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Player Faceoff: Amari Cooper, Oakland

Two staffers go head-to-head and discuss Amari Cooper

The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.

High Side: Dan Hindery

If simply looking at the most likely outcome for Cooper’s 2017 season, Cooper will probably slightly underperform expectations based upon where he is being drafted. It makes sense to project Cooper to again see between 130 and 140 targets and share the lead receiver role in Oakland with Michael Crabtree. However, if you view Cooper’s 2017 outlook not simply in terms of most likely scenario, but instead as a range of outcomes, the case for drafting him at his current ADP is a strong one.

Cooper’s combination of high floor and sky-high ceiling are what make him an attractive option once the elite receivers are off the board.

Cooper has a very solid floor. He finished as WR15 in PPR scoring last season, just a few points shy of being a fantasy WR1. He saw at least 130 targets in both his age 21 and age 22 seasons. It is hard to see him having fewer than 130 targets in 2016, which alone makes him a solid investment. At just 23 years old and without much wear and tear on his body or any significant injuries in his past, he is also less of an injury risk than most of the other receivers being drafted in his range (See: Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant, Keenan Allen, Sammy Watkins, etc.).

While Cooper’s floor makes him a low-risk pick, it is his obvious upside which makes him a strong option in the second round. Cooper is a big-time talent. He has 4.4-speed, incredible quickness and elite run-after-the-catch ability. Cooper just turned 23-years old in June. While it’s possible that he has approached his ceiling, it’s more likely that he will continue to ascend as he moves into his prime years. It’s the same pattern followed by most of the other elite receivers in the NFL. Julio Jones had his first 1,200-yard receiving season at age 25. Antonio Brown was 25. A.J. Green was 24. Mike Evans was 23 and his 2016 breakout provides a strong example of Cooper’s fantasy potential. At this time last year, Evans was going in the same range of the draft as Cooper currently is and broke out with an elite fantasy season.

The early signs point to the strong possibility of a third-year breakout for Cooper as well. "The guy has been going off all offseason," Derek Carr said earlier this offseason. "We were just laughing about how impressed we are."

As a former finance guy, I tend to look at fantasy value through a stock market lens, so let’s finish up with a quick analogy. A stock is currently priced at $63. There’s a 75% chance it will be worth $60 next week and a 25% chance it will be worth $100. The quick math says that stock should be priced at $70 (.75 x $60 plus .25 x $100) and is a great investment at a price of $63. Cooper is that stock. Sure there’s a decent chance you may lose a few dollars drafting him at his current ADP (end up with just a high-end WR2), but there’s also a real chance that you make a big profit (and land a top-5 fantasy receiver).

Low Side: Ryan Hester

"The current draft position of WR10 (19 overall) in PPR leagues is far too rich a price to pay for Cooper. While he is entering his second year and is an emerging young talent, he didn't even lead his team in targets last season. And the player that did – Michael Crabtree – is still in the fold and not exactly past his prime."

Last season, I wrote the above paragraph in this exact same space. At the risk of this being considered “lazy analysis,” I’m using the same reasoning to be lukewarm on Cooper’s prospects this season. Crabtree led the team in targets (145 to Cooper’s 131), receptions (89 to 83) and touchdowns (8 to 5).

Many are pointing to an expected touchdown and red zone progression for Cooper as a reason to be bullish. After all, he scored zero red zone touchdowns last season, a pretty rare feat for someone with as many total targets as he saw. However, part of the reason he failed to score from in close is that he was third on the team in red zone targets.

Cooper only had 14, while Crabtree led the team with 22. Seth Roberts was right behind Crabtree with 21. Roberts only had 77 targets overall, indicating that the team likely views him as a bit of a specialist in close. Oakland also added Jared Cook in the offseason. Cook won’t be mistaken for Rob Gronkowski in terms of touchdown scoring ability, but he provides another big target who can exploit mismatches. At the very least, he should absorb 10-12 red zone targets, scattering the division of labor a bit more than it was last season.

Oakland didn't eclipse 24 points scored in any game after Week 9. Cooper's production dropped off nearly in direct correlation with that point, as he averaged just 3.4 catches and 52 yards from Week 10-17. That compares less than favorably to the 5.6 catches and 82 yards from Weeks 1-9.

The passage above is also from last season's Faceoff on Cooper. Once again, Cooper faded in the second half of the season. His 2016 splits are as follows:

Games 1-8: 52 receptions, 787 yards, 2 touchdowns (142.7 PPR points)
Games 9-16: 31 receptions, 366 yards, 3 touchdowns (85.6)

In the first half of each season, Cooper is averaging 17.3 PPR points per game. But in the second half of his two seasons, he only scores 10.4 per game.He has only played for two seasons, so it's hard to call this a trend. But it's certainly alarming.

Cooper is a fantastic talent. But he won’t be on any of my fantasy teams at his current price. I’d rather have Dez Bryant, Doug Baldwin, or Demaryius Thomas at a slight discount. Terrelle Pryor could even keep pace with Cooper, and he’s available nearly two rounds later. That’s a discount I’ll gladly take.