Fact or Fiction: Amari Cooper

Ryan Cearfoss

Is Amari Cooper an elite receiver?

A hot debate this season has been; is Amari Cooper an elite WR and worth his draft capital that was put into him? He has had terrible games the last two weeks and has caused fantasy owners to panic.

A mixture of these bad performances and drops on televised games have made owners truly question “was their investment worth it?”  Were these bad games caused because of him or opportunity and matchups?  


One of the biggest gripes on Cooper is that he is matchup dependent and has struggled in a big way against elite pass defenses. Including this season and playoffs, he has faced a top 5 pass defense 9 times which gives us a decent sample size.

Cooper vs top 5 pass defense

Opponent Rank Targets Rec Yards TDs PPR points
Was 3 5 1 6 0 1.6
Den 1 8 6 56 0 11.6
Hou 5 5 4 57 1 15.7
Den 1 8 4 39 1 13.9
Hou 5 10 2 10 0 3
Den 1 4 4 47 0 8.7
SD 5 6 5 133 1 24.3
Den 1 8 0 0 0 0
SD 5 3 2 10 0 3
Averages 3 6.33 3.11 39.77 0.33 9.08

Unfortunately for Cooper he lives in a murderer’s row for defenses in a division with Denver, Kansas City, and LA Chargers, and has shown to struggle significantly against great defenses.

In his nine games against these defenses, he has had one elite performance. This can definitely be seen as an outlier against the Chargers his rookie year where he scored 24.3 points. The reason this is an outlier is 96 of his 133 yards came on two long plays, a 52-yard touchdown, and a 44-yard deep ball. Take those two plays away and his average drops to 29 yards per game against top 5 defenses.

Four of his nine games have been “week losing” games scoring under 5 PPR points. The rest of his matchups he has been in a WR2 range.  On the inverse side he hasn’t faced as many terrible pass defenses so I took the bottom nine matchups he’s faced in his career.

Cooper vs bad pass defense

Opponent Rank Target Rec Yards TDS PPR Ponts
Ten 29 13 5 62 0 17.2
NYJ 28 5 4 33 0 7.3
NO 23 11 6 137 0 19.7
TEN 31 9 4 62 0 10.2
BAL 28 11 7 109 0 23.9
Cle 31 11 8 134 0 21.4
Pitt 29 13 7 88 0 21.8
KC 25 8 4 69 0 10.9
KC 25 5 2 20 0 4
Averages 27.66 9.55 5.22 79.33 0 15.15

As you can see here there is a huge difference in his production in the kind of competition that Amari faces. His yardage is almost a 40-yard difference and he scores almost 6 fantasy points less. On top of that, his target share goes down as well. The interesting part is how low his touchdown total is regardless of matchups.  

Target share

When it comes to fantasy football no matter what volume is king. Elite receivers get the ball and make plays once they do.  One of the downfalls with Cooper is his inconsistency in target department. Last year he finished 16 in targets and in 2015 he finished 23rd.  

This is a lot of “what if” to figure out if he got the ball more where he would rate in the receiving department compared to some of the other guys. Last year Mike Evans had 40 more targets than Cooper, that’s a lot of potential production he could be missing out on.  

What I decided to look at for this is his yards per target, touchdowns per target and fantasy points per target. While this is obviously an inexact thing it can show where he could stand and produce with some of the other top receiver’s volume. I’m going to show him in comparison to some of the other receivers drafted around him, Mike Evans, Michael Thomas, and Doug Baldwin.

Player targets receptions Yards Tds PPR points/ game
Cooper 131 82 1149 5 14.18
Evans 171 96 1321 12 18.75
Thomas 121 92 1137 9 17.31
Baldwin 125 94 1128 7 15.55

Just off of their raw stats the major thing that stands out is the touchdown production. Cooper has struggled to get into the end zone with more targets than Thomas and Baldwin. During last season Cooper averages one touchdown every 26.2 targets. Which placed him at 38th last season.  

In the 2016 season, Cooper has 17 red zone throws sent his way. Out of the 17 other receivers who had that many red zone targets only Brandon Marshall has fewer touchdowns. This is a serious issue for fantasy production unless your name happens to be Julio Jones.

Career stats per target

Cooper Yards/target Points/target Td/target Rec Percentage
17 4.39 1.13 23 4.
16 8.77 1.73 26.2 62
15 8.23 1.65 21.66 55

2016 Cooper stats per target with other players target share

Targets Receptions Yards Tds PPR points/Game
Actual 131 82 1149 5 14.18
Evans 171 ^ 107 ^ 1499^ 6.5 18.51  
Thomas 121 82 1061 5 13.09
Baldwin 125 78.21 1096 4.77 13.53

With the matched amount of targets compared to the other guys drafted around him the only player he is more efficient than is Evans who he only beats in receptions and yards. Evans still outscored him fantasy points wise based on his touchdown production. With Thomas and Baldwin’s target amounts, it puts Cooper at a backend WR 2 borderline WR3.

Is Cooper the Raiders number 1 receiver?

The last piece of figuring out Cooper is the production of him and his unsung teammate Michael Crabtree. Cooper is drafted like he’s the number undisputed number one receiver on his team but is he really. So far three games into this season this is the first time that Cooper has out targeted Crabtree.

2017 Stats

Player targets receptions yards Tds
Cooper 23 10 101 1
Crabtree 16 13 170 3

2016 Stats

Player targets receptions Yards Tds
Cooper 131 82 1149 5
Crabtree 145 89 1003 8

2015 Stats

Player targets receptions Yards TDs
Cooper 130 72 1070 6
Crabtree 146 85 922 9

Through the first two full seasons, Crabtree has averaged 15 more catches then Cooper and 3 more touchdowns.  While the yardage is more with Cooper the target distribution definitely shows that Carr goes to Crabtree more often. Since Cooper has been in the league Crabtree has only had only had 5 or fewer targets 5 times compared to Cooper’s 10. This discrepancy leads to even more question marks with Cooper as being viewed as a WR1.  


While Cooper is a talented receiver he leaves a lot to be desired as a fantasy football option. Through his first two seasons, he has produced as a WR2 in PPR formats but has succeeded off of big games and big plays. That sort of inconsistency leaves a lot to be desired.

Coming into this third season which is normally considered the breakout season for receivers Cooper has gotten off to a slow start. While good days are on the horizons the story of Cooper as wider receiver one option in fantasy has to go away. Until he improves upon his consistency as a receiver and he earns Carr’s trust to get himself more targets look for more of the same frustrating production out of Cooper.  

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