Is Amari Cooper a WR1 in Dynasty Football?
According to Dynasty League Football’s June ADP, Amari Cooper is currently being drafted 28th overall in dynasty football startups as the no. 11 wide receiver. Some dynasty owners are concerned about Dallas adding CeeDee Lamb to the mix, while others are convinced that Cooper could be even more productive with Lamb drawing defensive coverage. Let’s examine Cooper and the Cowboys’ offense as a whole going forward.
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Is Cooper a Dynasty WR1
Let’s start by stating that Cooper is a very good wide receiver, and his talent definitely gives him the potential to sustain high fantasy production going forward. In fact, Cooper ranked third among all wide receivers in defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) and 10th in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) in 2019.
However, he wasn’t the only exceptional receiver in Dallas last year with then-sophomore Michael Gallup not far behind, ranking 15th in DYAR and 19th in DVOA. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys were lucky to have two incredibly efficient receivers complementing each other, and as if that wasn’t good enough, they selected rookie CeeDee Lamb with the 17th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Lamb is arguably the most complete wide receiver in this rookie class. His 21.4 yards per reception ranked third among college receivers in 2019, and Lamb broke 26 tackles on just 62 receptions. Cooper is talented, but he faces ample competition in what could conceivably be the best wide receiver group in the league.
Many have suggested that Cooper may benefit from playing more snaps from the slot even if his target share decreases. Last season, Cooper played just 10.7 percent of his snaps from the slot; instead, Randall Cobb occupied that role, having played 86.4 percent of his snaps from the slot in 2019. While Cooper’s slot percentage will likely increase this coming season, it would be premature to assume that his role would completely shift predominantly to the slot.
Lamb is a versatile receiver who can play both outside or from the slot, so Dallas could certainly feature the rookie heavily out of the slot as well, as 42 percent of his receptions came from the slot during his final college season. Additionally, Lamb was extremely efficient from the slot in 2019, recording 6.11 yards per route run from the slot, which ranked first among all college wide receivers.
Ultimately, Lamb is a talented replacement for and even upgrade over Cobb, who was limited to the slot role, whereas the rookie can be utilized all over the field. Dallas was league-average in their usage of 11 personnel last year, with 193 offensive snaps (49 percent) played with three wide receivers on the field. Though this number may increase in 2020, Lamb would likely be the primary beneficiary with the most projected usage from the slot, not Cooper.
Expected Target Share
Upon Cooper’s debut as a Cowboy in Week 9 of 2018 after being traded from the Raiders, he was the clear no. 1 wide receiver. As shown by the below statistics, there was a significant gap in both usage and production between Cooper and Gallup in 2018.
However, Gallup was a rookie then, and he blossomed in 2019 during his sophomore season. Last year, Gallup played a much larger role in the offense, received a similar target share, and contributed nearly equal production, as displayed in the table below.
The Patriots focused on stopping Cooper in Week 12, as they routinely aim to take away an opposing offense’s top weapon. But while many offense and top receivers struggled against an elite New England defense last year, it’s still reprehensible that Cooper was completely shut out, failing to record a single catch during that game.
Even if we removed that game from his season totals as an outlier, his per-game averages only increase slightly to 5.6 receptions for 84.7 yards and 0.6 touchdowns on 8.2 targets, barely higher than Gallup’s per-game averages. It’s apparent that Prescott didn’t lock onto any one receiver, instead distributing the ball around the offense much like Drew Brees does in New Orleans. With the further addition of Lamb in 2020, this bodes ill for Cooper’s fantasy production.
While some have mentioned the fact that Cobb’s departure for Houston and Jason Witten‘s departure for Las Vegas leave free their combined 166 targets from last season, those hoping for Cooper to take on a larger share of those vacated targets are misguided. As mentioned above, Lamb is a more versatile receiver than Cobb and figures to take on the bulk of his targets from 2019, if not more.
And though Witten is gone as well, the recently-extended Blake Jarwin is likely to claim a majority of the target share that Witten left behind. In 2019, Witten was largely a check-down target for Prescott, as was Jarwin. Witten averaged 5.8 yards before the catch per reception (YBC/R), and Jarwin averaged 6.7 YBC/R. However, Jarwin was more efficient as a receiver with the ball in his hands; he created 5.1 yards after the catch per reception (YAC/R) compared to Witten’s pitiful 2.6 YAC/R. Side note: Jarwin was a breakout candidate prior to Dallas adding Lamb, but he may now be a post-hype sleeper with many now underestimating his role in 2020.
Barring an unexpected trade, Cooper and Gallup will almost certainly both be in Dallas through 2021. Cooper is slated to account for $40 million in dead money in 2020 and $28 million in 2021, and Gallup is on a cheap rookie contract. For the foreseeable future over the next two seasons, all three of Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb will vie for target share with Jarwin and the running backs accounting for the rest. All three of Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb’s weekly fantasy floors and ceilings will be limited in such a crowded receiving corps, but Cooper’s ADP and dynasty value don’t accurately reflect these concerns.
Offensive Line Play
The Cowboys’ offense has benefited from stable offensive line play overall since 2017. Over the last three seasons, Dallas has been remarkably consistent in starting left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin, and right tackle La’el Collins on their offensive line. Since 2018, those three have anchored the line along with left guard Connor Williams. The biggest change on offensive line was Joe Looney replacing Travis Frederick at center in 2018 after Frederick was diagnosed with and treated for Guillain–Barré syndrome.
Frederick’s retirement in March shouldn’t be taken lightly. With former five-time All Pro Frederick at center, Dallas ranked fourth in pass protection in 2017 and second in 2019. When Looney replaced Frederick in 2018, as he is again expected to do so in 2020, Dallas ranked astonishingly worse in pass protection, coming in 28th in the league. It’s worth noting that it was Williams’s rookie season at left guard that year, but even so, his play was strengthened by the presence of Frederick in 2019.
