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Fantasy Football: Amari Cooper Is Still The WR1 In Dallas

Heading into last season, a lot was made about the potential of the Cowboys’ offense setting them apart in the NFC East. After all, they had just drafted CeeDee Lamb, whom many considered to be the top receiving prospect in the 2020 draft, and had just undergone a coaching change that was supposed to unlock their potential.

Unfortunately, that didn’t come to fruition; quarterback Dak Prescott dislocated his ankle, causing the Cowboys to finish with just a 6-10 record while ranking 22nd in yards/play. However, this is a new year, which is great news for star receiver Amari Cooper. Last year wasn’t his best season in terms of production, but he’s ready to make a major impact this year. When that happens, you’ll want him on your team.

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Cooper is an Ultra-Talented Receiver

*All Stats via Pro Football Focus

Sometimes, being a high draft pick can actually hurt your perception; expectations are so high, that it’s almost impossible for you to reach them. As the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft, Cooper may be falling victim to a similar predicament in terms of how he’s evaluated.

Nevertheless, let’s not act like Cooper hasn’t been productive. He’s finished with over 1,000 receiving yards in all but one year, when he started just 12 games for the Raiders in 2017, in addition to over 100 targets in each of them. With about 15.1 fantasy points/game over the past two seasons, he’s lived in the fringe WR1/high-end WR2 territory, which is very impressive considering the circumstances he dealt with last year.

I’d like to focus specifically on the 2019 season, which is Cooper’s only full season with Prescott. In that year, he finished as a top-ten receiver (84.2) in PFF grade, yards/route run (2.29), fantasy points (246.5), and several other receiver statistics. Even with just 79 receptions, he was able to total 1,189 receiving yards, speaking to the big-play ability (career 13.8 yards/reception) that we cater to. Whether it’s volume (targets) or efficiency per touch, Cooper has both working in his favor.

Remember, that was with Jason Garrett as the head coach and a more run-heavy offense. As we’ll get to, one can only imagine the possibilities with those obstacles out of his way.

Invest In The Cowboys Offense

Remember what I said about the Cowboys’ offense being hyped up heading into last year? All of the same factors apply this year.

Let’s start with Prescott, whose return immediately gives this offense tremendous potential. PFF’s third-most valuable quarterback in 2019, he’s averaged 8.26 yards/attempt over the past two seasons, earned a PFF grade over 80 in that span, and has ranked in the top 10 in big-time throw rate in that span. You’d be hard-pressed to not consider him a top-ten quarterback at this point, which is certainly going to work in Cooper’s favor.

Furthermore, Cooper won’t be garnering all the attention of this offense. Lamb and receiver Michael Gallup formulate a formidable receiving corps, while Dallas’ offensive line will hopefully be fully healthy this season. A ton of criticism is given to head coach Mike McCarthy, but he and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore were very aggressive passing on early downs before Prescott got injured, and I’d expect that to carry over into this season.

It’s hard to overstate how dominant the Cowboys were on offense over the first four weeks of the year before Prescott got hurt. During that span, they averaged 31.5 points/game, 422.5 passing yards/game, and ranked at the top of almost every offense metric; they were electric, to say the least. Doesn’t that sound like an offense you’d want to invest in this year? Those numbers were boosted by them having to engage in shootouts with a poor defense, yet that doesn’t matter in fantasy football. With the defense not in much better shape, expect more shootouts in 2021. Based on what we saw last year, that should be music to our ears.

A Lot of the Perceptions Surrounding Cooper are Incorrect

As mentioned earlier, being a very high draft pick can lead to unfair expectations that create an inaccurate perception regarding your abilities. Should you be able to overcome this bias, you could benefit from this significantly.

Injury-prone? Cooper has played at least 14 games in every season in the NFL. Inconsistent? He’s had over 100 targets and 1,000 receiving yards in five of six seasons. No ceiling? He’s averaged 13.8 yards/reception and combines yards after catch prowess with the ability to stretch the field vertically as well.

Cooper’s injury that he’s dealt with this offseason has hurt his stock, but I’m not sure that should be the case. Yes, he had surgery on his ankle this offseason. That being said, he’s now off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and played 13 snaps in the team’s third preseason game. If he truly was still hampered by the injury, would Dallas have let him play in a preseason game? I wouldn’t think so. It’s time to discard all previous concerns we had with Cooper’s injury. Offseason surgeries aren’t uncommon (unless you wait six months to do so a la Michael Thomas), and it’s highly unlikely it affects his performance. At this point, any attention paid to the injury would just be nitpicking.

Cooper Is Still The WR1 In Dallas

At the moment, Cooper isn’t being drafted as a WR1, but he’s also not being drafted as the top receiver on his own team. The reasoning? Second-year breakout hype for CeeDee Lamb.

It’s easy to understand why this is the case. Lamb was considered the top receiving prospect by many experts in the 2020 draft and performed well in his rookie season. Had it not been for an unstable 10.2% drop rate, his 72.6 PFF grade and 1.81 yards/rute run would have been even better, yet both are impressive in their own right. It’s easy to build the narrative that he’s ready to take over as the top option in Dallas.

Yet, let’s not let the “intrigue of the unknown” make us overlook Cooper. Over the first four weeks of the season, he led the league with 21.4 expected fantasy points per game, benefitting from an average of 12.25 targets per game. His 0.25 targets/route run outpaced Lamb (0.17) by a decent amount, as did his overall production despite the fact Lamb got to benefit from heavy usage in the slot and matching against inferior cornerbacks.

Cooper’s production wasn’t solely based on running a lot of routes. He averaged 2.1 yards/route run in that span, in addition to 8.18 yards/target. Plus, we’re not expecting the Cowboys to pass the ball much less than they did in that four-week span. Expect monster numbers from Cooper this season.

I get the intrigue with Lamb, but if he ended up putting together a similar season to what is typical for Cooper, that would probably be seen as a positive. In that case, if you could take Amari Cooper’s production, why wouldn’t you just take Cooper, who is more likely to deliver it? Both of these receivers should finish in the top-15 at their position. However, if forced to choose, I’ll side with the proven commodity; you’re getting a higher floor year with a very comparable ceiling.


It’s always nice to draft players at their floor in terms of expected value, but for Cooper, you can draft him beyond his floor. He’s currently being drafted as the WR15 in NFC drafts in the last week. That’s behind Mike Evans, for instance, despite the fact Evans also faces similar target competition for an offense that won’t attempt as many passes simply because they’ll be ahead in more games. Yes, the 2020 season was a small sample, but even when baking in regression, it’s not very difficult to make the case for Cooper as a WR1 in 12-team leagues this year.

He might not ever live up to the unrealistic expectations thrown his way or be “the new kid on the block” like Lamb, yet he’s still the receiver who offers the best combination of floor and ceiling in Dallas. In the fourth round, continue to feel comfortable drafting him to solidify your receiving corps. You won’t be sorry for trusting Amari in 2021.

For more Rankings and Analysis please check out our full 2021 Fantasy Football Draft Kit.

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