Should You Avoid Amari Cooper in Fantasy Football This Year?

Cooper has a clear role as a go-to receiver in Oakland. Is that enough to draft him this season?

Everybody loves rookies now.

After that 2014 season of 1,000 or so breakout receivers, expectations are high for the new class of 2015. At the top of the list, of course, is Amari Cooper, who the Oakland Raiders drafted fourth overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Oakland has a young quarterback at the helm, and the duo of Cooper and Derek Carr ostensibly give reasons for optimism for the black and silver for years to come.

However, in terms of re-draft and single-year leagues (such as best-ball formats), can you really put your faith in Cooper and the Oakland offense?

Let's break this down.

Going Early

It's no big surprise that Cooper is getting drafted in fantasy formats fairly early. He's the 51st overall pick in best-ball leagues this season and the 22nd receiver overall.

As for standard re-draft mocks, he's going 52nd overall and as the 21st receiver. In PPR formats? His overall ADP jumps up to just 50th, but he is the 22nd receiver off the board.

This means that owners are expecting Cooper to be a low-end WR2 and, therefore, a weekly starter. What do our algorithms anticipate for Cooper?

Not WR2 value. They peg him for 64.46 receptions, 843.82 yards, and 4.72 touchdowns. That would place him around 36th in terms of fantasy production at the receiver position. Given his low reception expectation, his value doesn't even jump up in PPR formats, as he weighs in as the 37th-rated receiver in full-point per catch leagues.

That seems low, doesn't it?

Realistic Expectations

Plenty of people expect Cooper to challenge for upwards of 80 catches in this offense as the clear-cut top option. And that very well could happen, but he has an uphill battle to the top 20 in terms of fantasy points.

Last year, Cooper would have needed to secure about 136 fantasy points to finish up as the WR22 (i.e. Anquan Boldin territory). Serendipitously, two rookies Jordan Matthews and Sammy Watkins finished just mere points from that mark (135.2 and 133.0, respectively). They were good as rookies.

Could Cooper have a similar stat line? Of course. Matthews caught 67 balls for 872 yards and 8 touchdowns; Watkins hauled in 65 passes for 982 yards and 6 scores. So, roughly 66 catches, 900 yards, and 7 touchdowns for Cooper would put him in that range. Again, he's projected for 64.46 receptions, 843.82 yards, and 4.72 touchdowns.

The question isn't really whether he can get there in year one (although since 1920, only about 40 players have secured 130 points as a rookie while playing wide receiver). Rather, the question is whether he will and whether paying sticker price is a smart move (it rarely is).

Causes for Concern

A big reason why Cooper might get held back is his team situation. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, the Raiders were the 30th-best offense in the league last year on a schedule-adjusted, per-play basis. They lost 0.07 points relative to expectation level with every play run, and that doesn't bode well for Cooper's upside.

The team's passing as a whole ranked 29th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play, losing 0.05 points that an average quarterback would have secured in those same situations.

Carr's Passing NEP of -40.94 was worse than any quarterback in the league not named Blake Bortles (-97.97). Carr's per-drop back Passing NEP (-0.07) ranked 33rd among 37 quarterbacks who attempted at least 200 drop backs last year (Carr dropped back 622 times).

His Pass Success Rate of 41.00% indicates that the Raiders added to their NEP on just 41% of his drop backs, which ranked 34th. That's not a recipe for successful receiving chances. Cooper could see plenty of targets, but unless the offense improves, he'll be lacking red zone opportunities.

While it is true that the Raiders threw the ball on 56.25% of their red zone plays (third-highest in the league) last year, only two teams failed to run at least 100 plays in the red zone: Oakland and Jacksonville (both had 96).

So, in the end, Oakland attempted just 54 red zone passes last season, more than only four other squads.

A Verdict

It's not as though Cooper can't reach the Watkins or Matthews level of production and live up to his ADP. It really comes down to the touchdowns, but that's something that Oakland may not offer him unless the offense plays like the polar opposite of itself from 2014.

Cooper projects to be a great long-term buy in just about any format, but unless he slides in your re-draft drafts, it's hard to justify taking him where he is currently being taken.

In PPR formats, he should be the better bargain, as his ADP is (somehow) lower in PPR formats as of early July. He could easily rack up plenty of receptions when the game script calls for it, but expecting him to flirt with double-digit touchdowns doesn't make sense on paper, so his standard-scoring ceiling isn't exactly sky high.

Cooper might be a trade target during the season if his owner is underwhelmed with having a piece of the Oakland offense, so he might be available at a more reasonable price in the middle of the season, but as of now, Cooper is a player to avoid. That is unless you believe the Oakland offense will be much improved.