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Amari Cooper: whose fault is it anyway?

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If you owned Amari Cooper in fantasy last year, odds are you felt the same way about him as many Cowboys fans did about their 2019 season. The first three games had you on top of the world, proudly bragging about your stud wide receiver to all your league mates. The middle of the season was punctuated with extreme highs and devastating lows which left your head spinning and your heart torn in two. The end of the season seemed to limp to the finish line, leaving more questions than answers about what the hell had just happened.

If this describes your experience, don’t worry. Amari Cooper owners across the world felt the same pain. But just how variant were Amari Cooper’s ups and downs in 2019? Could you avoid them? And what can we expect next season? Let’s take a look at the past to try and see into the future.

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He’s hot and he’s cold

Amari Cooper’s reputation as a hot-and-cold receiver goes all the way back to his time with the Raiders. The numbers certainly seem to back that up. In his rookie year, Cooper had seven games under 10 PPR points. In 2016, he had five; an awful nine such games in 2017; a marginally better eight in 2018; and in 2019, six.

That accounts for 35 out of the 77 games he has played in the league, or 45.5%. In the other 54.5% of games in which he broke the 10 point threshold, he averaged 20.7 PPG. This data supports only one conclusion: when he’s good, he’s good; when he’s bad, he’s bad.

But are these peaks and valleys always Amari Cooper’s fault? More importantly, are his negative impacts on your fantasy team always his fault, or could it sometimes be your own?

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Let’s play a game

This game is called “Whose fault is it anyway?” We’re going to take an individual look at all six of Amari Cooper’s dud games in 2019. We’ll do this to answer a simple question: did Amari Cooper hang your team out to dry, or did you?

Dud Game 1: Week 4, Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints.

Final score: Saints 12, Cowboys 10. Cooper’s stat line: 8 targets, 5 catches, 48 yards, 9.8 PPR points.
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This game was billed to be an offensive shoot-out between two teams with plenty of firepower. Curiously, it instead followed the blueprint of their 2018 matchup.

The defenses on both teams showed out in 2018, as neither team scored above 13 points in either game. In the 2019 iteration, the Cowboys found themselves on the losing side of another low-scoring defensive slugfest. A fantasy manager can’t be expected to look at the 2018 matchup to project scoring in the same matchup next year: too many changes happen on football teams between seasons for that method to be reliable. Amari Cooper should have been a good start this week, but didn’t deliver.

Verdict: Although 9.8 points isn’t completely horrible and probably wasn’t the sole reason you lost, this one is still Amari Cooper’s fault.

Dud Game 2: Week 6, Dallas Cowboys @ New York Jets.

Final Score: Jets 24, Cowboys 22. Cooper’s stat line: 2 targets, 1 catch, 3 yards, 1.3 PPR points.

Another Cowboys’ road loss and another Amari Cooper dud game. 1.3 points is pitiful in any format, and it’s the kind of score that completely tanks your chance at winning – unless someone else puts up a miracle game. But whose fault was it?

If you were paying attention, you would know that Cooper was limited the whole week with multiple injuries, including a hindered ankle and a troubled quad muscle. Both injuries are significant for a receiver who has a game reliant on quick cuts to get open. Not only that, but soft-tissue injuries like quads are notoriously troublesome and often flare up mid-game. Cooper should not have been in your lineup in week 6.

Amari Cooper celebrates in front of the home crowd
Image credit – tdalabamamag
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Verdict: Your fault. You deserved each and every one of those 1.3 points.

Dud Game 3: Week 10, Dallas Cowboys @ Detroit Lions.

Final Score: Cowboys 35, Lions 27. Cooper’s stat line: 8 targets, 3 catches, 38 yards, 6.8 PPR points.

Hey, sometimes things just don’t work out. This matchup had all the ingredients for a good fantasy game. Cooper had a high amount of targets in a high scoring game against a pretty poor Lions team. To be fair to Cooper, he dealt with stud corner Darius Slay following him all game. But sometimes, top receivers need to beat top corners.

Bottom line, if your WR1 gets eight targets and only scores 6.8 points, it’s not on you.

