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Fantasy or Reality – John Ross is the New Brandin Cooks

In his weekly series, Fantasy or Reality, Curtis Patrick explores major fantasy football developments and exposes them as – you guessed it – fantasy or reality. Using a combination of fantasy stats, RotoViz metrics, and real football situational analysis, this series promises bold, actionable takeaways that will help you be a fantasy football winner.

Fantasy or Reality – John Ross is the new Brandin Cooks

There were so many huge games by receivers in week 1, so it was tough deciding who to focus on in this space for my first Fantasy or Reality post. John Ross was as good a candidate as any after posting a monstrous 7/158/2 line and finishing as PPR WR3 for the week in the new look Zac Taylor offense.

I’m here to proclaim a shocking new reality … John Ross is the new Brandin Cooks, in fantasy football, and in real football.

I know it’s tough to adjust. Before last weekend, Ross had been a zero through his first two seasons thanks to injury and being chained to Marvin Lewis’ doghouse. He plays for the Bengals. His quarterback is Andy Dalton.

I get it. I understand why you may feel the way you do. But none of that matters. Accept this reality quickly and you’ll be able to leverage this new fantasy stud for the rest of 2019 (and in dynasty, beyond).

The Similarities Began Before 2019

Both of these players are head-turning athletes. Ross is the owner of the fastest official 40 time in NFL combine history at a blazing 4.22 seconds. He also posted a 96th percentile broad jump and a 69th percentile vertical jump. Cooks ran out of the building with a 4.33 forty of his own. Less of a leaper and more of a cutter, he displayed amazing agility with shuttle and 3-cone times above the 84th percentile.

The RotoViz Prospect Box Score Scout reported Ross and Cooks as close comps soon as the former became a first-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Already sporting eerily similar college production and athleticism, the shared early pedigree tied them together forever. Another encouraging prospect who shows up in each of these players’ top-five comps is another team RotoViz favorite, Will Fuller.

There’s certainly no reason to doubt the legitimacy of Ross to repeat his Week 1 effectiveness based on athleticism or college production profile.

The Zac Taylor Effect

The Bengals hired 36-year-old Zac Taylor in hopes he will be the next Sean McVay. Taylor spent the past two seasons coaching wide receivers (2017) and quarterbacks (2018) for the Los Angeles wunderkind. It was a stretch of a hire given his relative lack of experience. He has no extended experience as a coordinator in the NFL and just one season as an OC for the Cincinnati Bearcats at the college level in 2016. But, perhaps spending two seasons with McVay was enough for him to become dangerous. The Bengals posted 418 passing yards in Week 1 on the road against Seattle.

Cooks also destroyed Seattle in his last matchup in week 10 of 2018. I think it’s very clear that Zac Taylor went back to that tape for his week one game plan and took a lot of notes on how McVay deployed Cooks.

Courtesy of NFL NextGen Stats and the new RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer, we see some very clear similarities in usage against this common opponent, both in terms of route types and target location.


Target Location Heat Map, John Ross 2019


Target Location Heat Map, Brandin Cooks 2018

We also see that Ross and Cooks were targeted in every third of the field, and with strikingly similar distributions.

Ross: 42% left | 25% middle | 33% right

Cooks (full 2018 season): 38.4% left | 29.1% middle | 32.4% right

What could a full season of Cooks-style usage look like for Ross?

Due to McVay’s extreme love of 11 personnel, Rams wide receivers all look good at the end of the season despite having some weeks where they fall more into flex territory. Parading out three talented wide receivers floats the matchup advantage to different players depending on the strengths of the opposing defense from week to week. The RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer reveals that Cooks had five WR1 weeks, two WR2 weeks, and eight weeks as a WR3 or worse. Given the presence of Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green (at some point, presumably), I think we should expect big weeks and whiff weeks for Ross as well. However, as we’ve already seen, those boom weeks yet to come could be week-winners.

Weekly Stat Explorer – Brandin Cooks 2018

Other Thoughts

More reasons for optimism regarding Ross’s rest of season outlook:

  • Shawn Siegele predicted the Bengals offense would break out and be “this year’s Bears” and called out Ross’s poor efficiency as an unfortunate cover-up of what was an expanding role in late 2018.
  • Cort Smith noted the following regarding the possibility of a surprise Ross breakout back in July:If something happens to either Green or Boyd, Ross is the only one with the ability to do anything with the opportunity. And while it’s true that the second-year breakout is the new third-year breakout, the latter group still has plenty of worth.
  • There is no way Ross doesn’t continue to see a healthy dose of targets after balling out the way he just did — my confidence in his role certainty is very high until Green returns.

What to Do Now

In redraft leagues, Ross is a must claim on waivers. If the Bengals offense is indeed breaking out, Ross and Tyler Boyd could both be PPR WR2s. Bid at least 50% of your budget on him. I’ll be going even higher than that.

In dynasty leagues, try to buy him from another owner who might feel they finally have a sell-high window. Try a name brand like Corey Davis plus a mid-round 2020 rookie pick. I would also sign off on Robby Anderson for Ross plus whatever you can get added as gravy.

Image Credit: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: John Ross.

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