Mike Evans vs. Amari Cooper second-round debate

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The first round picks at wide receiver are generally well-established. Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham and Julio Jones are locks and typically fly off the board in the top-four selections. DeAndre Hopkins is typically the consensus fourth unless A.J. Green is your guy. After that, Dez Bryant or Allen Robinson are the only other two that typically sneak in.

There are a healthy amount of experienced wideouts like Brandon Marshall and Jordy Nelson in the second round, but it's the young blood that makes it so intriguing. Going at the back half of the second round in Fantasy Football Calculator's ADP, Mike Evans (2.10) and Amari Cooper (2.12) are the newcomers of this group. This duo of third and second-year, respectively, wideouts are two youngsters fantasy drafters are expecting to make the leap in 2016.

Evans and Cooper both are off to great starts in their young careers. Amari Cooper led all rookies last year in catches and yards. Mike Evans lost a good amount of juice in the touchdown department but accumulated more yards and receptions in 15 games, the same amount he played in as a rookie. Both are attached to ascending young quarterbacks in Jameis Winston and Derek Carr for the long-term.

The ADP data clearly views these two as a similar proposition early in drafts. Public opinion backs that up after running a poll on this yesterday.

The final results tilt a bit more to Cooper who won with a near 60-40 advantage on more than 5,500 votes. However, in the early going with 2,000 votes registered, Evans held the initial lead at more of a 52-48 split. Cooper winning by an 18 percent margin is still pretty significant and actually goes against current ADP which has Evans two spots higher. Either way, it just goes to show how close this debate is.

We're going to dig into this quandary and try to come away with some clarity on the outlook for this duo and perhaps even come away with a clear preference. If you are not familiar with Reception Perception, it is a unique methodology I created to evaluate the wide receiver in the most in-depth way possible by charting their performance on film over an eight-game sample. The primary metric in the series is "success rate vs. coverage" which measures how often a receiver gets open on a specific route, or brand of coverage. Working free from the opposing defense with his route-running is the first, and most critical, part of the receiver's job in presenting a reliable target to his quarterback. Reception Perception helps quantify what type of, and how proficient a route runner a receiver is in addition to offering some ancillary metrics like contested catch conversion rate. You won't find a series that better quantifies a receiver's on-field play in a transparent fashion than this.

We'll use Reception Perception in congruence with some raw stats and usage data to help discern the difference between Mike Evans and Amari Cooper for 2016. Marrying a disciplined evaluation of on-field ability to more tangible data is an optimal way to project a wideout's performance going forward.

Success rate vs. man coverage

Mike Evans: 68.9 percent - 164 attempts
Amari Cooper: 70.7 percent - 167 attempts
League average: 63 percent - 130 attempts

It's probably a small surprise to many how close these two are, as Cooper is widely regarded as a premier route-runner relative to his experience level and age. Reception Perception only backs that up. Cooper's 70.7 percent success rate is right in line with some of the top rookie season scores of the last few years. He checks in just one percentage point lower than Allen Robinson's rookie year score which went on to forecast a bright future for the now-Pro Bowl wideout. Cooper is indeed a freakishly polished separator at this point in his young career.

Mike Evans' score might surprise some considering the consensus holds that he had a down season in 2015. Many will point to a lack of touchdowns and drops (we'll touch on all that in a bit) but Reception Perception illuminates that might be a false narrative. Evans actually improved as a technical route-runner in his second season when compared to his first. Reception Perception helps quantify that. Evans posted a league average 62.9 percent success rate vs. man coverage as a rookie but leapt up to a strong 68.9 percent last season.

Success rate vs. zone coverage

Mike Evans: 73.3 percent - 116 attempts
Amari Cooper: 73.9 percent - 92 attempts
League average: 73 percent - 107 attempts

Evans and Cooper both checked in with league average scores against zone coverage, which isn't something to get alarmed about. In his second year, Evans actually saw a full 10 percent bump in zone coverage score after posting a poor 63.1 rate as a rookie. Cooper has the tangible skills to become a lethal threat slicing through zones down the line. Don't be surprised if we see a big jump in his scores against zones in his second season.

Success rate vs. press coverage

Mike Evans: 69.8 percent - 86 attempts
Amari Cooper: 68.8 percent - 96 attempts
League average: 67 percent - 61 attempts

Again the duo checks in with painfully similar scores while checking in above the league average against press coverage. Evans came in with a 70 percent success rate against press as a rookie on 50 attempts. Lining up as the clear No. 1 receiver more often in 2015, Evans saw more reps against press off the line of scrimmage with 86. He maintained a near identical success rate with 69.8 percent.

