Now for another installment of our Fantasy Stock Watch periodical. This series takes a look at players who either exceeded their anticipated contributions this year, or failed to live up to them and what we can expect come 2014. The biggest concern: you want to draft based on value, rather than paying for stats that will be hard to repeat and/or paying an expectant price for development that may not come.
Riley Cooper, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
2013 ADP: 253; WR85
2013 Position Rank: WR22 (57 Overall)
2013 Expectations: Riley Cooper
The question of Riley Cooper’s 2013 expectations revolves strictly around which point in the offseason you’re referencing when considering his opportunities in the year ahead. In the span of a week, Cooper went from a receiver on the roster bubble, to the presumptive number two (following Jeremy Maclin‘s ACL injury). By the time the draft rolled around, no one was quite sure what to expect and in many leagues Cooper was left un-selected despite his standing as #2 on the Eagles WR depth chart.
The fantasy community can’t really be blamed, mind you. Cooper came into the season coming of a career high in targets, catches and catch rate but they were pretty paltry numbers (44; 23; 52.3). Projecting any type of WR3 upside required a significant upgrade in any of those categories, and it was a tough leap of faith to make for a guy who wasn’t certain to make the team and seemed destined to struggle given the distractions and locker room discomfort that he had created for himself.
ESPN staff pegged him at a 38 catch, 458 yard, three touchdown campaign.
2013 Results: Riley Cooper
Cooper started slowly with Michael Vick under center, failing to post over 29 yards receiving through the season’s first five games, but would go on to finish the season as the 27th highest scorer at his position. Beginning in Week 6, when Nick Foles first took the reigns, Cooper performed much better – he was a WR1 the rest of the way, scoring 118.1 fantasy points the rest of the way, good for the 11th most during that span.
He saw an average of 5.81 targets per contest during that span, and posted a cumulative 17.7 yards per reception on the season allowing him to finish with 835 yards despite making just 47 catches (50 WRs caught more). The 17.7 yards per catch to go with eight TDs established Cooper – a big frame with strong downfield speed – as one of the better deep threats in the league. Just seven players had a better YPR number on the season and the second most of anyone who caught over 25 balls. The 4th year pro caught 43.8% of his deep targets (over 20 yards) this season, a top 12 mark.
Cooper was a legitimate starting WR this year, and a strong compliment to DeSean Jackson.
2013 Outlook: Riley Cooper
Update February 28, 2014: Both Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin have signed deals with Philadelphia for 2014. Scenario 1 (below) then, is in play. Cooper still has a lot to offer on the field, but Maclin’s presence certainly caps his upside as it compares to how things would have looked with only Cooper having re-signed.
Cooper finds himself in an interesting situation heading into 2014, as he’s a free agent coming off a career year, but will find himself with a limited pool of suitors given that general managers around the league will hold concerns about whether bringing him in would have an effect on their locker room chemistry, regardless of his 2013 production or the length of time that has passed.
My assumption is that, given the limited market he is likely to find for himself and his obvious chemistry with QB Nick Foles, Cooper will return to Philadelphia if the team offers him a suitable deal. What I don’t know is whether Jeremy Maclin will be back in town as well. The impending free-agent, whose injury created the opportunity for Cooper and his subsequent skyrocketing value confirmed just this week that his recovery was on track and he intended to be available (somewhere) for training camp, per Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The FA receiver market is fairly thin this year, with most of the intriguing options appearing likely to return to their current teams, so Maclin should draw some interest but could find himself having to sign a one year prove it deal, based on his health.
Philadelphia doesn’t have a ton of cap room, but I’d expect both players to be back, given their individual constraints upon employment elsewhere. Let’s look at that as the most likely scenario below.
Scenario 1: Assuming they both stay, Cooper’s value shrinks significantly – at least in terms of where it could have been for 2014. Provided Maclin is healthy, he is a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense (I’d draft him above where Cooper finished this season, provided the offseason reports appear clean) and will resume #2 WR duties. There is room for Cooper to produce as the third receiving option, mind you. Jason Avant played on 71.4% of Philadelphia’s offensive snaps this season and drew 71 targets from Nick Foles. He’ll have opportunities as the third man, but in that scenario Cooper comes in more as a WR3 for me.
Scenario 2: If Maclin does not return to Philadelphia (and Cooper does) he is naturally a much more valuable player. There is an argument that can be made that Nick Foles played the 2013 campaign at his ceiling, and as such we shouldn’t expect much more from Cooper. Of course, there is an equally compelling argument that could be made that he’ll grow a bit in his second year in Chip Kelly’s system/his first full season as starter. One could also argue that there is room for Cooper to grow as a receiver, and improve upon his 58% catch rate from 2013. I’d project a modest progression, if for no other reason than Cooper would have a full 16 games with Foles as his QB, and a 1000 yard season isn’t out of the question – though asking for any more than eight scores is a tough proposition.
Scenario 3: Should Maclin return to Philadelphia alone, I like his odds of exceeding Foles’ 2013 numbers. He won’t be the deep producer that Cooper was, but could easily double his receptions (he caught 70 balls in his only full season). For Cooper, I think you’re looking at a much less productive season in any other environment. First of all, he’s currently in a system that promotes taking chances down the field, and he is playing with a Quarterback who turned out to be one of the better producers in the NFL this year. Sure, if he lands with a Peyton Manning type, there is an upgrade but few QBs offer more to Cooper specifically than Foles. Factor in the adjustments to a new scheme and a new locker room and I don’t see any way for him to match his current totals.
Clearly Cooper backers, or owners in keeper/dynasty formats are hoping for Scenario 2, but I think the first proposal is the most likely of the bunch – and that is ok, too. He can still produce solid WR3 numbers. With that said, I’m unlikely to draft Cooper in that scenario as I think his cost would be higher than his projected value given the collective memories of his strong 2013 campaign which would inflate his value beyond it’s true 2014 worth.