A bold take: Amari Cooper will finish as a top fantasy wide receiver in 2017 and put himself into the conversation for the 1.01 in startups this time next year. In DLF’s July ADP, Cooper is currently going as the 1.06 in startup drafts with only Odell Beckham Jr., Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Mike Evans, and Antonio Brown going in front of him. Yet, people seem to be disappointed in his play so far, as he’s “only” posted 155 receptions and 2,223 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two years while being selected to two Pro Bowls. With these historic numbers, I am fully on board the train of Cooper breaking out in Year 3. There are only three other wide receivers to post at least 150 receptions and 2,200 yards in their first two seasons: Marques Colston, Beckham, and A.J. Green. In Year 3, those receivers posted these lines:
(11 games played)
(16 games prorated)
The average stat line of Beckham, Green, and Colston in their third year was 89-1299-9, and Cooper has the ability and skillset to post a similar line in 2017. Just like Cooper, each of Green, Colston, and Beckham saw slight jumps in their production from Year 1 to 2, but none of them had a wide receiver as talented as Michael Crabtree across from them to compete with for targets and production. Despite Crabtree’s presence, Cooper is one of only three wide receivers in the history of the NFL to have back to back 1,000-yard seasons before turning 23. Cooper is keeping elite company, as the other two are Randy Moss and Evans. Historical reference suggests Cooper will stay on this tear and post impressive numbers in 2017. My projection model has him at 91-1368-9, an obtainable line remarkably similar to the average of Beckham, Green, and Colston’s third year.
For context, I came to these numbers using coaching play call tendency, and data from past seasons regarding player’s rush and target volume, catch rate, and touchdown rate. These are my projections for the Oakland Raiders offense as a whole:
|Rushes||Rush Yds||Rush TDs||Targets||Receptions||Rec Yds||Rec TDs||Pass TDs||Int.||Fantasy Pts||FFPPG|
From 2015 to 2016, he only saw 2 more targets, but caught 11 more balls for 83 more yards, increasing his catch rate by 7.5%. However, his touchdown catch rate decreased from 4.6% in 2015 to 3.8% in 2016, with his lack of touchdowns typically cited as one of his biggest faults. We can look at his lack of red zone targets as one reason for his lack of touchdowns. Crabtree saw 21 red zone targets in 2016, which tied for 5th most targets in the NFL, while Seth Roberts saw 20 red zone targets of his own, compared to Cooper’s lowly 13. This will surely correct itself as Cooper is the more talented wide receiver, and it is in team’s best interest to show him targets in the red zone over Roberts. Cooper is due for some positive touchdown regression in 2017.
The other knock on Cooper is the continued presence of Crabtree, who has posted receiving lines in 2015 and 2016 of 85-922-9 and 89-1003-8, respectively. Those are similar stat lines to Cooper’s, despite Crabtree seeing more targets and Cooper posting more yards in both years.
Receiving Statistics 2015/2016
|Player||Targets||Receptions||Yards||Touchdowns||Yards Per Reception|
Crabtree will turn 30 years old at the beginning of the 2017 season, past the prime of an NFL receiver. Per Over the Cap, the Raiders have an out from his contract in 2018 and 2019 if they choose with no dead cap. If Crabtree shows signs of slowing down and Cooper takes a step forward, they could let Crabtree walk and make Cooper the no doubt focal point of their offense. However, even if Crabtree stays through 2019 and finishes out his contract, Cooper would be only 26 years old and just starting to enter his prime. Even now, Cooper and Crabtree are complementary receivers who excel in different areas of the field. Cooper is the superior athlete, a downfield and after the catch threat, finishing 17th in the NFL in yards per reception among players with at least 40 catches. Crabtree was 44th, surrounded by possession and slot threats such as Julian Edelman and Tyler Boyd. Cooper isn’t hurt by Crabtree, as Crabtree’s role takes defensive pressure off of Cooper while thriving in a distinctly different role.
Cooper is extremely young, having just turned 23 years old on June 18th. Beckham and Evans will both be 24 years old at the start of the season, and Cooper is a whole year younger. He has prototypical wide receiver size at 6’1” and 210 pounds, with an excellent athletic profile. Cooper ran a 4.42 and posted a SPARQ score in the 90th percentile, with excellent speed scores, as illustrated here in his Mockdraftable spider chart:
Cooper is also an outstanding separator and route runner, as shown by Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception. Cooper posted above average success rates on every route on the route tree, except for out and slant routes, which he still ran at the league average. Cooper is also tied to a great, young quarterback in Derek Carr, who the Raiders just signed to a five-year extension. With increased production across the board, including his completion percentage jumped from 61.1% to 63.8% in 2016 and his interception rate dropped from 2.3% to 1.1%, there is plenty to suggest we have not seen Carr’s ceiling. If Carr can return to the 32 touchdowns he threw in 2015, that will only mean good things for Cooper. Last season he threw 28 in 15 games, and my previously listed projections only have him throwing 26. A return to form for Carr – or even continued growth as he enters just Year 4 of his career – could result for an even bigger season for Cooper than my projections hold.
We’ve seen Cooper is an incredibly talented receiver, tied to a good, young quarterback, with the knocks on him being his lack of touchdown production and Crabtree’s continued presence. Cooper has had stellar production in his first two years and should see a third-year blow-up, similar to the likes of Beckham, Colston, and Green. With positive touchdown progression likely coming and Crabtree more complement than detriment, now is the time to buy all the Cooper you can at his price of 1.06 before he catapults himself into the 1.01 talk next year. Put it on the board.