Caught up in all the hullabaloo of the Golden Tate acquisition, two Philly rivals were also active around the trade deadline. The Eagles weren’t the only NFC East team to make a big wide receiver acquisition in the trade market. In a move that reeks a little of desperation, the Dallas Cowboys sent a first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for WR Amari Cooper in hopes he could revitalize a dormant Dallas passing attack.
The Cowboys have been without a top flight receiver since the heydays of Dez Bryant and a younger Jason Witten, and quarterback Dak Prescott has been unable to compensate for an underwhelming group of pass-catchers. In Cooper’s first action as a Cowboy, he tallied five receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. While the numbers don’t jump off the page, Coop put together a nice little debut and gave us all an idea of how he might be used in the Dallas offence. Spoiler alert: it’s nothing new. Optimists will see the ilk of Bryant in the game of Cooper while the rest of us wait with bated breath to see what the Raiders cast-off has in store. Seeing as the Eagles will host the rival Cowboys this weekend, and Jerry Jones will be looking to knock more dust off his new toy, let’s take a look at how Amari Cooper fits in the Dallas offense.
Shipping away a first round pick for an up-and-down receiver with an ignominious drop problem was a questionable decision, especially when considering the Texans were able to steal Demaryius Thomas (and his sizable contract) away from Denver for a fourth-round selection; and as we all know, the Eagles welcomed Golden Tate for the price of a third-rounder. What’s more unsettling for the ‘Boys is that an under-performing receiving corps — or are they performing exactly as expected? — might just be the perfect scapegoat for the most unimaginative play-caller in modern day professional football. For Head Coach Jason Garrett and the rest of the Dallas organisation, this may just add to the disheartening tally of attempts trying to fill round holes with square pieces. To give you an idea of just how similar the game plan is for the two receivers, compare routes run by Dez last season against the Eagles last season to the routes run by Cooper in Monday’s contest versus the Titans.
It has only been one week, and by all accounts the ‘Boys are easing the new recruit into the playbook. Nevertheless, when it’s all said and done, he won’t be asked to do much more than this. Below are Dez Bryant’s routes run from one of his best career games against the Packers in 2016’s divisional round match up. This is pretty much a collection of all the routes Dez has ever run and despite a few minor variations and some minimal movement around the formation, it essentially echoes what we’ve seen from him time and time again. Go routes, deep and intermediate out routes, slants and screens are about as far as his professional repertoire was ever pushed.
This is most likely a blameless result of Bryant’s skill set. However, with the amount of times he was visibly upset on the sidelines and the reports surfacing that the Cowboys’ own locker room was disconcerted with the simplicity of Garrett’s play calling, it is not a stretch to assume that some of the fault falls on play design. Garrett is notoriously blase in the passing game. Superficially a positive, this could cause problems for newly acquired Amari Cooper’s development as a receiver.
The issue is that so far in his career, Cooper is at his best when moved around the formation. This could be happenstance, but it is more likely indicative of a harsh truth that Dallas fans will have to swallow in the coming weeks. In Oakland, the young receiver never really got the chance to be the go-to X receiver. For three years, the position was manned by current Baltimore receiver Michael Crabtree, who’s proficiency better fits the X receiver stereotype. This year he was thrust into a Jon Gruden offence that specializes in deviations in formations and receivers with the ability to play anywhere along the line of scrimmage. Nevertheless, as you can see below, big numbers come when Cooper’s route tree is diverse and varied.
There is one example of Coop having success with a limited route tree. That came in Week 4 of this season when the Raiders and the Browns combined for 87 points and 1,052 total yards. Everybody got a share of the offensive wealth that day.
All this is not to say that Cooper isn’t capable of being Dez Bryant 2.0. He certainly is able to run the same route tree and then some. The fact is he is simply not the same type of receiver. Both have the ability to make plays down the sideline, but they do not shine in the same facets of the game. Below is a chart of the two receivers’ workout metrics courtesy of PlayerProfiler.com. The statistics tell the tale of two pass-catchers: one with average speed and quickness but exceptional strength and physicality, and one with the speed and agility to beat defenders with precise route running and sheer speed.
|Top Speed||Agility||Catch Radius||Burst|
|Dez Bryant||75th percentile||13th percentile||69th percentile||90th percentile|
|Amari Cooper||92nd percentile||92nd percentile||74th percentile||26th percentile|
The dissimilarities continue when considering efficiency from the last two seasons. Bryant, being a strong, big-bodied receiver at 6’2″ 220 lbs, was force fed the ball downfield and was expected to make tough catches in traffic. He and Jason Witten were the main reason Dak Prescott led the league in tight window passes, and tight window efficiency last season. In Cooper’s limited opportunities his ability to come down with contested balls has not been reassuring. Dez was targeted 32 times with contestable passes in 2017 and caught nearly half of them. Statistics from years past would likely be more impressive (PlayerProfiler.com began citing contested catches in 2017). Cooper simply does not have the strength and physicality that Bryant has. This is especially true in the red zone, where space is tighter and windows are smaller. As you can see below Bryant had almost double the red zone receptions last year than Cooper has had in the last year and half.
|Contested Catch||Yds/tgt Distance||Redzone Share||Endzone Share||Redzone Rec|
|Bryant||2017||46.9% (32 tgts) [23rd]||12.1 [10th]||32.8% (20 tgts) [4th]||50.0% (17 tgts) [4th]||11 [8th]|
|Cooper||2017||22.2% (9 tgts) [-]||11.7 [14th]||24.4% (10 tgts) [21st]||16.1% (5 tgts) [64th]||3 [66th]|
|Cooper||2018||50.0% (2 tgts) [-]||10.9 [56th]||18.2% (8 tgts) [36th]||40% (6 tgts) [13th]||3 [41st]|
Putting this into comparable percentages: Bryant came down with an impressive 55.0% of his 20 red zone targets, whereas Cooper has turned in a disappointing 33.3% catch rate on his 18 red zone targets. These numbers might weigh even more in the favor of Bryant had he been able to play this season. It is no wonder that Dallas’ red zone scoring efficiency has gone from 65.57% in 2016, to 59.62% last season, and 50.00% this year.
In addition, Dak will now have to make the transition from a receiver with 25 drops over the last five seasons (skewed by Dez’s 12 drops in 2017) to one with 35 over the last three and a half. In fact, Amari Cooper has a historically bad drop problem. In the three seasons in the league, he has led the NFL in drop rate twice: 2017 and 2015. He is one of three receivers all time to have over 100 targets and a drop rate of over 17%, and he has done so twice. This is despite being given an average of 4.89 yards of cushion per route run this season — 4th overall. Defensive backs are afraid of Cooper’s route running and ability after the catch, not his physicality and sure hands.
Cooper is a talented receiver, whether or not he was worth a first round pick. His best work comes when he is moved around the formation and given the ability to run a varied selection of routes. The Dallas offence is simply not meant to facilitate that. Some reference Cooper’s ability after the catch as the reason he was targeted by the Cowboys. As a team they currently rank 30th in yards after catch with 733. Oakland is 7th with 1,260. Individually, Cooper is an unimpressive 47th on the YAC list with 120 total yards after catch (3.0 per reception). The major difference is scheme. Jason Garrett is simply not flexible enough or creative enough to allow Cooper to blossom, and it will be of Amari’s own power if he is to succeed in this offence. This will fall on deaf ears if Garrett is replaced. In which case, the loss of a first round pick will sting.
AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth