Despite His Reasonable Fantasy Football Cost, Riley Cooper Is Still Overvalued
The Philadelphia Eagles are undoubtedly one of the most explosive offenses in the entire NFL. In 2013, they were fourth in the league in points scored, and second in total yardage.
Naturally, a top offense is likely to house a lot of fantasy talent, and the 2013 Eagles were no exception. Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Riley Cooper all had fantasy-starter-caliber seasons. Now, Jackson is out of the picture, but the combination of Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews, and an increased role for Zach Ertz should be more than enough to allow the Eagles offense to boom once more in 2014.
These additions, however, could cut into the production of the skill position players that were already there. Clearly, fantasy players don’t think it will prove costly to McCoy, as he's one of the first players being drafted this year. However, Cooper doesn’t seem to instill the same confidence in drafts.
Despite finishing as the 22nd overall wide receiver in non-PPR leagues last season, Cooper’s average draft position sits at 113.0 overall, just the 38th receiver being taken. That may seem like a bargain considering he’s still relatively young and the Eagles could have an even better offense this year than last. I’ll state my opinion on Cooper clearly: he's being significantly overvalued in 2014 fantasy drafts.
A good place to start in analyzing Cooper is by looking at his production through numberFire’s signature Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. For those unfamiliar with NEP, it’s our own set of statistics that shows how many expected points a player is adding to his teams total through his on-field production (see more on NEP in our glossary).
In Cooper’s case, it’s worthwhile to look at the leap he made from 2012 to 2013 in Reception NEP and Target NEP:
|Reception NEP||Target NEP|
|2012||27.1 (87th)||11.90 (73rd)|
|2013||74.95 (31st)||46.31 (14th)|
His improvement is drastic, but it’s easy to understand how he managed to achieve career bests in the NEP metrics and in the raw, standard stats as well. The Eagles were 29th in the league in points scored in 2012, and Cooper only saw 47 targets in 11 games played. Last year, not only were the Eagles a top-flight offense, but Cooper was more involved in the offense than he ever had been before. In 2013 he played 89.2% of the team’s offensive snaps, a major increase from 63.3% of snaps he played when on the field last year.
Finishing 31st in NEP isn’t exactly world-beating, but it certainly means he had a strong receiving season last year. He achieved this Reception NEP with strong efficiency, as his 0.90 Reception NEP per target was 14th highest in the league. While he didn’t receive a super high volume of looks, putting up efficiency like that over 85 targets is nothing to sneeze at.
On a less positive note, these numbers seem totally unsustainable. Not even taking into consideration the added competition for looks in Philadelphia, I find it hard to believe Cooper can manage numbers like these once more in 2014? Why? Two words: touchdown dependency.
In his first three seasons in the league, Cooper caught 46 passes on 99 targets for five touchdowns. That’s just about one touchdown for every 20 targets, a fairly standard ratio. Last season, though, Cooper grabbed 47 passes on 84 targets for eight touchdowns. In other words, he caught virtually one touchdown every 10 times he was targeted, and nearly one in every six catches he had went for a touchdown. That’s a pretty alarming difference, as historically it’s extremely unlikely to maintain that strong of a touchdown to target (or reception) ratio, and if his touchdowns come back down to Earth, he’s an extremely unexciting fantasy commodity.
As I just explained, Cooper’s 2013 production balanced heavily on an unsustainable amount of touchdown receptions. What’s worse is that he’s potentially facing even more competition for targets in 2014, despite not even being a 100-target player last year.
Back in May, numberFire’s very own Leo Howell wrote a piece on how Jordan Matthews fits with the Eagles’ offense. In it, he explained that Matthews has some strong rookie-season comparables, like A.J. Green’s strong 2011 season, and that he’s likely in line to receive a bunch of the targets left behind from Jason Avant and DeSean Jackson. Matthews has done little to shake the confidence of fantasy enthusiasts, as he has continued to tear it up in camp.
Add in that Jeremy Maclin is likely to lead the Eagles’ receivers in targets and that it’s a virtual guarantee Zach Ertz sees an uptick from his 56 targets, and it’s obvious that Cooper may struggle to even match the 84 targets he had last year.
A feature on numberFire is that on each player page, you’ll find a list of “Similar Players” who, based on NEP data and team construction, have seasons that seem to be a realistic outcome for a given player.
In Cooper’s case, Corey Bradford’s 2001 season comes up as the best match. That year, Bradford managed an unexciting 526 yards and two touchdowns. If you make your way down the list, you’ll see some comparisons that shed a more positive light on Cooper in 2014 - like Randy Moss’ 13-touchdown 2004 season - but the general theme of the comparisons become pretty clear: low yardage, high touchdowns. Touchdown-dependency is often tough on fantasy owners, as if a player derives his value solely from touchdowns, he’ll have a ton of “dud” weeks due to his low yardage. Considering the breadth of talent the Eagles have on offense, it’s tough to bank on Cooper getting 8-plus touchdowns in 2014.
Overvalued, Not Valueless
It’s important to recognize that none of this is to suggest Cooper won’t hold any in 2014. Mainly, I want to point out that he lacks the upside or the high floor that you normally want in a fantasy player. While he’s far from an early round pick right now, taking him over higher upside players like Rueben Randle or Justin Hunter could be a costly decision to make come draft day.