Amari Cooper’s Capped Ceiling Limits His Fantasy Football Appeal
Cooper ranked 15th in receptions (79) and 7th in both receiving yards (1,189) and touchdowns (8). Cooper battled through some late-season injuries and ended up scoring a career-high 15.4 PPR fantasy points per game, which ranked 15th in the league among wide receivers.
Cooper was even more impressive from an efficiency perspective. He ranked fourth by numberFire’s Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target, eighth in catch rate, and second in Target Success Rate among wideouts with at least 100 targets last season.
But the Cowboys recently selected Oklahoma Sooners product CeeDee Lamb with the 17th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, which has raised concerns in the fantasy community regarding Cooper’s ceiling in 2020. Cooper will have compete with Lamb and third-year receiver Michael Gallup (among others) for targets, and star running back Ezekiel Elliott will still see his fair share of touches. Plus, Cooper has proved to be wildly inconsistent on a weekly basis despite his solid year-end totals.
Will Cooper be able to generate high-end numbers in 2020? Let's dive in.
Prior to the 2019 season, fantasy analyst Scott Barrett found that Cooper is perhaps the most volatile and cornerback-sensitive wide receiver in the league. Throughout his career, Cooper has typically been boom-or-bust without much consistency, and his performance tends to heavily rely on the strength of the opposition.
Both of these conclusions remained true in 2019. Last year, Cooper had the same number of games (four) in which he totaled over 100 yards receiving as he did with fewer than 25 yards receiving. A whopping 40.3% of Cooper’s 2019 receiving yards came in his three best games, and he averaged just 54.6 yards per game in his 13 other outings. For comparison, Michael Thomas and Julio Jones had fewer than 33% of their 2019 receiving yards come from their three best games, and they both averaged over 75 yards in their other contests.
Cooper was held under 40 yards against Tre'Davious White, Darius Slay, Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins in shadow coverage last season, per PFF. He also recorded zero receptions facing Jalen Ramsey, Stephon Gilmore and Josh Norman. Four of his best six games came against defenses ranked in the bottom-10 by our schedule-adjusted metrics.
This season, Cooper will face Ramsey, Slay (twice), Marcus Peters, Richard Sherman and Steven Nelson among other corners. Four of Dallas’ 10 outer-division opponents next season ranked in the top-six versus the pass in 2019, per our schedule-adjusted numbers. Cooper’s inconsistency woes existed prior to 2019, and it appears likely they will continue into 2020 barring a drastic change.
Cooper is still a supremely talented receiver, but his inconsistency certainly hinders his production ceiling. The addition of Lamb is a legitimate concern, too, especially considering that Cooper already had underwhelming opportunity.
Last season, Cooper ranked 34th in target share (20%) and 42nd in market share of air yards (26%), per AirYards.com -- both of which ranked behind Gallup. Gallup surprisingly had more targets and receiving yards than Cooper in the 14 games they played together last season. Cooper also ranked just third on the team in red zone targets behind Elliott and Jason Witten.
The Cowboys quietly rank second in both targets and air yards available from last season after losing Witten and Randall Cobb in free agency, but there are plenty of players to offset those departures. Lamb will likely absorb the majority of the missing targets, and fourth-year tight end Blake Jarwin should play a bigger role now. Jarwin -- who ranked 34th in targets among tight ends last season but 8th in yards per route run and 14th in Reception NEP per target -- appears primed for a breakout year after Witten’s exit.
Elliott, who has caught over 50 ball each of the past two seasons, will also continue to be involved in the passing game.
A positive from all of Dallas’ offseason personnel moves is the strong likelihood of frequent three-receiver formations. The departure of a slot man in Cobb and the addition of a perimeter receiver in Lamb could result in more slot usage for Cooper in 2020, who has been very productive from that spot.
What's great about the CeeDee Lamb pick is now Amari Cooper gets to move back to the slot -- which is where I always thought he should play
1) Across his full career, he averages 2.37 YPRR from slot (5th-best of 150) but only 1.80 YPRR from the outside (only above average)
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) April 24, 2020
Overall, Cooper has a good rapport with Prescott and is certainly talented enough to earn a high number of targets. But it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he ranks near the top of the league in volume next season, which obviously puts a cap on his ceiling.
What's the Cost?
Cooper is currently being drafted as WR9 and 30th overall, according to the June ADP at BestBall10s.
That price is a bit steep.
Cooper has never finished better than WR15 in PPR points per game in his career, is extremely volatile, is sensitive to matchups, and has competition for targets in Dallas.
Cooper is among the league’s most talented receivers and plays with one of the best young quarterbacks in the game in an offense that many expect to explode in 2020, so he offers a higher floor than many players. But his ceiling is inarguably capped by the aforementioned factors, and buyers should be very wary at the current cost.