Outside of real-life accomplishments and moments, today’s trade of Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys is one of the happiest moments of my life. The only thing that could have made today better for me would have been Cooper landing with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles were unwilling to part with a 1st round pick, and instead, Cooper ended up in Dallas.
I have been told repeatedly today that Amari Cooper is, in fact, bad at football. To ensure I’m not biased and blinded by my adoration for Cooper, I decided to dive into some stats to investigate this claim.
Over and over, the one critique you hear about Cooper is that he drops too many passes. Cooper does drop passes. He’s dropped two so far in 2018 and dropped 10 passes in 2017. While it’s easy to blame a wide receiver for dropped passes, I think you may want to dig deeper and see if the quarterback has something to do with it.
In 2017, Cooper’s Catchable Target Rate (the name is self-explanatory) was just 67.7%, which was 81st at the wide receiver position. In 2018, his Catchable Target Rate has soared all the way up to 78.1% (yes, that is sarcasm), which is 47th best at the wide receiver position. Maybe, just maybe, the reason Cooper has issues catching passes is that Derek Carr is a terrible quarterback who throws terrible passes?
Instead of looking at catch rates or dropped passes a more accurate assessment of a wide receivers pass-catching abilities is True Catch Rate. True Catch Rate (TCR), as described by PlayerProfiler.com, is “reception percentage based solely on catchable targets.” Seems fair to base how good a wide receiver is catching passes based on passes that are catchable, no? On the season Cooper has an 88% True Catch Rate which is 29th overall at the WR position.
As a point of reference, I decided to compare Cooper’s TCR against the top 10 (on average) PPR scoring wide receivers of 2018. Cooper’s rate is better than all but Mike Evans, Adam Thielen, and Michael Thomas. Just in case you’re wondering… that means Cooper’s rate is better than Antonio Brown(87%), Davante Adams(87%), Emmanuel Sanders(85.2%), DeAndre Hopkins (82.5%), Tyreek Hill(82%), Robert Woods(83.7%) and A.J. Green(75.5%). But yeah I know, Cooper is bad at catching the football, right?
I’ve also been told that Cooper is inconsistent. Using PlayerProfiler.com’s game log for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, I can’t dispute that Cooper has been inconsistent, wildly so in fact.
But look just a tad closer at these logs. What you should notice is that not only has Cooper’s production been inconsistent but so have been his targets. Funny how they seem to go hand in hand. In 12 of his last 23 games played Cooper has been targeted 6 or fewer times. I wonder how other receivers fare when targeted 6 times a game. Maybe we should take a look at Antonio Brown, for my money the best wide receiver of all time.
On the few occasions, 15 to be exact, that Brown has seen 6 or fewer targets he’s averaged a useless 6.62 fantasy points per game.
Cooper has averaged 5.57 fantasy points per game on these occasions. I’m not contending that Cooper is Brown’s equal, or that Brown is in any way not a great receiver. My only contention is that you can’t score points when you don’t see the necessary targets.
After Jon Gruden spoke all offseason of making Cooper the focal point of the offense, I was all in for 2018. Based on Gruden’s history of targeting his WR1s I was confident Cooper would be peppered with targets. I was incorrect. Cooper has averaged just 5.3 targets per game. Targets are the lifeblood of fantasy production for wide receivers. Of the top 10 PPR scoring (on a per game basis) only one receiver, Robert Woods, falls outside the top 19 in targets per game. I’m unsure why fantasy owners expect elite production from Cooper when he simply has not received the needed targets to produce.
During the last season and change in Oakland, Cooper has failed to receive sufficient or consistent targets. In 2017 Cooper netted just 96 targets but was still able to finish the season as the WR35 in overall scoring. His 5.3 targets per game checks in at 58th for wide receivers in 2018. When Cooper has gotten targets in his career, he’s produced. In 2016 he ranked 15th in targets and finished as the WR16 in overall scoring. In 2015 he ranked 17th in targets and finished as the WR21 in overall scoring.
Still just 24 years old, fantasy owners seem to forget that Cooper was one of the best wide receiver prospects to ever emerge from the college ranks. From his 18.2 College Breakout age to his 93rd percentile College Dominator rating to his physical metrics everything pointed to an elite player. Cooper is still the same player who put over 2,200 yards in his first two professional seasons by the time he was 23 years old.
Though Dallas would not have been my preferred landing for Cooper, I still think he’s in a better situation there compared to Oakland. I don’t know that you can definitively say that Dak Prescott is a better quarterback than Derek Carr, but he can’t be worse.
Prescott has been criticized for a few major flaws. He doesn’t go through his progressions, often locking on his first read, according to critics. I’m not a film savant so I can’t tell you if Prescott fails to move onto his next target, but I hope this is accurate. With the Cowboys surrendering a 2019 1st round pick in the draft I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that Cooper will become the focal point of the passing offense sooner rather than later. If Prescott locks onto Cooper that means he should plenty of targets.
To see how much Dak Prescott targets his WR1 I looked at his time with Dez Bryant, since Bryant is the only legitimate WR1 Prescott has played with. Over their two full seasons together Prescott targeted Bryant 7.83 times per game or 2.5 more targets per game than Cooper has seen in 2018. In 29 career games with 7 or more targets, Cooper has averaged 16.7 fantasy points per game.
Another critique of Prescott is that he has shown an unwillingness to throw the ball into tight coverage. In this respect, Cooper is a great addition for Prescott. Cooper ranks 13th at the wide receiver position with 1.94 yards of average target separation. Cole Beasley, the current target leader (43) on the Cowboys, checks in at 48th, nearly a full half yard less than Cooper with 1.48 yards. In simpler terms, Cooper gains a good bit more of separation from his defender than Beasley does.
Cooper is even better gaining separation on longer pass attempts. Per ESPN:
“Cooper has been targeted only 32 times this season, but he has averaged 3.4 yards of separation on throws 6 or more yards downfield, which is the best rate in the league. Over the past three seasons, Cooper ranks 16th in average separation at target among receivers with 200 or more targets, alongside wideouts such as Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Odell Beckham Jr., Adam Thielen, and Antonio Brown.”
Cooper’s elite separation skills can only help Prescott become a better deep ball passer. Prescott has 23 Deep Ball Attempts in 2018, which ranks just 22nd in the league. His completion % on deep balls is also poor. Prescott has completed 34.8% of his deep ball attempts, which ranks 20th in the league. This is after the 2017 season that saw Prescott with just 47 Deep Balls Attempts which ranked 25th in the league. Considering that his best weapons consisted of a faded Dez Bryant, ancient Jason Witten, and slot receiver Cole Beasley during this stretch, it’s not hard to see why Prescott didn’t attempt or complete more long passes. Prescott has never played with a wide receiver with the speed and size that Cooper possesses, which should make him more willing to attempt more deep passes.
Prescott also receives little help from his receivers when it comes to Yards After the Catch as noted in the same ESPN article referenced above:
“Just 43.9 percent of Prescott’s pass yards have been generated by receivers after the catch, which ranks 21st out of 22 passers.”
Cooper ranks 17th in YAC so far in 2018. I understand that fantasy owners are down on Prescott and Cooper, but based on the statistics they should be able to improve each other’s production.
If you believe in Cooper’s ability as I do, you still may have a buy-low window right now. The general consensus seems to be that this is a lateral move and won’t improve Cooper’s production. I respectfully disagree and will try to buy Cooper in as many leagues as possible.
Thank you for reading. What do you think? Is Cooper going to continue his descent or will he rise up to WR1/WR2 levels? Let me know on Twitter @DFF_Shane. You can also find me on the DynastyTradesHQ podcast every week.