappointed. Our projections indicate he’s likely to struggle to provide anything other than mid-RB2 value.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC) vs. PHI (ECR: 15, Our Rank: 22): Zack Moss finished 15th among running backs in Week 3. He scored 18.1 fantasy points. In 16 career games, Edwards-Helaire has only reached that mark four times. And if you need any proof that he struggles to provide significant fantasy value, despite a strong showing last week with 100 rushing yards and a receiving touchdown, CEH finished the week with 16.9 fantasy points – RB18 on the week.
Another player we highlighted in the preseason, the concerns surrounding Edwards-Helaire’s place in the Chiefs offensive hierarchy have played out exactly as suspected. He’s yet to receive 20 touches in a game and has only hit that mark four times in his career. Furthermore, to only add to the concerns of CEH’s fantasy managers, he’s only hit the 20 touches mark twice in his last 13 games after receiving 20 twice in his first three.
It’s ultimately simple. He doesn’t get the volume that other running backs receive and he doesn’t score touchdowns. Without that volume to enable him to rack up yards, his chances of anything more than an RB2 finish each week without a touchdown are diminished. So even though his ECR is already indicating a mid-RB2 finish around 15th, our models indicate he’s likely to finish outside the top 20.
Justin Jefferson, WR (MIN) vs. CLE (ECR: 6, Our Rank: 15): Every week, there are one or two bonafide fantasy stars that slide down the rankings in our projections and in Week 4, the biggest slide belongs to Jefferson.
At initial glance, it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. He is coming off a finish as WR4 in Week 3. It was his second straight game with a touchdown and he’s one of the 11 players in the NFL averaging at least 10 targets a game. So why are we projecting him to slide from elite WR1 status to a WR2 finish this week?
For one, he plays with a touchdown machine. After finishing third in the NFL in 2020 with 14 touchdowns, Adam Thielen has already scored four touchdowns – second most in the NFL. Even though Jefferson is projected to outscore his teammate, Thielen is more likely to score a touchdown – our eighth most likely candidate to have a receiving TD.
Secondly, Cleveland has been strong defensively this season. It ranks tied for fifth in the NFL in pass defense (181.7 yards per game) and has notched 12 sacks through three games – second most, just behind Carolina. Lastly, the Browns are ball hogs. They’ve averaged nearly 34 minutes of time of possession so far this season, including 39:34 in their Week 3 domination of Chicago.
Add it all up, and Jefferson’s likelihood of a 20-point fantasy finish is lessened slightly. He’s still a strong player to start, but our projections suggest he’s more likely to score closer to 15 fantasy points than 20.
Best DFS Value Plays
Chuba Hubbard, RB (CAR) vs. DAL (DK Price: 4,500): We’ve already talked about why we like Hubbard this week. But for his low price of 4,500, Hubbard is going to get a lot more work than is usually reserved for players at that price point. A lot of winning teams will likely be built around his inclusion this week. He’s our top-valued running back play of the week.
Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders, WR (BUF) vs. HOU (DK Price: 4,600 and 4,000): The Buffalo passing attack has been a fantasy manager’s delight since the beginning of 2020 and the good times only continue heading into Week 4. Beasley’s price of 4,600 is extremely low considering he caught 11 passes and finished as WR10 last week. Meanwhile, Sanders bettered Beasley, finishing as WR5 – courtesy of 95 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Neither player costs a lot and as evidenced by last week’s output, both hold high upside value.
Data modeling by Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads. Design by Briggs Clinard.