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Amari Cooper Could Lead the League in Targets

Bunny Lebowski: Uli doesn’t care about anything. He’s a nihilist.

The Dude: Ah, that must be exhausting.

Remember how Amari Cooper finished his ascent as a superstar and single handedly won fantasy leagues last season? Neither do I. Cooper posted a career worst season following his second straight 1,000-yard season in Year 2, and there were whispers that he was a massive bust.

Amari Career

Although Cooper took a huge step back in his development, I’m inclined to believe that his poor 2017 is an outlier.

cooper-table

Cooper’s decline while maintaining positive efficiency perfectly coincides with the player whose profile suggests that he’s capable of a bounceback season. Cort Smith has already noted that Cooper holds significant upside this season. However, I think the stars are aligning for Cooper to lead the NFL in targets this season.

Playing Through Injury

One of the possibilities for Amari’s poor season could have been a lingering injury. As Ben Gretch noted in Stealing Signals, Cooper was on every Wednesday injury report with a knee issue per Rotoworld. Every Thursday practice he was upgraded to full. Couple that with the fact that Cooper missed a good chunk of practice time in August, and you’re looking at someone who was likely not healthy for the first six weeks of the season.

Amari YPT

Cooper posted career worst reYPT (yards per target) figures over the first six weeks of the season. But he wasn’t listed on the Wednesday injury report Week 7, and subsequently torched the Chiefs.

Cooper Game Log

Cooper converted a whopping 20 targets into an 11-210-2 line, and he finished as the WR1 for the week. He was a volatile asset for the rest of the season. Unfortunately he suffered another injury in Week 12, and had to miss a month of playing time. Cooper’s stayed healthy thus far, so let’s hope that he stays healthy for the 2018 season.

Targets Up For Grabs

The Raiders released Michael Crabtree back in March, freeing up a significant chunk of the target share. Crabtree was the most heavily-targeted receiver in 2015,1 2016,2 and 2017.3 Additionally, Crabtree was a big red-zone presence, and his departure opens up a large chunk of red-zone targets.

Cooper is likely the biggest beneficiary of Crabtree’s departure. The Raiders wanted to involve Cooper more heavily in the red zone at the start of the season.

Amari Cooper RZ Usage

Although Cooper missed several games, he still saw 10 red-zone targets. Note that eight of his red-zone targets came from inside the 10-yard line. Now with Crabtree out of the picture, Cooper should experience a healthy bump in red zone usage which should help his fantasy value.

Additionally, Jon Gruden has raved about Cooper this offseason, declaring that he’s planning on making Cooper the offensive focal point for the Raiders. The Raiders brought in Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant, but I expect Cooper to lead the team in targets.4 Veteran WRs switching teams typically aren’t as productive, and I expect that Derek Carr will lean on Cooper this season.

Plus Carr is at his most efficient when throwing to Cooper.

Amari Cooper AYA

Interestingly, the Oakland Raiders ran the lowest percentage of 2WR sets in the league last season. Gruden has recently joked5 about throwing “the game back to 1998.” Assuming Gruden is serious, I’d expect the Raiders to implement more 2WR sets going forward, which will be a boon for Cooper’s target share. If we factor in that Nelson might not bounce back, and Bryant’s inability to grasp the playbook, it’s likely that Cooper sees a greater share of the available targets.

“Not An Alpha Receiver”

I’ve seen some form of the above argument as a way to denigrate Cooper’s role on the Raiders. Upon closer inspection, Cooper was a tremendous college prospect with elite age-adjusted market share production. He was the youngest WR prospect in the class of 2015, and his production profile compares favorably with players such as Julio Jones and A.J. Green.

Although he’s technically never finished the season as a WR1, he came incredibly close to doing so in 2016.

Amari Cooper 2016 Finishes

Had Cooper scored two more TDs, he’d have crossed the arbitrary threshold required to finish the season as a WR1. Now with an increased red-zone role coupled with a bump in target share, I’m optimistic that Cooper finishes as a WR1 this season. Even if he doesn’t lead the NFL in targets, he should easily be able to outperform his WR16 ADP.

  1. 146 targets, 24.1 percent of the target share  (back)
  2. 145 targets, 24.3 percent of the target share  (back)
  3. 101 targets, 18.1 percent of the target share  (back)
  4. Ryan Switzer was recently traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Griff Whalen was placed on IR. Although pesky Seth Roberts is still on the roster, I doubt he eats into Cooper’s workload.  (back)
  5. I assume he’s joking  (back)

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