Though I don’t necessarily expect the Cowboys’ offensive line to be quite that bad in 2020, it would also be unrealistic to expect another top-two finish in pass protection like last year. The loss of Frederick could still have a cascade effect on the other starting linemen, and Prescott could suffer from worse pass protection this coming season. Dallas’s passing game efficiency and overall scoring efficiency may decline slightly this season from their 2019 levels as a result.
Prescott also attempted 596 passes last season, sixth-most in the NFL. That total was a career high for him, and he has averaged just 518 passing attempts per season in his four years in the league. A primary factor in his spike in attempts was the deficient state of the Cowboys’ defense. In 2019, Dallas ranked 19th in total defensive DVOA and 23rd in passing defense DVOA, resulting in numerous games where Prescott had to throw to keep up with opponents.
But despite taking Lamb with their top draft pick, the Cowboys have prioritized improving their defense all offseason. During free agency, Dallas signed defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe to bolster the defensive line and offset the loss of Michael Bennett, and they also drafted rookie defensive linemen Neville Gallimore and Bradlee Anae with their third and fifth-round selections, respectively. And while it remains to be seen whether Aldon Smith can still be effective after years away from football, his return from suspension and potential addition to the line should be noted as well.
Even more importantly, the Cowboys signed cornerbacks Maurice Canady and Daryl Worley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to offset the loss of Byron Jones and shore up their secondary, which struggled mightily all of last year. On top of the free agent additions, Dallas drafted highly-touted cornerback prospects Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson with their second and fourth-round picks, respectively.
While the secondary has further room for improvement, and the defense as a whole is still far from a top unit, the defensive group overall should be considered a definite upgrade from their 2019 counterparts. Expect fewer pass-heavy game scripts out of necessity for Prescott this coming year given the Cowboys’ much-improved defensive unit.
Cooper barely led the Cowboys in targets last year with 119 targets, accounting for roughly 20.0 percent of Prescott’s 596 pass attempts. Despite missing about one more full game than Cooper did, Gallup nearly matched Cooper with 113 targets, receiving about 19.0 percent of the total target share.
Even with the 1A role in Dallas last season, Cooper recorded six games with fewer than 10 fantasy points in PPR formats. This total tied for second among top-24 fantasy wide receivers in 2019 behind A.J. Brown. While 10 PPR points is a somewhat arbitrary cutoff, generally speaking, we as fantasy players prefer some semblance of consistency from our top two or three fantasy receivers in scoring at least double digit points each week.
The takeaway here is that Cooper had a dangerously low fantasy floor even with almost 120 targets in 2019. Though Lamb shouldn’t significantly cut into Cooper’s target share, especially as a rookie, the addition of a third talented wide receiver in Dallas will likely make Cooper’s production even less consistent from week to week. He still has the potential for big games, but Cooper’s overall production is expected to decline, and there is a heightened risk of more disappointing weeks.
In the long run, Cooper will be just 26 years old for the 2020 season, and he probably has a long career ahead of him. However, for the next two years, Cooper faces notable competition for target share from two other talented wide receivers along with a number of other factors likely to hinder his fantasy production. Here are my 2020 projections for the top Cowboys receivers:
Based on these projections, Cooper’s fantasy production in PPR formats would total 218.9 points, which would’ve resulted in a WR21 finish last year. While that’s still reliable WR2 production for any dynasty team to field, it will be difficult to know which weeks Cooper will excel and which weeks he’ll disappoint. Outside of best ball formats, he’s more of a mid-range or back-end WR2 for the 2020 and 2021 seasons rather than the top-10 wide receiver that he finished as last year.
Dynasty Trade Value
Cooper’s current dynasty ADP as the no. 11 wide receiver and market value don’t reflect this projected decrease in production from last year. My own dynasty rankings have Cooper ranked far lower as the no. 24 wide receiver at 47th overall. Needless to say, I have him on exactly zero of my dynasty football rosters, and at his current ADP and market value, it will likely stay that way.
Some veterans currently being drafted behind Cooper based on ADP include Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson, Courtland Sutton, and Mark Andrews, all of whom I value over Cooper. I also have some second-year wide receivers like D.K. Metcalf and Terry McLaurin ranked over Cooper based on their respective ages and near-term fantasy ceilings. It may be possible to get a second-round rookie pick or more in addition to some of these aforementioned players based on current ADPs, which would definitely be trades worth exploring in selling Cooper.
— 𝔽𝔽𝔸 🏈 𝐌𝐄𝐍𝐆 (@FFA_Meng) May 20, 2020
According the Twitter poll results above as well as Dynasty Trade Calculator, Cooper is worth an early first-round rookie pick. However, I value Cooper around the 1.06 or 1.07 in 1QB formats behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, and Jalen Reagor, and just behind his new teammate Lamb. In superflex formats, I’d value Cooper around the 1.08 or 1.09 with Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa in front of him in addition to the rookies listed previously.
Though my valuation of Cooper is only a few spots lower than the consensus, there’s still some opportunity to sell for a slight profit prior to the 2020 season. Below are some recent dynasty trades from June involving Cooper courtesy of the DLF Trade Finder, and I prefer the non-Cooper side in all of them.
Cooper is a fine dynasty WR2, but he’s unlikely to dominate targets or produce a WR1 fantasy season in the next two years barring an injury to Gallup or Lamb. And beyond that, it’s difficult to project any player that far ahead without knowing what team he will be on or accounting for a variety of other factors. My recommendation would be to sell Cooper now in dynasty football leagues at a WR1 price point while he still commands that type of value.
What’s your take on Amari Cooper? Let us know in the comments below.
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