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Amari Cooper Worth His Price Tag? (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 9, 2019

Once getting to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper was much more consistent

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There are times in your fantasy football career where you’re forced to take a stand on a player. Do you believe in his talent but not in the situation? Do you think the situation held him back? On the flip side, you could believe a situation helped a player reach new heights and he’ll struggle when he moves away from it. There is no one more polarizing in the fantasy football community than Amari Cooper.

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I’ve been on the talent side of that debate, saying that he’s an elite route-runner who was underused during his time in Oakland. But there’s still many who have said the inconsistency continued when he was traded to the Cowboys. Today, we’ll attempt to dissect what the best-case scenario is in 2019, as well as the worst-case.

INCONSISTENCY

There’s no denying it, Cooper has been one of the most maddingly inconsistent fantasy players over the past few years. Looking over his four years in the league, here’s his Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between charts (if you’ve never read the series, here’s the link).

YEAR Player WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
2018 Amari Cooper 26.7% 33.3% 46.7% 20.0% 46.7%
2017 Amari Cooper 14.3% 28.6% 35.7% 7.1% 50.0%
2016 Amari Cooper 25.0% 31.3% 50.0% 12.5% 25.0%
2015 Amari Cooper 25.0% 37.5% 50.0% 6.3% 25.0%

 

As you can see, he’s never had a season in which he performed as a WR3 or better in more than 50 percent of his games. There’s no way to sugarcoat that, it’s not good. There were 26 wide receivers in 2018 alone who were able to accomplish that feat (minimum eight games played). His WR1 rate, however, is something that can’t be ignored. There were just 18 wide receviers who posted a higher rate in 2018 and that was with his Raider games included. Let’s just look at the splits in his Cowboys/Raiders chart from last year.

 TEAM WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
With Raiders 33.3% 33.3% 33.3% 16.7% 66.6%
With Cowboys (incl. playoffs) 18.2% 45.5% 63.6% 18.2% 27.3%

 

That looks a bit better, right? Some might see it as odd he lost some of the WR1 upside, but it’s not all that shocking when you think about the fact that the Cowboys have been a run-first team. We all know Cooper has upside as high as anyone, but the number you should gravitate towards here is the WR2 and WR3 percentage bumps, as those signify usable fantasy performances. Here’s some players his performances were in the range of during his time with the Cowboys.

Player WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
Stefon Diggs 40.0% 53.3% 66.7% 20.0% 13.3%
Brandin Cooks 33.3% 53.3% 66.7% 13.3% 13.3%
Kenny Golladay 20.0% 46.7% 60.0% 6.7% 20.0%

 

Another bit that can help you understand the inconsistency with the Raiders is none other than Michael Crabtree. While there, many said that he was consistent, so why couldn’t Cooper be? That’s not true, as Crabtree totaled 68.7 red zone points on 23 targets in 2016 after he scored just 16.8 points on 13 targets in 2015. The bottom line is that Derek Carr‘s been extremely inconsistent, including his target shares to the wide receivers. Show me an inconsistent quarterback and I’ll show you an inconsistent receiver.

IMPROVING ON 2018

So, if those are his numbers with the Cowboys, then why should he be valued alongside guys like Diggs and Cooks (very similar ADPs) if their WR1 numbers are much higher? Well, when you factor in how hard it is to up and change teams in the middle of the season, it’s quite hard – just ask Golden Tate and the Eagles.

The reason you have to be excited for Cooper’s prospects is due to his target consistency in Dallas compared to Oakland. Going through the last two seasons he was in Oakland, he saw less than five targets on seven different occasions. Seven. In a matter of 20 games. During his 11 games with the Cowboys, that didn’t happen once. He saw seven or more targets in 8-of-11 games, something that happened just eight times with the Raiders over the last 20 games.

Having a full year to learn the offensive playbook should also help, and it also doesn’t hurt that the Cowboys as a team will be learning a new offense in 2019, as they’ve finally parted ways with Scott Linehan. We don’t know what to expect from Kellen Moore as the offensive coordinator, but all players will be on an even playing field.

HISTORY

Now that we’ve addressed the inconsistencies in Cooper’s game, let’s talk about what he’s done from a historical standpoint. There have been just nine players in NFL history who’ve totaled 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons to start their career. Cooper is one of them. In fact, he’s one of just three players who’ve recorded 70-plus receptions and 1,000 yards in their first two seasons. After a down year in 2017, Cooper bounced back and racked up another 1,000-yard season despite all odds being stacked against him.

I’ve done an article titled “Which Wide Receivers Were Better/Worse Than Expected” the last two years, which highlights what the expected output for each receiver was based on the targets he received, as well as where they were on the field when they received them. A target on the 20-yard line is worth more than a target on the 50-yard line, a target on the 10-yard line is worth more than one on the 20-yard line, etc. Well, in the two years combined, Cooper has scored 29.6 more fantasy points than the average fantasy receiver would’ve, and that’s with Carr throwing 127 of his 203 targets. As a gauge, Antonio Brown scored 26.3 more fantasy points than the average receiver would’ve in 2018.

2019 OUTLOOK

There’s still part of me that wonders if Cooper will ever live up to his potential, as I’ve watched a lot of receivers in the league, and he has some of the best route-running chops I’ve ever seen. He may not be DeAndre Hopkins with his hands, but for those who throw drop stats at you, here’s some recent wide receivers atop the league in drops: Julio Jones, Julian Edelman, Mike Evans, Keenan Allen, and Davante Adams. All of them have been top-five in drops at some point over the last three years.

I’ll be clear: Cooper isn’t someone who’s going to haul in 12 touchdowns per season. However, he is an elite separator who is now on a team that understands he needs to be fed the ball. He took a massive step forward with the Cowboys despite transferring teams in the middle of the season. Even on a run-first team, he averaged 7.6 targets per game, which would average out to 120-plus over the course of a season, something only 14 receivers can say from 2018. Only Jarvis Landry didn’t finish top-16 among them. Knowing Cooper’s talent, opportunity, and stability with the team, he is well worth a high-end WR2 pick with the opportunity for WR1 production. He belongs in the tier with Stefon Diggs and Brandin Cooks as some of the best WR2s available in drafts this year, though he shouldn’t be taken inside the top-10 at his position.


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

 

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