Amari Cooper's 68.8 percent success rate against 96 press attempts is quite strong for a rookie wideout. Only two other first-year receivers in Odell Beckham (86.7 percent success rate) and Davante Adams (51.1 percent success rate) faced at least 90 press coverage attempts in Reception Perception history. The fact that he was able to maintain an above average success rate when facing jams at the line speaks again to his polish, but also indicates he will be a No. 1 receiver in the near future, if he is not one already.

Success rate vs. coverage by route

Mike Evans on go-routes: 61.2 percent - 17.5 percent of total routes
Amari Cooper on go-routes: 62.3 percent - 20.5 percent of total routes
League average on go-routes: 51.4 percent - 21 percent of total routes

Evans and Cooper both check in as well above average deep route runners. We've hammered the point of just how polished Cooper is, and he certainly mixes in a great deal of nuance and technique to sell shallow routes before bursting deep down the field. However, don't let that discount Cooper's strong play-making speed in your mind. Evans probably relies a bit more on his physical abilities than nuance to get open deep. Yet, remember that this is a 6-foot-5, 230-plus pound wideout scoring among some of the NFL's best deep threats (Torrey Smith - 61.7 percent). There's no question Evans has a special size/speed combination that makes him a truly dangerous player.

Mike Evans on slant routes: 74.6 percent - 23.4 percent of total routes
Mike Evans on curl routes: 75.8 percent - 11.8 percent of total routes
League average on slant routes: 74.6 percent - 18 percent of total routes
League average on curl routes: 73.2 percent - 14 percent of total routes

Mike Evans scored right at the league average in success rate on slant routes and above the average on curl routes. He improved on his rookie scores of 73.9 and 74.5, respectively. Again, this illustrates that while the touchdown numbers were not there, he was mostly an improved route-runner as a second-year player.

Amari Cooper on slant routes: 82.9 percent - 15.9 percent of total routes
Amari Cooper on curl routes: 80 percent - 11.6 percent of total routes
League average on slant routes: 74.6 percent - 18 percent of total routes
League average on curl routes: 73.2 percent - 14 percent of total routes

This is where Cooper finds a clear edge over Evans. Even at this point in their respective careers, Cooper is a far superior short-area route-runner to Evans. That's not necessarily a shot to the former, who given his size, boasts more than good enough scores in his own right. But this is an area where Cooper is already nearing special. He has an innate ability to separate underneath by mixing quickness and sublime technique. Reports came out recently that the Raiders almost shut Cooper down because of a December foot injury in 2015. It would help explain the rather slow finish to his rookie year. Imagine what Cooper's route-running will look like with a full collection of a healthy 16 games.

Mike Evans on comeback routes: 88 percent - 8.9 percent of total routes
Amari Cooper on comeback routes: 80 percent - 5.8 percent of total routes
League average on comeback routes: 70.1 percent - 4.9 percent of total routes

I'm choosing to highlight the duo's score on comeback routes because it's a pattern that is one of the more difficult ones to earn separation on. The comeback requires the receiver to integrate multiple layers of technique (sell the deep route, breaking at the stem, etc.) while also utilizing lighting quick feet. Both Evans and Cooper scored well above the league average success rate on comebacks, but the former's score is particularly interesting. This is another data point that helps support the claim that Evans was actually improved as a route-runner in his second season. He registered a poor 64.3 percent as a rookie but took a major leap last year. It's a small point, but a really encouraging one.

Contested catch conversion rate

Mike Evans: 78.9 percent - 19 attempts
Amari Cooper: 61.5 percent - 13 attempts
League average: 63 percent - 12 attempts

While Cooper clearly had an edge in separating on the underneath routes, Evans holds an even more distinct edge at winning contested catches. Evans has one of the eight best scores charted for Reception Perception in the 2015 season. His size is a tremendous advantage in this capacity and makes him a lethal threat regardless of the coverage he faces. Winning contested catches is an area where Cooper can still improve. While he has the polished routes of a future All-Pro receiver, he needs to take a small step forward winning the ball in traffic.