Verdict: Amari Cooper’s fault. On to the next game.

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Dud Game 4: Week 11, Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots.

Final Score: Patriots 13, Cowboys 9. Cooper’s stat line: 2 targets, 0 catches, 0 yards, 0 PPR points.

No one likes to see a big ol’ donut staring you in the face from your lineup at the end of a week. Luckily, you didn’t have to if you checked the weather report and gave half a mind to who the Cowboys were playing.

This game was played in a torrential downpour, against Stephon Gilmore (the best corner in the league) and the New England Patriots (the best defense in the league). Most owners probably held him out of their line-ups this week. If you didn’t, I only have one question…why?

Verdict: Definitely your fault. It’s an even 2-2 split so far.

Dud Game 5: Week 14, Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas Cowboys.

Final Score: Cowboys 44, Rams 21. Cooper’s stat line: 2 targets, 1 catch, 19 yards, 2.9 PPR points.

Finally, a home game! I was perfectly content watching the Cowboys beat up on the Rams at Jerry’s World but Amari Cooper owners were surely thinking: “The Cowboys scored how much? And Cooper only scored how many points?

Unfortunately for them, the Cowboys just didn’t need Cooper to beat the Rams. The leading receiver was Tavon Austin, who caught one ball for 59 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboys put up an absurd 263 yards on the ground to go along with three Ezekiel Elliot touchdowns.

Verdict: Amari Cooper’s fault. Although you might instead look to blame the Rams’ rushing defense. I mean, come on guys, really? At least make them work for it.

Dud Game 6: Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles.

Final Score: Eagles 17, Cowboys 9. Cooper’s stat line: 12 targets, 4 catches, 24 yards, 6.4 PPR points.

Ouch. This one hurts to remember. Cooper was targeted a staggering 12 times, turning these into only four catches for 24 yards in the most important game of the year for both the Cowboys and fantasy owners. This should’ve been a slam dunk game for Cooper, going against what was certainly one of the worst secondaries in the entire league in a must win game. Alas, it was not to be.

At least we still have this moment. Image Credit – dynastyfootballfactory
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Looking at the stats, there’s hardly anyone to blame but Cooper. A 33.3% catch rate is putrid, especially against whomever the Eagles were starting at cornerback that week. However, Dak Prescott was suffering from an often overlooked shoulder injury that limited him in practice the entire week. If it wasn’t the division-deciding game, he probably would’ve been held out. But who were the Cowboys going to start, Cooper Rush? I don’t think so.

On the other hand…12 targets? Four catches? With the division on the line? That’s inexcusable. I could see why someone might have sat Cooper if they were cautious about Dak’s injury and had other options. But I can also understand the frustration from those who did start him and watched eight targets fall incomplete.

Verdict: Mostly Amari Cooper’s fault, with a sprinkling of Dak Prescott as well.

So who won the game?

In the end, no one wins this game. It only serves to help us understand how Cooper performed, and how much luck or poor circumstances played in Cooper’s inevitable dud games.

Overall, we can see that four of Amari’s six dud games in 2019 were not the fault of the fantasy manager, with three of those games being performances that likely cost you the matchup. Two of these games (Lions and Rams) have one thing in common: bad luck. Sometimes the running game explodes for over 250 yards. Other times, a team relies on their WR2 and WR3. You can’t always plan for that. But there have been a few changes that could alleviate some of these concerns in 2020.

Image Credit – businessinsider.com
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Ding dong, Jason Garret is finally gone

The Cowboys’ offense has finally been freed of Jason Garret’s grasp.

Don’t get it confused. Garret is an amazing human being, was a part of the Cowboys’ organization for decades, and brought stability to the most publicized head coaching job in the league. Unfortunately, he also consistently implemented a mindset of “we’re better than you, and my guys are going to beat your guys”.

Garret didn’t care if the opponent knew what was coming; he’d trust his players to make the play regardless. This means he strategized around his teams’ strengths, rather than his opponents weaknesses. Sometimes this worked out, as seen when the Cowboys’ ran all over the Rams defense in week 14. Sometimes it doesn’t, notably when coaches plan to stop the Cowboys’ strengths, and Garret either couldn’t or wouldn’t adjust.

