Unless you’re talking about a quarterback, players have already reached their peak by Year 5, but there’s reason to believe the best is yet to come regarding Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper.
Amari Cooper has not had a very typical journey in the NFL. It’s rare when an elite player plays on two different teams in his first five years. The former top-10 pick was a two-time Pro Bowler in Oakland before getting traded to the Dallas Cowboys. In Dallas, he again made the Pro Bowl twice proving he can produce in multiple systems with multiple signal-callers.
But for as good as his resume appears, there’s reason to believe if he stays in Dallas, his best football may still be ahead of him. That’s not only because he just came off his best season, but also because he’s only 25-years-old, he’s entering his third season with Dak Prescott, and Mike McCarthy’s system perfectly matches Amari’s skill set.
2019 was a feast or famine season for Amari Cooper. One week he would explode then next he’d disappear. Such is often the case with receivers in the NFL. What makes Amari’s situation different is his decline the second half of the season.
After Week 9, Cooper never exceeded 100 yards in a game again. Injury speculation clearly arose. In the season’s second half, Cooper spent more time on the sideline and more time on the injury report than before. He didn’t get in and out of his breaks as quickly and therefore didn’t create the separation we’ve grown accustomed to. It stands to reason if only he could stay healthy and maintain pace, he would have had an All-Pro season in 2019.
While the injury history certainly presents its own concerns, such is the nature of the beast when studying WR injury prevalence in the NFL.
Amari is arguably the best slant running receiver in the game. Teams are frightened by his dominance on the slant and he uses that to his advantage. His elite route running (which is odd of a player his size) allows him add go routes to some slants (sluggo). If teams want to stop the slant he kills them worse with the sluggo.
What does this mean for 2020?
Mike McCarthy loves slants. Even if Kellen Moore is calling plays and injecting his own flavor into the system, you can bet your sweet “donkey” slants are going to littering every game plan.
In 2019 Coop posted 2.29 yards per route in the NFL which is already eighth in the NFL. In McCarthy’s system that number is sure increase. With the slant as his personal building block (You must establish the slant!!!), he can add in double moves and more deep routes, all adding to his potency.
Pro Football Focus tracked six receptions of 40-plus yards from last season (sixth in the NFL). Playing in an offense that plays to his strengths will only help increase those big plays. The man throwing him the ball in Dallas is also on an upward trajectory. Dak Prescott has become one of the best passers in the NFL and appears to be only scratching the surface. Another year of development and playing in a more passing-friendly offense mean Dak’s numbers are only going to improve as well.
One can make the case Dak’s final numbers were also hampered by injury. Shortly after Cooper’s falloff in Week 10, Dak hurt his shoulder and his numbers dropped from top-2 to top-8. Still respectable but remember, up until Week 11 a legitimate case could (and was) made for Dak to be in the league MVP.
If Dak and Cooper can just stay healthy, they could form one of the most feared ballistic departments in the league. The Cowboys are sticking with Cooper because there’s plenty of reason to believe 2020 will be his best campaign yet.
How much should they be committing to him and should they be keeping him over Byron Jones? That’s a topic for another day. Today, we just accept the best is yet to come.