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Football Outsiders: No Brandin Cooks? No problem for the Saints

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Our final entry from our session with Football Outsiders is all about the talented Saints receiving corps, and how they’ll fare without Brandin Cooks.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints offense has consistently been one of the best units in the league since Sean Payton and Drew Brees entered the mix in 2006. Over the years, the wide receiver faces have changed, but the production has still remained. With the departure of Brandin Cooks, there’s plenty of ideas on what the team’s offense will look like. Specifically, who benefits the most from his absence? Football Outsiders analyst Andrew Potter weighs in to conclude our series. Make sure and check out the 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac.

Without Brandin Cooks, what do you make of Willie Snead, Ted Ginn Jr., and Brandon Coleman making up for his production?

As long as Drew Brees is performing at his current level, Saints fans needn’t worry too much about his targets. Willie Snead already has a productive season in the bank as the team’s second-leading receiver (2015, 175 DYAR), and Brandon Coleman has likewise proven capable of filling a bigger role than he had last year (again, see 2015). Ginn is the biggest wild card, as the player most similar in skill set to Cooks. He’ll run all of the trick stuff that Cooks ran – end arounds, sweeps, and the like – while also claiming the deepest branches of the route tree. His hands and focus are often questioned, but his speed is not; he will likely be less efficient than Cooks, but just as much of a home-run threat on any given play. The Saints passing game will be fine as long as Brees’ arm still has life.

The whole Brees’ arm thing doesn’t feel like an area the Saints will have to worry about. Analysts across the NFL for the past several offseasons have long projected Brees to be in a massive decline, but he keeps proving them wrong year after year. In fairness, a main reason his statistical production would take a big hit in 2017 would be because the team may choose to run the ball more. However, even that’s an uncertainty heading into the regular season despite the big talent the Saints have in their backfield.

For the first time since 2010 in the Payton-Brees era, the top three leading receivers in the offense were all wide receivers. Michael Thomas was the top targeted receiver with 122, while Cooks came in with 117 and Snead with 104. Thomas enters as the unquestioned top receiver for Brees, and should see a similar amount of targets (if not more) in the new season. The belief is that Willie Snead and Ted Ginn Jr. will be the second and third receiving threats, and I’d lean more to Snead having triple-digit targets over Ginn. Brandon Coleman could get more involved in the offense, but I believe the Saints offense could spread those Cooks targets out more between their tight ends.

No matter how the Saints divvy up their attack in the passing game, the fact is that there’s plenty of touches and looks to go around if you’re a pass catcher. Once we get several games into the season, then we’ll truly get a gauge on if Brandin Cooks is someone the Saints will end up missing.