Can Amari Cooper Thrive in Fantasy Football in the Oakland Raiders' New Offense?
Almost as soon as he was confirmed as the Oakland Raiders' head coach for the second time, Jon Gruden began singing the praises of wide receiver Amari Cooper. In February, Gruden predicted that Cooper would "be the focal point of our offense", while in April, Gruden had amended the sobriquet to "the main vein".
This second installment of praise came after the team had released Michael Crabtree, leaving Cooper as the clear leader atop the Raiders' wide receiver depth chart.
At present, the Raiders have Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant to keep Cooper company (although there is uncertainty surrounding Bryant, as per usual), as well as Ryan Switzer, but on paper, it would appear that Cooper is ready for a genuine breakout. But what does that mean given the new offense he will be playing in, and what does it mean for his fantasy appeal?
Cooper So Far
Despite a down year in 2017, it should not be forgotten that Cooper's production in his first two seasons was as good as anyone's since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Through two seasons, he ranked 10th in targets, receptions and receiving yards among all wide receivers with 262, 155 and 2,223. If there is any major criticism of him in these seasons, it was an apparent running out of gas towards the end of the two campaigns. His average receiving yards per game from Weeks 1 to 9 in 2015 and 2016 was 88, but this fell to 49 in Weeks 10-17.
Despite this production, Cooper was never the main man in the Raiders' passing attack in his first three seasons. His market shares in these seasons were 20.38%, 21.34% and 16.49%. He trailed Crabtree all three seasons with Crabtree accounting for 22.88%, 23.62% and 17.35% of the targets, respectively. But Crabtree is now a member of the Baltimore Ravens, and it would be reasonable to assume that Cooper should be in line for a slight increase in targets.
The New Boss
While some may be quick to assume, given the hyperbole that Gruden has spouted regarding Cooper, that the fourth-year wide receiver may be in line for a workload that would put him among the league leaders. This would require a major shift in policy from Gruden if we look back at his use of his leading wide receiver during his previous spell as an NFL head coach.
From the 2000 season to 2008 -- nine total seasons -- Gruden's offense had an average pass-to-run ratio of 1.29. Such a ratio would have been good for 12th in 2017. Gruden has spoken of wanting to be an old-fashioned style of offense, "throwing the game back to 1998", which may suggest that he does not intend to fill the air with footballs.
Gruden also has no track record of force-feeding a wide receiver. In the same span as above, the highest market share his WR1 enjoyed was 28.71% in 2005 by Joey Galloway. In this nine-season stretch, Gruden's main wide receiver saw an average market share of 23.77%. This should be within Cooper's reach, but there is a danger that a 23% share in this offense won't be worth as much as the same amount in a more pass-happy offense.
With this information in mind, does it make Cooper a player who fantasy owners should be getting excited about? Cooper is currently the 19th wide receiver being drafted in 12-team, PPR drafts, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Does this represent good value, or does it make Cooper too pricey?
In fantasy football in 2017, only 1 of the top 10 wide receivers had a market share less than 24.81% with Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs finishing as the WR9 despite seeing only 18% of the total targets. So while it is not an impossibility for a wide receiver to make some noise despite not getting a quarter or more of all passes sent his way, Hill holds an significant advantage over Cooper.
According to numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which looks at the expected points added or subtracted on each play, Hill was right at the top in terms of per-target efficiency last season. Of the 27 wide receivers to have seen at least 100 targets in 2017, Hill's 0.59 Target NEP per target (which includes deductions for expected points lost on incompletions and interceptions) was the highest while his 0.87 Reception NEP per target (which looks at only passes that were caught divided by total targets) trailed only Marvin Jones of the Detroit Lions.
Cooper cannot claim to be the equal of Hill in terms of per-play production. Cooper was 49th of 54 receivers with at least 75 targets in Target NEP per target last season and 42nd in Reception NEP per target. Based on this, expecting Cooper to feast without a sizable market share would appear misguided.
After four seasons in the shadow of Crabtree, there is little doubt that Cooper will emerge as the leading wide receiver on the Raiders. numberFire's projections see this, as well, pegging him for 83 receptions for 1,089 yards and 6.2 touchdowns, good enough to make him the 15th-ranked receiver in PPR formats.
However, given what Gruden has said about what he wants from his offense and Cooper's inefficiency, there are reasons to be skeptical. As such, Cooper is not a player I would be targeting in my fantasy drafts at his current ADP.