Fantastic case against Amari Cooper: demotion from Prescott to Watson to Brissett
Summer is here, which means we’re getting closer to the start of the fantasy football draft. Success in these drafts will come from striking good deals in the mid and late rounds while avoiding players who may see their numbers dwindle compared to 2021. This last exercise is not easy, however, especially in the case elite players. to their position or have just had exceptional seasons in the stat sheets.
Concrete example. In 2020, Allen Robinson recorded 102 catches on 151 targets for 1,250 yards and six touchdowns. All of that was enough for him to finish ninth in fantasy points among wide receivers, and it was his second straight year in the top 10. As a result, fantasy managers felt good about drafting Robinson as the that low-end No. 1 width in the 2021 Drafts. In fact, he had an ADP of 32.7, according to Fantasy Football Calculator.
Unfortunately, the veteran has seen a massive drop in his fantasy totals across the board. In fact, his catches, yardage and touchdown numbers were his worst since his rookie season. Who knew he would miss Mitchell Trubisky so much or that rookie pick Justin Fields would actually be bad news for Robinson’s stock?
Thing is, not many saw it coming because Robinson was so good the previous two seasons. The proof, of course, is in its premium ADP number. That brings me to this series, aptly named “The Fantasy Case Against…” where I’ll do my due diligence looking at the players everyone in Fantasy Land seems to think is a safe bet to stay ultra-productive after finding a high level of success in past seasons.
The series shines a light on big-name players or those coming out of huge statistical years who could see a surprising drop in fantasy success. Like I always say, the one thing predictable about the NFL is that it’s often unpredictable. And while we love our fantasy heroes on the grill, no one is ever guaranteed success.
Then I will watch Cleveland Browns wide receiver amari cooper.
Fantastic Deal Against: Cooper Kupp | Davante Adams | Deebo Samuel | Amon-Ra St. Brown | Diota Johnson | Cordarelle Patterson | Michael Thomas | James Conner | Javonte Williams | DK Metcalf
Cooper finished 27th in fantasy points among wide receivers, averaging 13.5 points per game. It was his lowest total since 2017, when he averaged 11.3 points with the Oakland Raiders. Cooper’s 104 targets, 68 catches and 865 yards were also his lowest totals since 2017, when he played in a career-low 14 games.
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Cooper has finished in the top 15 in fantasy points in two of his last three seasons with the Cowboys. In his previous four seasons, he only had one season in the top 15 (2016). Additionally, Cooper has finished outside the top 20 in four of his seven seasons, including two years he failed to rank among the top 30 wide receivers based on points. His career average finish is WR22, meaning he’s been a low No. 2 wide or flex starter.
Cooper has played most of his professional games with either Derek Carr or Dak Prescott at center. In those 98 contests, he averaged a fantastic 14 points per game. That total would have ranked him 23rd among 2021 wides who have played at least 12 games.
After being traded to the Cleveland Browns this offseason, Cooper will catch the balls of a new quarterback. The problem for fantasy managers is that we don’t know who that quarterback will be because of Deshaun Watson’s off-field issues. The last we heard was that the NFL is looking at a possible indefinite suspension or a full season ban. Hopefully more news will be released on this before training camp.
If Watson is suspended for the full year of 2022, the Browns will look to replacement veteran Jacoby Brissett as a starter. In his six seasons in the NFL, he started 15 games twice (2017, 2019). Both came while he was with the Indianapolis Colts. In season one, Brissett’s primary fantasy receiver was TY Hilton. He averaged 11 points per game. No other Colts spread averaged more than 6.4 points per game that season.
In 2019, Hilton was again Brissett’s leading wide receiver with 12.5 points per game. Zach Pascal finished second, averaging 8.5 points per game. These aren’t exactly jaw-dropping numbers for fantasy fans. Brissett also started five games for the Miami Dolphins last season, during which time his best players were DeVante Parker (12.9 PPG) and Jaylen Waddle (11.5 PPG). However, Parker has only played in three of those competitions.
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Training and personnel changes
Cooper will have a whole new coaching staff and teammates around him after being traded this offseason. Head coach Kevin Stefanski will continue to lead the offense and call plays, while Alex Van Pelt will retain his role as offensive coordinator. I’m going to focus on Stefanski, who was a coordinator or head coach for over four seasons.
In his three full seasons leading offense at Minnesota and Cleveland, Stefanski hasn’t had much statistical success when it comes to his wide receivers. No receiver finished better than 24th in points at the position, and Stefon Diggs is the only receiver to average more than 12.5 points in Stefanski’s offense. He finished averaging a fantastic 14.1 points per game in 2019 while the two were together with the Vikings.
That would have ranked Diggs 26th in points based on the position’s 2021 totals. Diggs had Kirk Cousins throw the football at him, not a career replacement like Brissett.
The good news for Cooper is that he doesn’t have someone like CeeDee Lamb in the offensive mix. Instead, he’ll be the No. 1 clear in the Browns’ passing attack ahead of players like Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz and rookie David Bell.
Cooper has long been a reliable No. 2 fantasy infantryman, and that’s probably his ceiling this season. But that ceiling probably won’t be reached without Watson. If the league suspends him for all or part of the season, Cooper will be one of the most affected players from a fantasy perspective. Stefanski, who relied on the run and used a lot of 12s, will likely run more than 11s (three wide, one running back, one tight end) and throw the football a lot more often with Watson under center.
But with Watson’s status for the season in the shadow of a doubt, Stefanski could be forced to return to an offense that relies on Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and the running game with Brissett. It would be the same system that failed to produce a top 20 fantasy wide (even with Cousins) and neutered a former elite receiver in Odell Beckham Jr.
Remember, OBJ came to Cleveland averaging over 20 fantasy points per game. He averaged about 12.5 points in his forgettable two years with the Browns, and he proved during his short stint with the Rams that he clearly wasn’t “washed out.”
At this point, Cooper exits the chart as WR22 (56.2 ADP) in July on Fantasy Football Calculator. It’s just too high with so many unknowns about Watson’s status for the season. If we’ve learned anything from the past, receivers haven’t thrived under Stefanski or Brissett under center. We’ll have this very unappealing fancy jumpsuit together if Watson is unavailable for all or part of the season.
I would feel comfortable drafting Cooper as the No. 3 fantasy wide receiver at this point, and his stock would increase if Watson is available for all or part of this season. But with the serious allegations against him, even with all the settlements, he is not off the hook when it comes to the league. In fact, at best, I’d be shocked to see him under center in Week 1 or not at all before the second half.
As a result, fantasy managers should draft Cooper with extreme caution. Or not at all.
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Michael Fabian is awarded fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and instagram for your fantastic breaking news and the best analysis in the business!