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Player Spotlight: Amari Cooper

A detailed look at Amari Cooper's fantasy prospects for 2017

The case for Amari Cooper is one of the more fascinating preseason outlook arguments in recent memory. He's being ranked and drafted as high as a mid-first round pick and as low as a mid-third round pick. Per Fantasy Football Calculator, Cooper's draft position is the easily most volatile of the top-10 wide receivers, and it's only surpassed Brandin Cooks and DeAndre Hopkins among the top-12 at the position.

FF Calc WR ADP

Consider the following about those two players: Cooks was already a boom/bust type of player and is joining a new team that rarely makes a habit of providing any wide receiver with a significant target share; Hopkins has a very poor quarterback situation; and both players are being selected - on average - below Cooper anyway (meaning their range of selection should be wider).

None of those situational facts above for Cooks and Hopkins apply to Cooper. He has a very solid quarterback who showed last year that he is ascending the league ranks; Oakland had two wide receivers crack 22% of the team's total targets (more on that later); and Cooper's skill set is considered to be that of a player who can make plays at all levels and isn't just a deep threat (more on the "considered to be" qualifier later as well). So why the volatility with Cooper? It's a case of positive regression vs. assumed volume.

Pros

  • Cooper is among the league's most skilled receivers. He has enough size (6'1" and 211 pounds), he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash in pre-draft workouts, and he was in elite territory in agility categories, all of which combined to give him the pedigree to be the fourth overall pick in his class.
  • Oakland is an offense on the rise, ranking sixth in total yards and seventh in total points in 2016.
  • Cooper has averaged 138.5 PPR fantasy points in the first half of the season in his first two years.
  • Cooper was the 17th-most targeted player in the NFL last season (131) and had the 22nd-best target market share (22.3%).
  • Cooper's low touchdown total in 2016 was nearly unprecendented. Why is this a "pro?" The tweet below provides context and suggests regression.

Cons

  • Cooper isn't the only skilled wide receiver on his team. Michael Crabtree, though older, was also a top-10 draftee (2009).
  • Cooper has averaged 83.2 PPR fantasy points in the second half of the season in his first two years, a decrease of nearly seven points per game over his first half totals.
  • While Cooper posted the impressive target stats listed above, he was still the second-most targeted player on his own team. Crabtree had 145 targets, good for a 24.7% share of Oakland's total.
  • Among Crabtree's targets were 21 inside the red zone, tied for fourth in the league. Cooper was targeted just 13 times inside the 20, 41st in the league. 
  • Cooper was third on the team in red zone targets, as Seth Roberts (20) was closer to Crabtree's total than Cooper's. Roberts only had 77 total targets on the season, meaning over 25% of his targets were in the red zone.

Conclusions

The two predominant viewpoints on Cooper are as follows:

  1. He's too talented to have zero red zone touchdowns again, so he'll progress upwards to having a few; combined with the long touchdowns he's capable of scoring, his total will be eight or more, allowing him to easily finish within the top 12 receivers.
  2. He doesn't get the red zone volume to score more than six or seven touchdowns, and long touchdowns are hard to predict and repeat. That makes him a tough sell as a top-12 receiver.

The truth with many two-sided arguments is somewhere in the middle. And when predictions are so different, it allows for a pretty sizeable middle ground. Depending on when you read this, Cooper is being drafted around WR10. Due to the lack of red zone volume, that seems like his ceiling. But due to the opportunity for positive regression, it seems likely that he improves on his PPR WR16 finish from last season (and he was only 20 fantasy points away from WR10).

Generally, if fantasy owners hear the phrase, "he's being drafted at his ceiling," they should run as far as they can away from that player. But Cooper is a strange case where even though that phrase may apply, a story can easily be told that he actually hits that ceiling, making him a viable selection.

If searching for a reason to be in the pro-Cooper camp, here's a "stats can be misleading" nugget that might be of some interest.

ReceiverTargets in 20Targets in 10RZ TouchdownsTotal Touchdowns
Michael Crabtree 21 8 6 8
Seth Roberts 20 8 4 5
Amari Cooper 13 7 0 5

Notice the targets inside the 10. While it's not promising that Cooper trailed two teammates significantly in red zone targets, he wasn't far behind in targets from in close. And since the closer to the end zone a target is, the more valuable it becomes, the story here isn't quite as bleak as the "Cooper lacks red zone opportunity" crowd will tell you.

However, it's a little odd how happy the "he's due for regression" crowd is to tell anyone who will listen that Cooper has zero catches on targets inside the 10 in his career. Cooper's career is only two years old, meaning the small sample size argument is certainly in play. After all, it's easy to say that uber-talented players will shine, regardless of situation, despite a lack of success over a short term.

Cooper could score five touchdowns from inside the 10 this season, alleviate all concerns about his red zone prowess, and cement his status as an elite fantasy receiver for years to come. Or he could also score one or zero again, making him an elite talent who doesn't excel in the "phone booth" environment of the red zone (he certainly wouldn't be the first). So which will Cooper be? 2017 will go a long way towards telling us.

Projections

ProjectorReceptionsYardsTouchdownsFPts (PPR)
David Dodds 84 1201 7 246.1
Bob Henry 87 1240 8 259.0
Jason Wood 85 1200 7 247.0
Maurile Tremblay 86 1213 5 237.3
Average 85.5 1213.5 6.75 247.4
Ceiling 87 1240 8 259.0

The projections for Cooper highlight the point made above about his chances of hitting his ceiling. The four projectors are so close on Cooper that the averages of his projections are incredibly close to the totals when you take the highest number in each column (the row labeled "ceiling").

Other Viewpoints

C.D. Carter, in an assignment on The Fake Football, discusses the potential for positive regression but still acknowledges that Cooper is being drafted at his ceiling.

"Amari Cooper notched a top-15 season in 2016 with five touchdowns, also known as a 6 percent touchdown rate, also known as a blaring positive regression alarm for 2017. Cooper saw 13 red zone targets all season, or one less than the great Nelson Agholor."

"...I’m considering Cooper in the rare circumstance where he falls outside the first 12 receivers off the board. At WR9, I’m bearish bordering on nope. Progression for the young receiver is baked into his ADP."

Duncan Day of RaidersWire gives us two quotes that suggest he believes Crabtree will continue to command the lion's share of short touchdown opportunities.

"Crabtree has 171 regular-season receptions for the Silver and Black in his two seasons, but more importantly, he has hogged most of the touchdown receptions which severely impacts Cooper's projected fantasy football value."

"...In fact, Cooper still hasn't scored from inside 15 yards in his career."

USA Today's Cory Bonini believes Cooper is a player worth drafting as high as WR5.

The best part is Cooper’s floor is so much higher than other potential breakouts. His formative years have produced borderline WR2 stats. Therefore, putting my money were my fingers are, here is my bold prediction range for Cooper: 90-100 receptions, 1,350-1,450 yards, 10-12 touchdowns.

Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com