Is Amari Cooper the Best Wide Receiver in the 2015 NFL Draft?
"You know what you're getting."
Who doesn't love knowing what to expect? Rightfully so, the quote above is generally the consensus opinion on Amari Cooper. The 20-year-old Alabama product seems to be the most "NFL ready" wide receiver prospect in this year's class among draft circles, and for the most part he's considered to have more transferable traits than anyone on the draft board.
All of the hype comes with a seal of production, too. Cooper went off in his junior season for the Crimson Tide, leading the NCAA in receptions (124) and finishing second in both yards (1,727) and touchdowns (16). Across Alabama's schedule, opposing defenses could not figure out a way to stop or slow down Cooper last year, as he posted at least eight receptions in 12 of 14 games.
As it may seem, few wide receivers come near Amari Cooper's resume, so let's get to the question at hand: is he the best wide receiver prospect in this year's class?
Sizing Him Up
The combine was back in February, but it's generally nice and important to have a refresher on how athletic certain players are. Below are Amari Cooper's combine metrics via Mockdraftable.com. Overall percentile rankings are denoted in parenthesis.
|Name||Height||Weight||40-yd dash||Vertical||3-cone||20-yd shuttle|
|A. Cooper||6' 1"||211||4.42 (82nd)||33 inches (16th)||6.71 (84th)||3.98 (94th)|
Unlike a lot of prospects who enter the draft, it isn't that hard to figure Amari Cooper out. What's especially nice is that his combine was virtually a direct representation of his on-field product everyone saw at Alabama.
What you're looking at above is an incredibly agile player. Cooper finished in the top 16% of all wide receiver prospects in the 3-cone agility drill and in the top 6% in the 20-yard short shuttle. Plus, his 4.4 speed definitely doesn't hurt his cause.
Furthermore, per RotoUnderworld's useful Player Profiler tool, Cooper finished in the 95th percentile according to their "Agility Score" metric and came in the 88th percentile in their height-adjusted "Speed Score."
For an on the field example, Cooper is lined up outside here and shows off his 95th percentile agility to create separation from the cornerback and burst off of the line of scrimmage.
The only real Combine knock you could muster against Cooper -- and it isn't even his fault -- is his height. Granted, he isn't 5-foot-10-inches like Antonio Brown is, but 6'1" is right at the boundary of your typical "X" (number-one) wide receiver in today's NFL. But, as we're about to get dive into below, Cooper's height shouldn't really matter all that much at the next level.
Instead of citing traditional statistics, we need to dig a little deeper to see how and where Amari Cooper wins on the field.
Below you will notice yardage split columns broken into three separate percentage based categories for career receptions, first downs gained, and receptions of 15- and 25-plus yards. Instead of posting the entire sample size of 15 individual splits of wide receivers entering the draft, I added an average row below Cooper's scores to reference. The target share and yards per target numbers are just for the 2014 season.
|Name||Rec.||Tgt %||Yards/Tgt||1st down %||15+ yards %||25+ yards %|
A few things should really jump off of the page. First of all, Amari Cooper was absolutely spoon fed the ball for the 2014 Crimson Tide. His 39.8% target market share last year was the 15th most heavily targeted single season among college wide receivers since 2005 in terms of percentage of targets. That's insane.
Secondly -- and this has a whole lot to do with the 173 targets Cooper saw last year -- his yardage splits are good but nothing overly explosive. Basically, this is simply the role Cooper had at Alabama. He was their passing offense. He commanded a huge chunk of attention from defenses plus a massive volume of targets and was still able to average 10 yards per target.
So, for a wide receiver to have a nearly 40% target share in college, he must be an incredibly versatile player who is asked to do a multitude of things on the field. Amari Cooper rose to this challenge in 2014.
In fact, one of the best things about Amari Cooper is his adaptability and intelligence to dominate any part of the field. 74 of Cooper's 124 receptions went for a first down in 2014, second only to Justin Hardy in this year's class (80). But Cooper isn't just a chain mover by any means, as he accounted for 33% of Alabama's receiving touchdowns inside of the 20-yard line in 2014.
It's also not like Cooper is just a short-to-intermediate area player who can win in the red zone either. While he was below average in this particular yardage split still, 15 of his receptions went for at least 25 yards in 2014 -- second to Ohio State's Devin Smith (18).
Essentially, Cooper was asked to do everything within the scope of the Crimson Tide's offense last year, and he succeeded. What's even more impressive is he did all of this dominating while being asked to line up at all three wide receiver positions.
Per Matt Harmon's "Reception Perception" article on Cooper based on a five-game sample size, he lined up everywhere on the field in 2014 -- showing up as the right wide receiver 37.9% of the time, the left wide receiver on 47.0% of alignments, and even poked around in the slot on 13.6% of snaps.
Here is a great example of Cooper's versatility and maneuverability across formations where Cooper lines up in a quasi-slot role off of the line of scrimmage, and breaks open on an underneath in-route displaying solid yards after the catch ability, as well.
As a prospect, Cooper checks out almost all the way across the board. He's a fantastically agile athlete who saw monster volume in college, can move all over the field, carried an offense on his back, and is still only 20 years old. What is there not to like?
Cooper's NFL Outlook
As referenced above, the only semi-knock we can find right now on Amari Cooper is his height. While he may not have the physicality of players such as Dez Bryant or Alshon Jeffery in terms of height and power, it doesn't necessarily mean he can't win contested catches. In this play against Florida, Cooper goes up and gets one of his 16 receiving touchdowns winning the ball from the cornerback and beating the safety who was too late to help.
Ultimately, Cooper's evaluation comes down to if whether or not a team looks past his slight height deficiency and they see him as their offense's technician wide receiver who can command 125-plus targets per season. Or, perhaps he's more of a "1B" option who plays off of the primary for his first few seasons. Frankly, he can thrive in either role.
As it stands right now, Amari Cooper is easily the most polished wide receiver entering this year's draft and likely has the safest "floor" as a prospect. That doesn't mean he doesn't have upside though, as he turns 21-years-old on June 17th this year -- he just may not possess the astronomic ceiling of West Virginia's Kevin White or the touchdown making prowess of Dorial Green-Beckham.
But Cooper doesn't really need to have all of that upside. A team is going to spend significant draft capital on him this April, and he has the ability to come in and contribute immediately.