by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
In the early ADP it appears that fantasy owners prefer the Saints’ Michael Thomas (15.5) over the Raiders’ Amari Cooper (22.0). All you have to do is look at our rankings (click here to view our early Top 40 WR) to see that we have Cooper ahead, though just slightly, as they come in at #7 and 8. The two are actually in fairly similar situations, but let’s take a look at why we have them ordered this way.
First, the numbers from ’16:
The Raiders could bring an improved running attack, thanks to the addition of Marshawn Lynch (though he brings with him his own set of questions), and Cooper will also have to battle Michael Crabtree for opportunities (both in the red zone and overall). That said Cooper took a step forward in his sophomore season and should continue to develop his rapport with emerging quarterback Derek Carr.
Remember, we saw Carr take a significant leap forward last season (63.8% completion rate, 28 TD vs. 6 INT) in his 15 games played. If Lynch can take the pressure off and keep defenses honest, the sky could be the limit for the entire passing game.
There’s little doubt that Cooper is the top option, despite not leading the team in targets last season (Crabtree had 145). He’s entering what is often considered the “magical” season for receivers, and the one where they truly emerge. You may want to knock him for the lack of TD, but while he was targeted 9 times in the red zone he turned none of them into TD. An improvement there, which should come, alone would lead to the numbers looking significantly better.
With his gaudy numbers and Brandin Cooks now in New England, it makes sense for Thomas to be all the rage entering drafts. Let’s not forget that everyone was all about Coby Fleener upon his arrival in New Orleans a year ago, and we all saw how that turned out…
Fleener could have his breakout this season and Thomas will share the spotlight with Willie Snead. He also has Adrian Peterson, whose arrival could indicate a more run based attack, and Mark Ingram, who could turn out to be a receiving monster (96 receptions over the past two seasons), to contend with. Throw in someone like Brandon Coleman, who could step up and grab some of the available targets, and there is reason to doubt Thomas produces any more than he did last season.
In fact, having a completion rate of 75.4% the only way he may be able to go is down. Being a little less efficient alone would lead to a regression. Couple that with the potential that the targets decrease, even slightly, and there’s reason to believe that his production falls slightly below Cooper’s.
Then you have a question in his TD, as he was only targeted 7 times in the red zone last season. If he doesn’t see more opportunities, the TD will likely regress.
At the end of the day we’d be happy owning either Cooper or Thomas. That said, it’s hard to envision Thomas taking a step forward in his sophomore campaign (and it’s more likely he takes a step backwards, despite the Saints having jettisoned Brandin Cooks). Meanwhile Cooper has taken strides and there’s a good chance he improves upon his numbers.
Sources – ESPN, CBS Sports, Fantasy Pros
Make sure to check out our early 2017 Rankings: