Hangin' with Mr. Riley Cooper
Let's begin with the elephant in the room. Riley Cooper was filmed saying some disgusting things before this season began. Is he racist or was this an isolated alcohol-fueled incident? It's not my place to judge. For his sake, I hope he can somehow atone for his atrocious actions and become a better person for it. However, for fantasy football purposes, we have to move on from this. If Aaron Hernandez was reinstated tomorrow and declared a Sunday starter for the Patriots, how many of you would put a waiver claim in for him? You can all put your hands down now.
Fantasy football isn't a football game that utilizes math; it's a math game that utilizes uses football. Our goal is to score fantasy points, so we leave our conceptions (or misconceptions) of who the players on our roster actually are at the door. So is Riley Cooper less racist if he puts up three touchdowns for your team on Sunday? No, but it sure might feel that way. You see, we're not rooting for the "man"; we're rooting for the numbers.
The Life of Riley
Cooper began his fourth NFL season as an alleged racist and a fantasy afterthought, a number two wide receiver for the Eagles only due to a preseason injury to Jeremy Maclin. His career high for yards in a season before this year was just 315.
Through Week 5 of 2013, nothing Cooper did on the field would warrant a fantasy football mention, let alone an entire article. He averaged 23 yards on two receptions per game, and he recorded just one touchdown in five games. In other words, Cooper was waiver wire fodder.
But then something happened. That something is named "Nick Foles." Foles took the reigns of an inconsistent Eagles offense from an injured Michael Vick, and boy did it pay dividends for Cooper. In Foles' four starts this season, Copper has amassed 449 yards and six touchdowns on 18 grabs, averaging 112 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per contest. He has the second-best Reception Net Expected Points per Target (1.09) amongst players with 28 or more catches, showing that he's one of the most efficient pass-catchers in the league.
The Cooper-Foles Connection
Now, not many people know this, but Cooper and Foles share an "X-Men" type ability to read each other's minds, a veritable "sixth sense." This telepathic connection allows Cooper to break open at a perfect moment and helps Foles to "transport" the football to the exact spot it needs to be. They plan on using this uncanny gift to fight crime once their football careers are over.
Okay, maybe that analysis is a little more fiction than science, but Foles and Cooper do seem to have a great feel for one another, a natural synergy. Although a small sample set exists in both situations, I can't help but compare the Foles-Cooper connection to that of Andre Johnson and Case Keenum.
It's unfair to put Cooper in the same class of wide receiver as Johnson, one of the best to ever play the game, but they have some high-level, strong similarities in 2013. They are practically the same size: 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds for Cooper and 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds for Johnson. They are strong receivers who lack the ability to create separation with coverage, relying rather on strength, size, and positioning to make plays.
Enter the gunslingers: Foles and Keenum. Both take chances and often look to "throw the receiver open," putting the rock in a place that it can "free" its target. Both receivers have reaped the benefits (Johnson is averaging 118 yards and 1.7 touchdowns per game with Keenum under center) of their new signal callers, and I wouldn't look to sit either for Week 11.
Another comparison to Foles-Cooper that has been bandied about is 2004's dynamic duo of Billy Volek and Drew Bennett. For three weeks, this unlikely pairing made Montana-to-Rice look like Gabbert-to-(insert Jaguars receiver here). Bennett was just a complimentary receiver when Volek came on for an injured Steve McNair. Sounds familiar, huh? But like Cooper, Bennett took off with his new quarterback. In fact, Bennett averaged 129 yards and 2.7 touchdowns in his first three games with Volek, racking up otherworldly fantasy numbers during that stretch. In a year where he racked up 1,247 yards and 11 touchdowns, Bennett had a Reception NEP per target of .84, tremendous but still significantly below Cooper’s current figure of 1.09.
So if let the numbers do the talking, things bode well for Cooper for the rest of 2013.
Hangin' With Mr. Cooper
Last week, a fantastic article by numberFire scribe Chris Raybon spoke of the Cooper-Foles marriage, but also attributed Cooper's success to the inexperienced cornerbacks he had faced. Cooper, as if he took Raybon's criticism personally, subsequently went crazy on a far more experienced Green Bay secondary on Sunday, showing that he could be better than we even thought.
Week 11 brings the Redskins, who are offensively named and possibly allergic to covering wideouts. We have Cooper ranked as our number 24 wide receiver for this weekend, ahead of bigger names like Alshon Jeffery and Eric Decker. We also give him a better chance to score a touchdown than Victor Cruz.
Cooper sits at the number 30 spot in our wide receiver rankings for the remainder of the year, a solid starter with a very high ceiling. If he's still available on waivers, pick him up. If he's on your team, get him in your lineup. You don't have to like Riley Cooper the man in order to love what he can do for your team.