Last offseason, I was among a minority of fantasy football analysts prepared to label Mike Evans as an elite asset before his third professional season in the NFL. After a WR3 finish in PPR formats in 2016, it’s now safe to assert that my confidence in Evans was warranted. It could have been a bold prediction that simply came true, or merely intuition based on the fact that the wide receiver and I share the same last name. Regardless, I am now prepared to associate Amari Cooper in the same value conversation as he enters his third NFL campaign in 2017.
To be clear, Evans and Cooper possess entirely different skill sets. The former is a 6’ 5” / 231-pound field stretcher, while the latter is a 6’ 1” / 210-pound possession receiver. This article does not intend to draw parallels between the two players. Instead, its purpose is to reveal Cooper’s opportunity to reach stardom in the NFL and fantasy similar to that of Evans circa 2016. That being said, I will provide three reasons below that support the case of Cooper entering elite territory at the wide receiver position for fantasy in 2017.
As is often the case in fantasy football, prior output is perhaps the best indicator of future success. After all, a sample size of production at the NFL level is the foundation of most analysis and projections. For a detailed look at how Cooper has fared over his first two NFL seasons, reference the table below:
As indicated above, the Alabama product has emerged as a borderline elite fantasy asset in a matter of two NFL campaigns. In 2016 alone, he accrued a minimum of 4 receptions in fourteen different contests. Even more, Cooper has delivered double-digit PPR performances in 20 of his 32 career NFL games. I’m no math wizard, but that accounts for 63 percent of the time or well over half of the contests that he has ever participated in. If you’re still not convinced that Cooper belongs in the conversation of elite wide receivers, consider that he has also delivered nine 100-yard receiving games over the past two years. For context purposes, understand that the total represents more than that of A.J. Green (8), T.Y. Hilton (8) and Brandin Cooks (7).
As alluded to in the table provided above, Cooper has earned a considerable amount of volume over the past two calendar years with target totals of 130 (2015) and 132 (2016). In turn, the 23-year old has manufactured respective touchdown totals of 6 and 5 in each of those seasons. With such a large target share, it is fair to expect positive regression to the mean towards Cooper’s favor in due time. This is especially indicative after reviewing his red zone usage rates across his first two professional seasons, which can be viewed below:
|Year||Red Zone Targets|
Based on Cooper’s involvement in the red zone, it is fair to wonder how he has failed to place higher than the PPR WR21 (2015) or WR14 (2016). This can be attributed to his level of efficiency or lack thereof in the touchdown department, as Cooper generated merely two scores across 7 red zone targets as a rookie. As a sophomore in 2016, he was unable to convert a single touchdown from his 13 targets inside the 20-yard line. If Cooper is able to buck this trend moving forward, he will almost certainly elevate his stock and demand elite recognition in the process.
Situation and Opportunity
The root of Cooper’s superstar outlook in fantasy football circles should be attributed to his current situation and opportunity as a member of the Oakland Raiders. Outside of Michael Crabtree, the team lacks ideal depth on offense. Sure, Marshawn Lynch is expected to serve as a focal point and demand a lucrative amount of touches. This should be little cause for concern around Cooper’s value, as Cordarrelle Patterson and Jared Cook are the only other formidable threats for targets in Oakland’s aerial attack. After recording 596 passing attempts a season ago, the Raiders project to rank among the league leaders in overall volume and figure to support multiple fantasy contributors once again in 2017 with Derek Carr at the helm.
Given his track record as a rookie and sophomore at the NFL level, this offseason could very well represent the final window of opportunity to purchase shares of Cooper in dynasty at a reasonable rate. If that’s the case come next season, he will unquestionably see an increase in his redraft asking price as well. Keep in mind that it’s always logical to invest in or sell a player a year ahead of their perceived breakout or downfall. Amari Cooper fits the bill with the first component of that last sentence and is poised to earn superstar status based on his career output, expected volume and appealing situation in 2017.