Cowboys most underrated player having another great year

Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

This underrated player is having another great year for the Dallas Cowboys

One of the many tragedies of quarterback Dak Prescott’s injury is that Dallas Cowboys fans never quite got to see just how high the ceiling went for the team’s trio of wide receivers this season. Coming into the year there was a lot of preseason hype that the goal was for Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and rookie CeeDee Lamb to become the sixth trio of receivers in league history to each notch 1,000 yards.

While it looked possible for a moment, unless there is a truly remarkable turnaround, it’s safe to say that won’t be happening this year. Lamb has caught much of the attention as the rookie has been as good as advertised (maybe better), while Gallup has struggled with consistency. However, Cooper has flown under the radar while being by far the team’s most productive pass catcher.

Right now Cooper is the Dallas Cowboys’ leading receiver in every meaningful category. But he’s been more impressive than those numbers indicate. Through the first 12 weeks of the regular season, he’s ranked amongst the top 10 in the NFL in catches (eight), first downs (ninth), and targets (10th) while his 848 receiving yards are just outside the top 10 (13th). He’s also catching nearly three-quarters of every ball thrown his way with a 72.2% catch rate. All of these numbers are on track for the best of his career.

All of this, and it has easily been the most turbulent of his six NFL seasons. Since losing Prescott, he has played with three different quarterbacks, none of who have even come close to playing as well as Dak was earlier this season. Even with the Oakland Raiders, he’s never dealt this kind of instability at signal-caller.

Prior to joining the Cowboys, Cooper showed obvious potential in Oakland. He made the Pro Bowl and had over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. After that though, he fell off a cliff. His 2017 season was disastrous.

Cooper started 12 of the 14 games he played in and finished with just 48 catches for 680 yards. He had five different games with receiving yards in the single digits. It was later revealed he played the season injured, but that combined with a slow start the following year saw him get traded to Dallas mid-way through the 2018 season.

At the time of the trade, he was largely credited with finally giving Prescott an elite receiver (who was healthy) to throw to, and saving Dallas’ season. Before Cooper, the Cowboys were 3-4 and sitting at their bye week with the season seemingly passing them by quickly.

After releasing star receiver Dez Bryant in the offseason, the team intentionally went into the season with no clear number one option at receiver, preferring a committee approach and it clearly showed. After trading for Cooper though, they were able to finish 10-6 and even rattled off five straight wins at one point en route to the playoffs for the second time in three years.

Cooper’s arrival has made a big difference for Dak Prescott in particular. In 39 career games without Cooper, Prescott had thrown for 8,408 yards, 53 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions while completing 64.7% of his passes. In Dak’s 30 games following the Cooper trade, he has thrown for 9,226 yards, 53 touchdowns, 19 picks, and 67.4% competition percentage. He also has seen his yards per attempt go up too, from 7.28 to 8.11.

After the Cowboys signed Cooper to a five year-$100 million contract with $60 million in guarantees last offseason, chatter quickly began over whether or not Dallas would soon try and move on from the veteran receiver thanks to a relatively easy out in his contract in 2022.

One of the central themes of this Cowboys season has been looking ahead to the future. Whatever the teams’ long-term plans are, they should continue to include Cooper. At just 26 years old, Cooper and Prescott will be in their prime together at the same time that Lamb is coming into his. That kind of potential on offense could be absolutely lethal for Dallas long-term.

Despite surpassing 1,000 receiving yards in four of his first five seasons (and likely soon to be five of his first six), whenever conversations around the top wide receivers in the league are had, Amari Cooper’s name is largely held out of it.

But why? Is it because his personality is so understated that ESPN called him the “anti-diva” receiver? Is it because he’s only been top-10 in receiving yards twice? Is it because he began his career on mediocre Raiders teams? Or perhaps because the top five receivers in the NFL right now are just that much better? Maybe it’s some combination of all that.

It’s true, he may not be the Arizona Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins or Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints, but the body of work that Cooper has produced over the course of his short career is elite and deserves recognition.

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Cooper’s one of the very best route runners in the league and demands attention from the defense whenever he’s on the field. Cooper is an unselfish number one receiver who makes everyone around him better too. In a bad year for the Dallas Cowboys, he’s been a steady veteran who has produced while still playing with high effort.

In fact, come to think of it, Amari Cooper may not just be the most underrated Dallas Cowboy. He might be the most underrated player in the NFL.