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Player showdown: Dez Bryant or Amari Cooper?

If you’re not lucky enough to be in a position to draft an Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown this year, there are several intriguing options left. These options aren’t quite in the elite tier, but will be readily available toward the end of the first round or early in the second. Dez Bryant and Amari Cooper are two of these options and have a track record of producing a lot of fantasy points. They are currently being drafted around the same time (Bryant is currently the WR8 while Cooper is WR9) and will be the WR1s on several fantasy teams this year. But when you’re on the clock, who should be your WR1?

The players

Let’s start with the simpler evaluation: Cooper is good. Even though he’s only played two seasons, he’s quickly become one of the more reliable fantasy receivers. He had two 1,000-yard seasons before he was 23 — 72 catches for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns his rookie year and 83 for 1,153 (eighth-most in the NFL) and five touchdowns in his second. Diving deeper, Cooper’s proven to be good, not great, using a number of PFF metrics. He’s 18th in yards per route run, 18th in drop percentage, and graded out as the No. 23 receiver overall last year. If he’s done anything close to great it’s racking up yards after the catch, where he finished 13th as a rookie in 2015 and eighth last year.

Now onto the conundrum. It may seem like a lifetime ago, but Bryant was putting up Beckham-like numbers as recently as 2014. In that season and the two prior, Bryant averaged 91 catches for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns. Averaged! Most receivers would kill to have one season like that, let alone average that over multiple seasons. The 41 touchdowns from 2012 to 2014 led all receivers in that span and Bryant was easily a top-three fantasy receiver.

But in today’s NFL, that was a lifetime ago. Over the last two seasons, Bryant has missed 10 out of a possible 32 games due to fractures in his foot and knee. Over the course of the 22 games he has played, he’s totaled 81 catches for 1,197 yards and 11 touchdowns, all lower than any of the 16-game totals he had in the three seasons prior. It’s hard to ignore the effect the lower-body injuries have had on Bryant’s playmaking ability. Whereas Cooper has done well after the catch ever year he’s been in the league (besides racking up the yards, he’s finished 25th and 16th in yards after catch/reception), Bryant has noticeably slipped in this department. His yards after catch/reception average was good for 32nd in 2012 and 21st in 2013, but fell to 61st, 56th and finally, 97th last year. His average in this category was 5.1 yards after catch/reception in 2012, compared to just 2.9 last season (Cooper’s was 5.4 in 2016).

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