The Great Debate: A.J. Green vs Amari Cooper

The Debate: A.J. Green vs. Amari Cooper:

Recently on Twitter, a debate raged between a few main antagonists for nearly a month about the worth of particular receivers in dynasty leagues. One of the fun things about dynasty is that there are so many different strategies deployed by various teams at varying times making it hard to be flat out“wrong.” But it is 2017 and people on social media like to be inflammatory and get nuts on occasion, so this entire thing went sideways quick.

I’ll be omitting people’s names, but the gist of the argument (to the best of my understanding) was that somebody said they’d happily take the Bengals’ A.J. Green over the Raiders’ Amari Cooper. I initially didn’t think it was that especially far fetched. But the vitriol emitted towards the supporters of the A.J. Green side was coming in hot and heavy. Was I missing something? I wanted to take a quick look at the data and see if I was as way off base as the internet was claiming, or if I was on the right path with my thinking.

In the interest of full disclosure, going into this, I’ll admit that I’m not as high on Amari Cooper as most in the industry. I don’t hate him, I don’t think he sucks. I don’t believe he’s garbage. Though Cooper is a good receiver I just don’t think he’s the rock-solid #1 for his NFL team, and I don’t even think he’s the best fantasy receiver on his team. He’s wildly inconsistent. He drops too many balls and I think he vanishes in the red zone. 

Those are valid reasons to be slightly skeptical about what the future may hold for Cooper. But were my thoughts about him correct? And how has he stacked up against A.J. Green over the last two seasons? While we’re at it, how did Cooper stack up against Michael Crabtree? Since we’re talking Crabtree versus Cooper, what about other players on the Raiders?

Another factor thrown out in this Twitter debate was the length of time owners expect to get useful production from their dynasty players. Age is a major factor in dynasty leagues, no doubt. But one argument being made was that you should play in a 3-year window. Essentially, regardless of the fact that Green is six years older than Cooper, that’s negligible if you subscribe to the 3-year window theory. It’s not a strategy I am familiar with. I decided to see if people keep a similar roster for years and years (Cooper has 10-years left to play, thus increasing his value, so the argument goes) or if owners routinely turn over their rosters.

3 Year Window:

Thanks to the commish of my oldest running dynasty league, I was able to get our rosters going back to our initial start-up. Now, to be fair, I don’t know if this will be normal for other leagues or of this is average across the industry, but it’s the oldest league I have so it was the only place I could get some data.

What I found, was that over any given 4-year window, teams only had 10% of the same roster as they started with. Only 36 players out of 360 were on the same team they were on four years prior. Seven of those players were quarterbacks, so if you eliminate them (as most teams tend to hold onto good franchise quarterbacks), the number drops to 8%. I’ve never heard the argument before, but the 3-year window thing holds some water based on my personal experience.

I might bump it up to a 4-year window, but it boils down to this: your dreamy long term asset, really isn’t going to be a long-term asset for your team. Everybody is available for the right trade offer and as a player sits on one roster for a few seasons, he’s more and more likely to end up being moved at some point. This isn’t very scientific, I’m fully aware, but based off of my experience, the small window seems to be accurate and is a concept I’ll be looking into more going forward.

Bad Take:

At one point, one party stated that they would rather have Larry Fitzgerald over Cooper. Now, of course, for dynasty leagues that’s terrible. Fitz is likely to retire at the end of the season, and you’d have to assume you can get another decade of production from Cooper. 

But dynasty leagues aside, in a PPR redraft league, it’s hard to argue against Fitzgerald. Over the last two seasons, according to Fitz has outscored Cooper by 81 points- an average of nearly 40 points per season (approximately 2.5 fantasy points per game). He might be riding off into the sunset, but he’s not showing any signs of slowing down thus far. For a single season, it’s hard to argue against Fitz. He’s still the focal point of his teams passing game.

Stats, Stats and more Stats:

Back to the issue at hand: Cooper vs. Green (and to a lesser extent, Cooper vs. Crabtree). Over the last two seasons, Cooper has 155 receptions on 262 targets with 11 touchdowns, and Green caught 152 on 232 targets with 14 touchdowns. Keep in mind Green played in 6 fewer games during this 2 year window. Cooper also had 13 drops while Green had only 6- and those numbers are slightly subjective based on the source. Pro Football Focus had Cooper with a 20% drop rate in 2015, pushing his total somewhere in the area of 18, not 10 as reported in most places. So, after a quick glance and a few calculations, it is easy to see that Green’s counting numbers are better than Cooper’s, even with him missing 6 games.

