Turn On the A/C
Last year was devastating. While wide receivers like Keenan Allen, Davante Adams, and Adam Thielen really solidified their spot as highly respectable and ELITE WRs, a few suffered from incessant ridicule as the public labeled them “first-round busts” (i.e. Amari Cooper and Sammy Watkins). They are not living up to their pre-draft hype. Sure, no one is calling Amari and Sammy as undeserving of being in the NFL, but they consider them as “average” or “slightly above average” WRs. In terms of real talent, that is just not so. Recency bias plagues the fantasy community on an annual basis – leading to ADP darlings giving you a huge edge if you draft them in your startup dynasty drafts. For example, DeAndre Hopkins was drafted much lower in 2017 startup drafts than his current #1 or #2 consensus WR ranking.
Nonetheless, this article isn’t about any player other than Amari Cooper. This 4th overall pick of the 2015 draft entered the big leagues as “NFL-ready”. His route-running skills were more polished than most veterans at the time. His cuts now are so lethal, that this man can regularly break the ankles of most unfortunate DBs defending him. This is a man who came out of Alabama and posted up studly combine numbers, such as a 4.42 sec. 40-yd dash, a 6.71 sec. 3-cone, and a 3.98 sec 20 yd shuffle – Wowza! Lately, however, when most people think of Amari Cooper, they tag him as the “King of Drops”. So, let’s look at the numbers: 2015 – 10, 2016 – 3, 2017 – 5. Not good. However, other notable and fantasy superstar players dropped more passes those years; so why are they being let off the hook so easily? Some current and past WR1s surpassed AC in the “oopsie, I made a dropsie” category, including Mike Evans, Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, and Davante Adams (see Table 1). Don’t get me wrong, Amari does need to work on his concentration and consistency when hauling in the ball still, but so do a lot of the top NFL WRs.
When you start to assess the drops on a per reception basis, his drops (albeit concerning) don’t appear drastically different compared to his All-Star compadres. He certainly needs to work on his concentration more than others, but if you watch the tape, most of these guys listed in Table 1 will never have the route-running talent as Amari does at age 24. Route-running for Amari Cooper appears to be as natural to him as breathing air. Sure, his 2015 and 2017 years were rough from a drop perspective, but I suspect this young and talented receiver will put these years behind him as he matures and improves his game mentality. Yes, last year and 2015 was rough for Amari, but the evidence shows that other very talented WRs suffer the “dropsies” at times AND that Amari is very capable of performing better (e.g. 2016 stats). Davante Adams, Mike Evans, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, and Michael Crabtree have all managed to put up some great “Alpha-WRs” numbers in fantasy football even though they had drop concerns that same year. Meanwhile, they all have been highly touted as dynasty fantasy football studs (maybe besides Crabtree) at some point in time – so why are Amari’s drops a concern for his fantasy outlook, but not for other receivers (currently and historically)? His tape, age, athleticism (as evidenced by his combine numbers), and drive to get better ever year should be screaming, “BUY ME! BUY ME!” at you like dollar dogs do at a ballpark. I suspect the public disgust observed with regard to Amari’s drops is because there is nothing else to harp on him for.
Reader: “Okay, Garrett! I get it! Amari Cooper doesn’t have that big of a drop problem, but his numbers in 2017 weren’t so hot.” That’s a very fair point...if we are drafting and getting ready for the 2017 season. However, there is a lot to consider with those 2017 numbers. First and foremost, Todd Downing was leading that offense as a first-timer NFL OC after being promoted from QB coach (2015-2016). Now, due to his poor performance, Todd Downing is serving as a position coach once again, but thankfully out of Oakland – as the Minnesota Vikings’ TE coach. When Bill Musgrave was the offensive coordinator, Amari Cooper turned in two seasons exceeding 1,000 yds on about 78 catches per season (1,070 yds on 72 receptions and 1,153 yds on 83 receptions for 2015 and 2016, respectively). These are ELITE numbers for a WR in the first two years of his career. Especially when it’s quite common to require three years of experience before a WR truly breaks out in the NFL. Unfortunately for Amari, Todd Downing led the Raiders to an offensively poor 2017 year when the collective preseason expert hype, forecasted otherwise.
Moving forward, the Raiders owner (Mark Davis) and GM (Reggie McKenzie) wisely brought in a new head coach and coaching staff, with HC Jon Gruden and OC Greg Olson. While this move feels like we are jumping in the NFL DeLorean, this news is very promising for the Oakland Raiders, their fans, and fantasy owners of both Derek Carr and Amari Cooper. This year will be a bounce-back year for the two of them and our first look of how the Raiders will dominate offensively for many years to come. Let’s reel it back in to Amari Cooper now, but not before I mention Jon Gruden’s historical WR1 numbers. See Table 2).
This historical data only further supports Jon Gruden’s statement that the Raiders plan to feature Amari Cooper in the offense – reasonably so. Not only has Jon Gruden been a successful coach in the past for WRs, but Greg Olson has created a decent resumé for himself, as well. This is the same guy who head-coached the 2015 Jaguars and helped facilitate Blake Bortles most impressive fantasy football year, as he posted 4,428 passing yds with 35 TDs and a QB rating of 88.2 (his best statistical season since being drafted in the 1st round of the 2014 draft). Sure, some of that was in garbage time, but that team had a lot of growing to do in those days on both sides of the ball. Not to mention, Greg Olson was the L.A. Rams’ QB coach last year, as him and Sean McVay helped mold Jared Goff and that offense into a powerhouse.
Don’t get me wrong, there is concern about Amari, but there is only one: his drops. Guys like Keenan Allen, Davante Adams, and Mike Evans have concerns, as well, and I could easily argue that their concerns are more numerous than Amari’s. They all have their talents and elite skillsets, but not many receivers are as perfect as Antonio Brown (though, I guess it would be nice if he had a few more inches to his height). Drops are more of a concentration concern than a talent concern and last year was primarily stemming from the first four games. Suggesting that he was “in his head” for a few games, but then fixed it. Sports psychologists exist for a reason and I’m sure Amari is working with one to ensure his confidence doesn’t “drop” – for the lack of a better word – at all during the 2018 season and foreseeable future. Amari fared well in 2016 by reducing his drops and I believe he will do the same in 2018. Amari Cooper just turned 24 years-old and is primed for a big bounce back year in a Jon Gruden/Greg Olson-led offense. I confidently predict this will be the last time he is an affordable asset in fantasy football and will become a top-5 ranked dynasty WR by the end of this year (and heading into the 2019 season). It’s summer right now and football is just starting to warmup, but let’s #TurnOnTheAC before we get burnt by passing on THE ELITE Amari Cooper. The future is bright and beautiful for Amari Cooper and his fantasy owners.
Extra! Extra! One last table of fun facts for two of the NFL’s best route-runners. The most logical dynasty WR darling after AB is AC (see what I did there?). Perhaps the first year drops are just due to the immensely higher pressure on AC compared to Steeler’s 2010 6th round pick (195th overall). While his drop to reception percentage was higher, he had more than double the touchdowns and close to 150% of AB’s receiving yardage.