With that in mind, here is a look at the final stat lines from wide receiver Amari Cooper and tight end Mychal Rivera:
The numbers are solid, especially since neither played the entire game, but what they say about the big picture for each player is more important than the actual tallies in a preseason contest.
Cooper stands out on name recognition alone. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft and could revitalize an Oakland passing game that finished a dismal 26th in the league in 2014 if he fulfills his potential.
The former Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver was a 2014 Heisman Trophy finalist thanks to his 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdown catches. He won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver and was the 2014 SEC Offensive Player of the Year for good measure, which was enough to merit the Raiders’ first-round choice.
Talent is not the question with that collegiate resume in terms of fantasy production or how he’ll perform on the actual field. Rather, how quickly Cooper adapts to the NFL game will determine his value in 2015.
Cooper appeared to be well-adapted Sunday when matched up against one of the league’s best defenders, per Chris B. Brown of Smart Football and Grantland:
It’s been a long time since fantasy football players have seen moves like that from an Oakland receiver. No Raiders pass-catcher topped 700 receiving yards in 2014, and James Jones (who led the team with six touchdown catches) is now a member of the New York Giants. In fact, it’s been 10 years since Oakland has boasted a 1,000-yard receiver (Randy Moss in 2005).
The cupboard is not bare around Cooper, though, because the Raiders have added Michael Crabtree.
That may raise some red flags among fantasy football players concerned about Cooper’s targets, but Crabtree will turn 28 years old in September and is fresh off a season that saw him average a career-low 10.3 yards per catch. He is a proven commodity, but the days of explosive plays may be in his rearview mirror.
Instead, Crabtree could be the possession receiver to take defensive attention away from Cooper with underneath routes, which could open up the door for single coverage on the rookie.
Cooper should take advantage of those favorable matchups if he is as good as Tim Brown (who is arguably the greatest Raiders receiver of all time) thinks, per Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com:
This guy is just a superb, great receiver and I think he’s going to be dominant Day 1. I saw him at the Heisman deal (Cooper was a finalist for the award) and I told him then that I hope he’s still there when the Raiders pick, because there was no way they could bypass him. I just thought that he was that great of a not-miss-type pick. I can’t wait to see him Day 1. I think this guy is going to be great.
That is high praise from a living legend and the type of comment that should catch fantasy players’ eyes.
Cooper was on the receiving end of more endorsements when Vinnie Iyer of Sporting News compared the Alabama product’s fantasy value to that of Sammy Watkins:
Cooper steps with the more established QB in Derek Carr (go figure) and Oakland was smart to at least add a No. 2 possession type with a history of production, Michael Crabtree. The Raiders should also demand more attention on the ground with Latavius Murray.
On Oakland’s budding offense, Cooper is bound to out-target Watkins. A 75-1,200-6 line seems reasonable, which is already above Watkins’ rookie ceiling. Cooper should be a lot more efficient with similar volume because of his supporting cast.
Iyer pointed to Crabtree’s abilities as a possession receiver as a positive for Cooper but also noted two important factors for both Cooper and Rivera in Derek Carr and Latavius Murray.
Murray missed his rookie season after suffering a season-ending injury but flashed potential in the closing stretch of the 2014 campaign on his way to 424 rushing yards and 143 receiving yards on 5.2 yards per carry. The running back is only 25 years old and relatively fresh, so it is not unreasonable to expect improvement in 2015.
An impressive start from Murray will force opposing defenses to load the box in running situations, which will open up more room for Cooper and Rivera to operate downfield.
As for Carr, he is only 24 years old. He threw for 21 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions in his rookie season and didn’t have the weapons at his disposal that he will this year. With Cooper, Crabtree and Murray, along with a critical year of NFL experience and reading defenses under his belt, the youngster should be better in his second campaign.
A better quarterback is music to the ears of fantasy football players who are relying on Cooper and Rivera.
Rivera served as a security blanket for Carr last season and racked up 534 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. Those are solid numbers from a tight end with a rookie quarterback, but fantasy aficionados should note Rivera’s targets increased from 60 in 2013 to 101 in 2014.
It is clear Carr trusted him last year, which is critical because it is easy for tight ends to get lost in the passing attack if the quarterback doesn’t make a concerted effort to look away from the receivers at times.
Even with that trust, the additions of Cooper and Crabtree mean Rivera’s targets will likely decrease. There is only one ball to go around, and Cooper is too talented to ignore, while Crabtree is a proven playmaker. The silver lining is the quality of targets should increase because Rivera will likely face single-coverage looks with secondaries focused on the two receivers.
Ultimately, there is plenty to like about both Rivera and Cooper entering the 2015 fantasy season.
Rivera should be seen as a second-tier tight end who can fill in during bye weeks or in case of injury. The former Tennessee Volunteers star is not a guaranteed fantasy starter thanks to the target concern with two quality receivers surrounding him, but he will face plenty of single coverage with an improving quarterback. He is worth a late-round flier as a second tight end.
As for Cooper, the only thing holding him back from No. 1 receiver status is the fact he hasn’t proved himself during regular-season contests. Grab him in the third, fourth or fifth round as a high-upside No. 2 receiver with the knowledge that his talent can quickly make him a topnotch fantasy performer once he is fully accustomed to the NFL game.
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