Is Amari Cooper the best wide receiver prospect for the 2015 NFL Draft?
While it’s too early to say for sure, I think he has done enough in his first two years at Alabama to warrant the question. At the very least, the return of college football means spending Saturdays this fall checking out Cooper and the future stars of Sunday. Throughout the season I’ll be writing articles like this, which put some of the best college receivers under the scrutiny of my age-adjusted production model. Today, we’ll look at Cooper to see how he compares to other first round receivers and those who are named as his comparables.In case this is your first time hearing about Cooper, he was one of the top 10 receiver recruits in the 2012 class. After signing with Alabama, he was the Tide’s leading receiver as a freshman on their 2012 national championship team. In fact, that season was tremendous from an age-adjusted perspective to the point of being one of the most precocious receiver seasons of the decade. He was dinged up last season and had a relative down year, but there were signs of dominance in his final two games–as he compiled 15 catches for 299 yards.
For today’s exercise, we’ll compare Cooper to the following players:
- Roddy White, to whom NFL people compare him.
- Sammy Watkins, who was the first receiver drafted in 2014.
- Michael Crabtree, after whom Cooper models his game.
- Greg Jennings, who my Twitter friends say is similar.
- DeAndre Hopkins, who was often compared to White, so according to the transitive property (and my untrained eye balls) should also be similar to Cooper.
The trend line represents the college performances of the NFL receivers drafted since 2005 who have posted 150 point fantasy seasons (WR1 territory). There’s some wiggle room on either side of the trend line, but the point is that we can use this as a rough guideline to evaluate receivers while they’re still in college. As you look at the picture, I suggest comparing player seasons both horizontally and vertically.
The first thing I notice is how similar Watkins and Cooper were as 18-year-old freshmen. While Watkins’ season was met with much more fanfare (becoming the fourth true-freshman to be named an All-American), Cooper had to “settle” for a 1,000 yard, 11 touchdown season, and a national championship. Jumping ahead to the age 19 seasons, note that Cooper and his “down year” were still superior to what both Hopkins and Watkins were doing at that age. Oh, by the way, notice how Hopkins and Watkins posted almost identical numbers at age 19 and 20–I told you they are similar.
Looking at this graph horizontally, notice that Cooper carried his team’s passing offense at age 18 to a similar degree that Crabtree (age 21), Jennings (age 21), and White (age 22) did at much later phases of their college career. I won’t go as far as saying that Cooper is three years ahead of them, developmentally, but I do think it’s fair to say that because much more was expected of him at a younger age, he is likely honing his craft at an advanced pace. And did I mention that he is doing it against SEC defenders, while the others were from the defense-optional Big 12, MAC, and Conference USA?
The skeptic might look at this and say, “those market share numbers are nice, but his raw stats aren’t the best.” In response, I would point out that, before his 20th birthday, Cooper had accumulated more raw college receiving production (1,700 yards, 15 TDs) than Brandon Marshall, Brian Hartline, Doug Baldwin, and James Jones did in their entire college career. . . and they all played their final college season at 21.8 or older.
Setting a Target for 2014
For Cooper to remain on an elite trajectory in 2014 for his age 20.5 season, he would need to post a result similar to Watkins and Hopkins of about 33 percent market share of yards. Considering that he did this at age 18, we know it’s attainable. Also, consider that in Alabama’s Week 1 win over West Virginia, Cooper was targeted on 15 of Blake Sims’ 33 passes (45 percent) and accounted for 130 of Alabama’s 250 passing yards (52 percent). If early results are any indication, Cooper could account for 40 percent or more of Alabama’s passing offense, which would put him in rarefied air. So, is Cooper the best WR prospect for the 2015 NFL Draft? I’m not ready to go that far, but I think most indicators are pointing toward him being, at worst, a first-round prospect.
If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out Is Dorial Green-Beckham the next Calvin Johnson?