Throughout the offseason, RotoViz writers will be sharing with you our favorite picks in each round of fantasy drafts. I’ll kick it off here by taking a closer look at my favorite pick in the fourth round.
When constructing your rosters, you always want to include players with league-winning upside — guys that can significantly outperform their ADP. When you’re drafting in the fourth round, that means players that have a chance to be elite, and finish in the top-12 in their positions.
One of the prerequisites for a top-12 season for a wide receiver is a high volume of targets. Over the past three years, top-12 WRs have averaged 149 targets with a median of 151 targets. Four of the 36 players have accomplished the feat with fewer than 120 targets, but those seasons have also generally been in the bottom of the WR1 range.1
|Odell Beckham Jr.||2016||101||169||1367||298.6|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||2015||96||158||1454||319.7|
Thanks to the early rush on running backs, the fourth round is littered with WRs who have a good shot to eclipse 120 targets and have a chance at ending up among the top-12 WRs.
It’s easy to make a case for any one of these guys to finish 2018 as a WR1, but the guy I want to own is Amari Cooper.2
The Target Volume
Only eight receivers since the year 2000 were targeted more over their first two seasons than Cooper. Cooper was younger than most though, and only Mike Evans and Larry Fitzgerald had more targets in their age 21 through age 22 seasons. Many expected Cooper to continue his ascent last year, so what happened?
The likely answer is injury. Cooper missed two games and was reportedly hobbled throughout the season. Coupled with a down season from the entire Raiders offense, it’s a plausible explanation for why he faltered.3 The alternative is to believe that one of the most highly regarded WR prospects in years, who had one of the best two-years starts to his career ever, is actually just mediocre at football. I can’t rule that out, but I also wouldn’t bet on it.
Cooper reached 130 targets in each of his first two healthy seasons, but is entering 2018 with a completely new coaching staff. Jon Gruden has said that Cooper will “be the focal point of our pass offense,” but coach-speak is cheap at this time of year. The depth chart doesn’t lie though, and after swapping out Michael Crabtree for Jordy Nelson, there isn’t really an improvement in the quality of Cooper’s target competition. With few quality free agents remaining and a WR draft class lacking in top-end prospects, it’s likely Cooper starts 2018 without much more competition for targets than in the past.
New offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s three most recent seasons as an offensive coordinator have produced an average of more than 600 passing attempts for his team.4 However, those teams also played from behind a lot, with a combined record of 11-37. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Raiders to again come in close to the approximately 600 passes they attempted in Cooper’s first two seasons.
The biggest change though is the departure of Crabtree. When Cooper was being targeted 130 and 131 times in 2015 and 2016, he wasn’t even the most targeted receiver on the team. That distinction belonged to Crabtree, who was targeted 145 and 146 times. It’s unlikely a 33-year-old Nelson comes to a new team and immediately becomes the target leader. Cooper’s path to a workload of 140 targets or more is clear, even if it isn’t guaranteed.
The Red Zone
The knock on Cooper has always been his limited red zone usage. He’s been targeted far less frequently than Crabtree, and hasn’t been very successful when he was targeted over the last three years.
|Inside 20||Inside 10|
It’s possible that Cooper is just bad in red zone scenarios, where there’s less room to create separation and a more limited number of routes. It’s also possible that he has simply struggled over what is a fairly small sample and is a victim of variance. With Crabtree leaving, many of those red zone targets are now up for grabs. Nelson has a strong resume in the red zone, but there’s no way of knowing if he’ll develop the chemistry with Derek Carr that he shared with Aaron Rodgers. There’s TD upside in Oakland and Cooper will be in a position to capitalize on it.
We don’t know yet what the Oakland offense will look like, but there’s a chance that Jon Gruden is telling the truth this time and it will actually run through Cooper. With plenty of available targets, particularly in the red zone, I’ll take a chance on Cooper seeing a large increase in volume and rebounding in efficiency. Many of the other WRs in this range are also good picks, but Cooper is the guy who could benefit the most from the changes around him and finally take a step forward to stardom.
- Doug Baldwin’s insane 269 points on just 103 targets in 2015 is a major outlier. (back)
- I will gladly be drafting many of these other players too though. (back)
- The Raiders threw fewer passes than they have since Cooper has been on the team and Derek Carr’s adjusted yards per attempt (AYA) was his lowest since his rookie year. While Carr’s play was criticized throughout the season, part of the Oakland offense’s struggles could also be laid at the feet of first-year OC Todd Downing. It’s possible Carr is overrated, but simply returning to his volume and efficiency levels from 2015 and 2016 would be sufficient to boost Cooper’s production. (back)
- His fourth most recent season as an OC, 2013 with the Raiders, he had Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin as QBs and only attempted 519 passes. I’m chalking that up to bad QB play and the fact that Pryor was a running QB. (back)