Green accrued more yards and more touchdowns on 3 fewer catches on 30 fewer targets. Green managed to catch 66% of his targets, and Cooper only caught 59%. Combining drops with receptions, Cooper drops 8% of the balls that hit his hands and Green drops 3%. The more I’ve looked at, the case for Green is being made at every turn. The only edge Cooper holds on Green is that he’s younger, and to some in the dynasty community, that is gospel. Always pushing the youth movement.

An Aside: Cooper vs. Crabtree:

Just a quick glance at the Cooper vs. Crabtree debate. Again, Crabtree is 6 years older than Cooper, just like A.J. Green and his numbers are also better than Cooper’s over the last two seasons. Crabtree had 174 receptions on 291 targets for just under 2,000 yards with 17 touchdowns. That’s 20 more catches and 6 more scores than his highly sought after teammate. It’s not at all unreasonable to think that Crabtree and Green can maintain this level of production for four more years pushing into their age 33 seasons. Crabtree’s numbers are all the more troubling, as they directly eat into Cooper’s opportunities.

Cooper and Crabtree almost had identical targets and receptions over the last two seasons they’ve played opposite each other in Oakland: Crabtree with 85 and 89 receptions on 146 and 145 targets, respectively and Cooper with 72 and 83 catches on 130 and 132 targets. Why would the Raiders suddenly change that after it’s worked just fine for them thus far? If anything the signing of Marshawn Lynch might lower both of their numbers a tad this year and next.

Red zone usage:

In my opening, I mentioned I did not think Cooper is much of a red zone threat at this point in his career. After looking at Cooper’s red zone data, it’s worse than I thought. Over the last two seasons, A.J. Green has 15 red zone receptions on 28 targets, Crabtree has 15 on 34, while Cooper only has 8 receptions on 20 targets. Green has 9 red zone touchdowns; Crabtree has 8 and Cooper has 2; none of those coming last season in Cooper’s case. Inside the 10, it’s even worse. In 2 years, Cooper has only 7 targets (and no receptions) when his team was inside the 10-yard line.

By comparison, both Green and Crabtree brought down 6 balls on 14 throws inside the 10. Green hauled in 5 scores within the 10 and Crabtree pulled in 6 himself. Looking at other players on the Raiders, Cooper has consistently been outperformed by his teammates in the red zone. Seth Roberts has 9 red zone touchdowns compared to Cooper’s 2. Andre Holmes has 5. Clive Walford has 4 and even Marcel Reece caught 3 red zone touchdowns. Unless something dramatically changes in the team’s play calling or if Cooper somehow suddenly gets better near the end zone, he’s a liability when it comes time to score.

Consistency Matters:

Another problem is consistency. Looking at ESPN’s fantasy football consistency ratings, we all know Amari Cooper has plenty of upside, but he throws out quite a few stinkers too. I’ll try to keep this concise, the details are in the embedded link, but basically, a player is deemed “startable” if they finish a given week in the top 25 at their position. A player is considered a “stud” is they finish in the top 5, and they’re a “stiff” if they finish outside of the top 51. Over the last two seasons, Cooper had 15 startable games out of 32 and 4 where he was a “stud.”

The upside looks good on paper, but he also had 9 games where he finished outside of the top 51. That’s 28% of his games outside of the top 51 at his position. It’s not optimal when you can’t depend upon the top WR on your roster.

Yes, it is fantasy, and bad games/weeks happen, but the ups-and-downs with Cooper will drive you mad. Green, by comparison, had 11 games which were startable, 5 where he was a stud and only 4 where he was as stiff. Looking at their actual PPR points per game, the last 2 seasons, Green has averaged nearly 18 points-per-game, and Cooper has averaged 13. That’s worth roughly another 64 points per year for your fantasy team. Has anything happened to either side during free agency or the draft that would lead you to think that will change in the next few seasons? If anything, given the off-season the Bengals and Raiders had, Green’s arrow is pointing slightly upward more than Cooper’s for the next few years.

Give me A.J. Green:

I admittedly came into this slightly biased but was willing to look into it with an open mind. However, after looking at the numbers, I want A.J. Green and Crabtree over Cooper 9-and-a-half times out of 10. Aside from Cooper’s age, there is no other case that can be made for him. The overall performance hasn’t been better. Green is head and shoulders ahead of him as far as fantasy performance goes.

If you want to get into the “best receiver on the Raiders” thing, right now, today -it’s Michael Crabtree. If you want to dig into it, in the red zone, when it’s time to score, Cooper is probably the 6th best option the Raiders have. I mentioned that part of the fun in dynasty is that with so many strategies at any given time, it’s hard to be wrong, but after compiling this data… the people on the Cooper side are just plain wrong. A.J. Green is better.


Chicagoan living in Las Vegas. Fantasy Football writer & Director of In-Season Analysis for Dynasty Football Factory, blogger for USFantasy and contributor to TheFakeHockey. Member FSWA.

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