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Take a Shot on Amari Cooper?

I never have been an Amari Cooper backer. From his rookie season I was a believer that a strong WR class the year before would lead to too much hype. In the coming years I questioned his consistency and if he was even the number one option on his own team. I said at the end of last season that people would once again get sucked back in, but little did I know that I would be one of the few leading the bandwagon. Why am I suddenly backing Amari Cooper? It all has to do with the new head coach.

The Case for Amari Cooper

Now, before you call me crazy, I know that Jon Gruden has not coached in the NFL in the past 10 seasons. That did not stop the Raiders from giving him a 10-year/$100-million dollar contract. We have seen plenty of Gruden on TV, but his analysis or QB Camp videos do not help us figure out what kind of scheme he will call this season. While its been a while since we have seen him calling plays, we do have 11 years of him coaching with the Raiders and Bucs from 1998 to 2008 to base off of. I looked back at those trends and found one universal trend: his top wide receiver always produced. Below are the stats of the number 1 target in a Gruden offense every year he was a head coach:

1998Tim Brown153811,0129
1999Tim Brown145901,3446
2000Tim Brown133761,12811
2001Tim Brown140911,1659
2002Keyshawn Johnson142761,0885
2003Keenan McCardell139841,1748
2004Michael Clayton122801,1937
2005Joey Galloway152831,28710
2006Joey Galloway143621,0577
2007Joey Galloway98571,0146
2008Antonio Bryant138831,2487

The average season for a Gruden top wideout shapes up like this: 136.8 targets, 78.5 receptions, 1,155.5 yards and 7.7 touchdowns. As you can see the number one wide receiver topped 1,000 yards every season. It is worth mentioning that those years with Galloway drag down the average numbers, as 2007 was the only year that the top option failed to record 120 targets, and he barely topped 1,000 yards in 2006 and 2007. However, you may feel better to know Galloway was 36 years old in 2007. Yes, Gruden even managed to make an older player into a solid fantasy option.

Fantrax Football CommissionerSince Amari Cooper is significantly younger at the prime-age of 24, and a freak athlete it is easy to get excited for him this season playing under Gruden. However, I do not want to paint this rosy picture and hide his flaws, cause Cooper certainly has had them.

Everyone is always excited about Cooper’s upside, but it may be easy to forget that there was a legitimate discussion last season if he should be dropped. He then put that discussion to bed by going out and having a monstrous Thursday Night Football game, for which he was likely on the bench for many owners. To refresh your memory, he put up 210 yards and two touchdowns on 19 targets and 11 receptions against the Chiefs. That game shows you the upside he possesses every time he steps onto the field. However, that one game represented 19.8 percent of his season targets, 23 percent of his receptions, 31 percent of his receiving yards and 29 percent of his touchdowns. That’s right, you got roughly a third of his production all in one game, where he may have been on your bench. It gets even worse. If you add in the 115-yard game he had in Week 17 against the Chargers, he had 48 percent of his receiving yards in just two games. And most Fantasy leagues are over by Week 17.

This was not just an issue with Amari Cooper last season. In 2016 he had four games with at least 129 yards, including one where he toped the 170-yard mark. He failed to top 80 yards in the other 12 games that season. We gave him a pass that year due to the Derek Carr injury. However, he also struggled with consistency in 2015. That season he had five games with over 100 yards and eight with less than 50. That year he got a pass for being a rookie. This has been a trend for three years with Cooper now, and it may just be who he is.

Initially, I decided that while I was excited for Cooper in Gruden’s offense, that the inconsistencies were too much for me to back him as one of “my guys” this season. However, looking further into Gruden’s old playbook, I learned that the reason Gruden’s WR1’s always succeed is because Gruden does a tremendous job moving them around the field, whether it be lining him up out wide at times, in the slot others (Cooper ran 12.4 percent of routes in the slot last season) or having him in motion. Gruden will get creative and prevent top corners from being able to shadow Cooper. Gruden has also repeatedly talked up Cooper and stated that he will be the focal point of the offense, and Gruden has shown us in the past a dedication to his top wideouts.

While I do worry about the week-to-week inconsistencies, if he has an average WR1 season under Gruden he will have a career-best season. Given how great of an athlete he is, Amari Cooper could easily surpass that average Gruden WR1 season. I have been taking chances on him in the late third round or later, and recommend you do the same.

Follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.

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