Fantasy Football: Don't Sweat Amari Cooper's Slow Start

The Oakland Raiders wide receiver has struggled thus far in the 2017 season, but the numbers show there's no need to be worried about his fantasy value.

Since day one, Amari Cooper has been an impact player. He led the Oakland Raiders in targets in the first game of his 2015 rookie campaign before notching back-to-back 100-yard games in his next two.

He finished that season as the 21st-ranked wideout in fantasy football, with 72 receptions, 1,070 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Last year, he jumped up to WR12, with 83 receptions for 1,153 yards and 5 touchdowns.

It's been a different story through first three games of 2017, during which he's turned 23 targets into just 10 receptions, 101 yards, and a single touchdown.

Does this slow start merit concern, or is it just a three-game hiccup? Let's do a quick week-by-week examination.

Week 1

In Oakland's opener against the Tennessee Titans, Cooper's 13 targets were the second-most in the NFL. While his catch rate was low, he had a solid game with 5 receptions, 62 yards, and 1 touchdown.

With a 55.4% catch rate in 2015 and 62.9% in 2016, a one-game mark of 38.5% is hard to chalk up as anything more than variance. Efficiency numbers are notoriously volatile, and his high target number -- especially combined with the fact that he saw 4 targets in the red zone -- made this performance a promising one.

Week 2

The Raiders' offense was firing on all cylinders in Week 2, piling up 45 points against the weak New York Jets defense. Michael Crabtree was Oakland's standout wide receiver with 6 receptions, 80 yards, and 3 touchdowns.

Cooper caught 4 of his 5 targets, managing 33 yards -- but not managing to find the end zone. The dip in overall volume was a concern, but Cooper still accounted for a team-high 30% of the Raiders' targets through two games.

Week 3

Cooper posted an absolute dud against Washington on Sunday night, once again only seeing 5 targets, which he turned into 1 reception and 4 yards.

But he can't take all the blame.

Oakland quarterback Derek Carr spread the ball out and all of his receivers suffered. Tight end Jared Cook and running back DeAndre Washington tied for a team-high 6 targets each, while Cooper's 5 were tied for the most among any wide receiver. (Crabtree, it should be noted, was only targeted 3 times.)

Cooper did, however, account for over 50% of the Raiders' air yards, as Carr's targets stayed almost entirely within five yards of the line of scrimmage:

Thanks primarily to Carr's 19-for-31, 118-yard, 1-touchdown performance, the whole offense sputtered. In that context, Cooper's lousy performance wasn't quite as lousy.

Moving Forward

Through three games, Cooper has seen the biggest workload among Raiders pass-catchers by a sizable margin, accounting for 25.5% of the team's targets (the next-highest being 18.9%) and 38.2% of the air yards (with Crabtree's 26.9% ranking second).

Cooper's inefficient 43.5% catch rate explains his brutal start to the season.

As 4for4's TJ Hernandez outlined, catch rate is not an especially consistent stat for wideouts. With that inconsistency, the bigger the sample size we look at, the more meaningful the number is going to be. Cooper's catch rate at the end of the season is far more likely to resemble his career-average of 57.9% than it's current 43.5%.

Cooper is on pace for almost 123 targets over 16 games. He may not be getting the downfield usage that he was in his first two seasons (a 9.1-yard average depth of target compared to a 9.8 in 2016 and 10.1 in 2015), but he's still commanding a significant chunk of the Raiders' air yards and is on pace to lead the team in targets for the first time in his career.

Volume is just about the most important thing to look at for receivers in fantasy football, and even with his poor start to the season, volume has not been an issue for Cooper. Unless you're counting on him having an historically inefficient season, then it's not time to freak out about his fantasy value.

Week 4 may be another quiet one for Cooper, as the Raiders take on a Denver Broncos defense that ranks top-5 against the pass in numberFire's Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points per play metric through Week 2, but since the volume is there, don't rush to deal him. After all, history and the numbers are on Amari Cooper's side.