When the Eagles held Elliot to 47 yards in week 16 and made it hard to get the ball to Amari Cooper, Garret could have drawn up creative ways to get the ball in the hands of their best players. Instead, he stuck with his offense, trusting someone to step up and make some plays. No one did, and the Cowboys lost the division as a result.

New HC Mike McCarthy should be willing to be much more adaptable. He and Kellen Moore are creative enough to scheme Cooper open on his off days. This bodes well for elevating Cooper’s fantasy floor.

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Cooper in McCarthy’s scheme

If you’ve read my article regarding Dak Prescott, you know that the Cowboys are expected to pass heavily in the 2020 season.

A quick refresher: from 2014-2018, McCarthy ran the most pass-heavy offense in the league, passing at a 66.2% clip. Even if that number dips slightly, Cooper will have plenty of opportunities to put up numbers in 2020.

In 2019, Cooper recorded 79 receptions, 1,189, and 8 touchdowns on 119 targets. The Cowboys have vacated 190 targets during the offseason, the second-most in the league.

Read Dak Prescott’s projections here.

To go along with this, the Cowboys have become top-heavy in their pass-catching personnel. After Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb, their next best pass catchers are Ezekiel Elliot (61 catches in 2019) Blake Jarwin (31 catches), and Tony Pollard (15 catches). No one else on the team recorded more than ten catches.

As a result, those 190 targets will be distributed primarily between CeeDee Lamb and Blake Jarwin. This leaves a handful of targets for each of Cooper, Gallup, Elliot, Pollard, and a chunk for whoever the fourth and fifth receivers are in season.

Where should Amari Cooper be drafted?

Where you draft Cooper will depend entirely upon how much risk you are willing to take, and what kind of strategy you use to build your fantasy roster. Right now, Amari Cooper has an overall ADP of 38 in PPR leagues on the Fantasy Football Calculator website. That’s good for WR12, after receivers such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Robinson, and Adam Thielen, and ahead of D.J Moore, Cooper Kupp, and Calvin Ridley.

Image Credit – dallasnews.com
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The reason to take these players ahead of Cooper would be their consistency. Most of them have less competition for targets and should have higher weekly floors than Amari Cooper will in 2020. Cooper will undoubtedly have poor games, and if you’re not confident in your ability to identify those games ahead of time, or if you value a top pick’s floor more than their ceiling, you should probably steer clear.

Learn to stop worrying and love the variance

However, if you’re confident you nailed your first two or three picks of the draft and are looking for a player with huge upside, Cooper is your man. No other player going in these rounds can match his week-winning ceiling. Watching him drop 226 yards in one game, along with 11 catches and a touchdown, is one of the best feelings in fantasy football.

Besides, other receivers certainly aren’t completely free from the criticisms that plague Amari Cooper. Allen Robinson and D.J Moore each had three bust games in 2019. Smith-Schuster had seven such games out of just 12 played in 2019 (albeit with the worst quarterback play in the league). Thielen dealt with injuries that sidelined him for six games last year, and hindered him in others. No wide receiver is completely risk-free, not even the guys at the very top of fantasy boards. Cooper just brings a little extra danger to your roster, and much more upside than almost anyone in the league.

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So, how much risk are you willing to take? Even if McCarthy’s scheme helps elevate Cooper’s floor, he will still deal with nagging injuries through the season and will inevitably put up games that frustrate fantasy managers. However, if you can deal with these and navigate when to start him and when to sit him, you can mitigate his negative effects and enjoy the spoils of a top receiver in the third or fourth round.

For more wide receiver rankings, read here.

Projections: 125 targets, 85 catches, 1200 yards, 7 touchdowns. 247 PPR points.

If you’re a savvy manager and can minimize the bad games, Amari Cooper will be an amazing asset for your 2020 roster. If the risk is too much, no one would fault you for going with some of the more stable options that are going around Cooper’s ADP.

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