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The Value of Things: Bang for the Buck

Is Brandin Cooks worth more than the money he is being paid?

Houston Texans v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It is safe to say that most NFL teams go through cycles. Those cycles can last three or four seasons give or take. A lot it depends on who is getting paid and whether they deserve the money they are getting paid. Nick Caserio’s chief job was getting the right value for Deshaun Watson in a trade. So far, that trade looks like it was a home run. The harder job is getting the Texans payroll back into line.

This is where we jump off of yesterday’s post and offer two roads the team could go down. One road would have the general manager fly by the seat of his pants and be transactional in nature. In that way, he just takes advantage of opportunities as they come. Whenever he sees good value he pounces. In yesterday’s terms, that would be trading for Deebo Samuel or D.K. Metcalf. It could have also been about trading for Baker Mayfield. A number of general managers in all the major sports operate this way. The final verdict comes in how often they are able to take advantage of the situation.

The second road has the general manager develop a long-range plan. Then, they follow that long range plan down to the letter. This appears to be Caserio’s tack. Part one of his plan was to clear as much dead money as possible. It means 2022 will be another tough season. However, he is now poised with draft equity and free agent spending dollars beyond the 2022 season.

In this mini-series, we will take a look at key positions and the top ten paid players at those positions. We will likely discover a standard at each spot and ultimately see which teams are actually getting bang for their buck. It also could help explain why teams struggle as much as they do.

The Top Ten Wide Receivers

The first thing we need to do is establish what we are looking for. Simply evaluating wide receivers on catches, yards, and touchdowns seems crude. Different offenses operate differently and some teams have a better group of targets. Ideally, you want a guy that catches more balls when he is targeted or at least can serve as a down the field target if that isn’t the case. We also want receivers that are better targets in the red zone. There are few perfect ways of evaluating that, so simple touchdown receptions will suffice for now. The numbers below are over the last three seasons.

Tyreek Hill— 383 targets, 256 catches, 66.8%, 3,375 yards, 13.2 YPC, 31 TD

Davante Adams— 445 targets, 321 catches, 72.1%, 3,924 yards, 12.2 YPC, 34 TD

Deandre Hopkins— 374 targets, 261 catches, 69.6%, 3,144 yards, 12.0 YPC, 21 TD

Cooper Kupp— 449 targets, 331 catches, 73.7%, 4,082 yards, 12.3 YPC, 29 TD

A.J. Brown— 295 targets, 185 catches, 62.7%, 2,995 yards, 16.2 YPC, 24 TD

Stephon Diggs— 424 targets, 261 catches, 66.7%, 3,890 yards, 13.7 YPC, 24 TD

D.J. Moore— 416 targets, 246 catches, 59.1%, 3,525 yards, 14.3 YPC, 12 TD

Keenan Allen— 453 targets, 310 catches, 68.4%, 3,329 yards, 10.7 YPC, 20 TD

Mike Williams— 304 targets, 173 catches, 56.9%, 2,903 yards, 16.8 YPC, 16 TD

Amari Cooper— 353 targets, 239 catches, 67.7%, 3,168 yards, 13.3 YPC, 21 TD

These are the top ten paid wide receivers in order. Naturally, many of them were paid this offseason, so we can’t necessarily say they were overpaid when they actually put these numbers up. However, we might be able to predict success or failure for their particular teams based on whether they have achieved particular statistical markers. For instance, when we focus on the percentage of targets that wind up with catches, yards per catch, and touchdowns we notice some things.

Seven of the ten receivers have success rates of 66 percent or better. There is a pretty precipitous drop off from Stephon Diggs’ 66.7 percent success rate and A.J. Brown’s 62.7 percent. Of course, he is on a new team, so it remains to be seen how he will be used and whether those numbers improve. Plus, he was a positive outlier in yards per reception at 16.2.

The overall outliers were D.J. Moore of the Panthers and Mike Williams of the Chargers. The Chargers are also outliers in that they have two wide receivers on this list. Neither team made the playoffs last season. It isn’t even so much that either guy was necessarily the reason for his team’s failure. The Panthers are going with their fourth or fifth starting quarterback this season since they let Cam Newton go the first time. Williams is still averaging nearly 60 catches and 1,000 yards a season over the last three years. The question is whether it is the proper allocation of resources.

Localize It

Brandin Cooks is officially the 12th highest paid receiver in the NFL. The question is whether he belongs in that group. Ironically, his last three seasons are a mirror image of DeAndre Hopkins’ last three seasons. It’s also part of the reason why we go back three years. Availability is a skill and he lost nearly half of the 2019 season due to concussions. The numbers as compared to the others are below.

325 targets, 213 catches, 65.5%, 2,770 yards, 13.0 YPC, 14 TD

He clearly falls a step below the other guys, but he is fairly close in yards per catch and the percentage of targets he catches. The group above averaged nearly 390 targets, 258 catches, 66.3%. 3,434 yards, and 23 touchdowns. He obviously falls well under in total catches, yards, and touchdowns.

Naturally, there are any number of reasons why Cooks falls short. The same could be said for A.J. Brown, D.J. Moore, and Mike Williams. This isn’t so much about who is actually the best wide receiver in the sport. There are so many factors that impact these numbers that have nothing to do with the receivers themselves. However, it doesn’t change the fact that if you pay someone you expect them to produce. Something tells me the Eagles, Chargers, and Panthers will struggle to get what they hope they should get. Meanwhile, the Texans are paying Cooks right around what he should be paid.