Stop Drafting Amari Cooper as a Top-12 Wide Receiver in Fantasy Football
After being selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Amari Cooper burst onto the scene in his rookie campaign.
He became only the fourth 21-year-old rookie to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards despite fighting a foot injury that nearly placed him on injured reserve.
Can he meet those lofty expectations and finish as a WR1 in 2016?
2015 in Review
Cooper and Michael Crabtree formed one of the most heavily-targeted wide receiver pairs last season.
|Team||WR1||Tar. MS%||WR2||Tar. MS%||Combined MS%|
|DEN||Demaryius Thomas||29.21%||Emmanuel Sanders||22.61%||51.82%|
|NYJ||Brandon Marshall||28.64%||Eric Decker||21.85%||50.49%|
|PIT||Antonio Brown||32.71%||Martavis Bryant||15.59%||48.30%|
|CIN||A.J. Green||26.14%||Marvin Jones||20.40%||46.54%|
|HOU||DeAndre Hopkins||31.02%||Nate Washington||15.19%||46.21%|
|OAK||Michael Crabtree||24.09%||Amari Cooper||21.45%||45.54%|
They combined for 45.5% of Oakland's target market share, the sixth-highest among all pairs of wide receivers. Crabtree finished as the PPR WR16 last season with Cooper hot on his heels at WR21.
Aside from the foot injury, the biggest weakness to Cooper's game last season was his lack of involvement in the red zone. As noted by Rotoworld's Rich Hribar, Cooper saw just eight red zone targets last season from inside the 20-yard line but didn't get a single target from the 10-yard line or closer. The Raiders threw the ball 22 times from within the 10, and Cooper's lack of involvement in the game plan should cause some pause for concern.
That poor red zone usage led to Cooper finishing as a weekly top-12 wide receiver only three times within the first 16 weeks of the regular season. He finished with just six touchdowns on the season with only two coming from inside the red zone.
For a team that threw the ball over 600 times last season -- Oakland was one of 15 teams to do so -- it had to be a shock for the Oakland brass to see their biggest offensive star struggle week to week.
Cooper's Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) ranked 20th among all receivers last season, which is quite impressive for a rookie. However, given the volume he saw his way, his Reception NEP per target fell to the middle of the pack, ranking 49th of the 87 receivers with 30-plus receptions.
Granted, Cooper was a rookie learning a new playbook and facing a level of difficulty he's never seen before in NFL-caliber corners, but his transition wasn't seamless to the professional level. He only caught 55.4% of the passes thrown his way, and ProFootballFocus credited him with 18 drops -- the most in the league.
Cooper was thrown into the mix in a trial-by-fire situation. Fighting both inefficiency and injury, Cooper's rookie season doesn't indicate a player who is likely to improve drastically and jump into the top tier of wide receivers.
Oakland's offense in 2016 figures to become a more balanced attack. After throwing the ball 63.3% of the time last season (ninth-most in the league), the Raiders have talked about the strength of their offensive line and wanting to be a team that "surges in the run game."
After adding Kelechi Osemele to the offensive line, the Raiders suddenly have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. If they can gel together quickly, they could become quite the formidable group with the 6'2", 230-pound Latavius Murray running behind them.
Head coach Jack Del Rio has historically run the ball heavily dating back to his Jacksonville head coaching days. If he's able to implement an aggressive rushing attack behind what projects to be one of the league's top units, Oakland could very likely see an increase in rushing plays this upcoming season.
The Raiders trailed during 55% of the time in their games last season, continuously fighting to get in positive game scripts. During these trailing sessions, the Raiders were forced to become one-dimensional and threw the ball 70% of the time. That number stands to change in 2016, given Oakland's projection of 75% of their games to have three-point or fewer spreads through Week 16. That translates to fewer blowouts and more close games this season without being forced to pass out of necessity.
Oakland also made significant moves this offseason to upgrade their defensive unit. Adding Bruce Irvin to the front seven along with Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, and rookie first-rounder Karl Joseph to the back end, the Raiders defense should improve after their 2015 finish as a middle of the pack unit in Adjusted Defensive NEP (17th).
An improved rushing attack, a better game script, and an upgraded defensive unit will likely keep the Raiders from being a top-10 passing unit in 2016.
We saw last week from Jim Sannes that preseason win projections from Vegas have a strong correlation to fantasy performances, particularly at both the quarterback and wide receiver position. Oakland's 7.5-projected wins isn't something we should be chomping at the bit to invest in. We ideally want our fantasy football performers on teams with high win totals, not ones that fall below average.
The draft capital to get Cooper -- a mid-second-round pick -- is too expensive given his likely range of outcomes. Climbing into the WR1 tier isn't an easy task. While Cooper should naturally see some progression as a receiver in the nuances of his game, it may not reflect in his fantasy performance. Derek Carr is likely set to face regression in his touchdown rate, which won't help a receiver like Cooper who struggled to score in 2015.
Our second-round picks should provide both safety and a high ceiling. Cooper provides neither.
Given his week-to-week variance and low propensity for touchdowns, you'd be better off selecting another player with your second-round draft pick this season.