Drop rate

If you're familiar with my work at all, you know I believe drops are an extremely overrated aspect of analyzing the wide receiver position. However, it's worth mentioning that both Cooper and Evans were plagued by drops in 2015. Reception Perception has Evans down for a 13.8 drop rate and Cooper with 14.9. Pro Football Focus charged Cooper with the most drops in the NFL (18) and Evans right behind him with 15. It's an issue for both players right now, but not one that massively influences their stock one way or another.

Target and usage data

Mike Evans owned a 28 percent share of the Buccaneers targets in 2015. In Jameis Winston's rookie season it looked like he clicked right away with his fellow young weapon. However, there might be some reason to believe he could see a smaller share next season. Vincent Jackson missed six games last season and it was in those contests where Evans inflated his share, averaging 8.1 targets per game with Jackson to 12.5 without. Now, Jackson could be near the end of his career at almost 34 years old and Evans could just clearly usurp him as the clear target leader in 2016. However, this is worth keeping in the back of your mind. Should Jameis Winston take another step forward as a passer in his second season, there will be enough volume for both players to eat.

Amari Cooper actually finished second on the Raiders in target share with 22 percent to Michael Crabtree's 24 percent. Only 16 targets separated the two, and that ratio could easily flip on its head in Cooper's second season. However, Crabtree is not just going to fade away and his style of play fits in quite well with this offense overall. With both players accounting for over 45 percent of the team targets, the Raiders qualify as one of the coveted two-receiver concentrated offenses. The only concerning thing about Crabtree and Cooper's target load is whether the Raiders become far more run-heavy in the event their defense improves. The Raiders ranked 23rd in game time while trailing per Football Outsiders last season. If their defense takes the major step many are projecting, the team could lose some passing volume overall.

Red zone usage

Mike Evans led the Bucs in red zone targets with a 19 percent share with seven of those targets coming inside the 10-yard line. He only scored two touchdowns inside the 20-yard line and only three overall. Evans scored on 17.7 percent of his catches and then cratered to 4.1 percent last season. Per Rotoworld's Rich Hribar, "the average top-36 PPR scoring receiver in 2015 was at 10.4 percent." Evans will almost certainly see more scores go his way in 2016.

Amari Cooper's red zone usage was one of the more puzzling occurrences in all of fantasy football last year. He finished behind both Crabtree and Seth Roberts with a 13 percent share of the team's 48 red zone targets. Cooper never saw a target go his way when the team was inside the 10-yard line, even though Derek Carr threw 15 passes down there. We saw earlier that Cooper checks in below the average in terms of contested catch conversion rate. Perhaps that lack of proficiency in traffic, a strength of Michael Crabtree's, led the team to go away from Cooper in the red zone as a rookie. He will need to see that change in 2016 as he must be a more reliable touchdown threat to pay off a second-round ADP in fantasy.

Fantasy stock conclusions

After examining a wealth of relevant data in order to assess their outlook, the choice between Mike Evans and Amari Cooper didn't get much easier. Both receivers passed the Reception Perception test with flying colors, with their strengths and weaknesses properly contextualized.

Reception Perception helps us see that Mike Evans, while he lagged in the touchdown department, actually improved as a route-runner and technician as sophomore. If Jameis Winston improves and their chemistry grows, 2016 could be the year we finally see an explosion for Evans. It also showed us that Cooper stepped up to the task of playing like a top receiver right off the bat at just 21 years old. Already mastering an impressive feat, this should just be the beginning for the young Raiders wideout.

The difference in the two comes in their projected usage. Evans has a clearer path to leading his team in targets with Cooper still competing with Michael Crabtree for the team lead. He's also already established as a red zone threat in the NFL, whereas Cooper was strangely absent from the game plan there in 2015. That could change for Cooper this coming season, but on paper he still looks like less of a sure bet for double-digit touchdowns in 2016.

Truth be told, there are several viable scenarios where both Mike Evans and Amari Cooper meet expectations for your fantasy team this upcoming season. When push comes to shove, I'd rather take Evans in the second round over Cooper. That comes with the caveat that I'd likely only feel great about plucking Evans off the board if I take a wide receiver in Round 1. Even if he is improving and his flaws are overstated, Evans will likely always come with some weekly volatility, especially with Jackson still in the fold. I'd feel better if he was insulated by a stud wideout as my WR1. Cooper feels better as a third-round pick, at best, given his questionable touchdown upside. Taking him at the back of the second-round feels like buying at his absolute ceiling.

Regardless of who outscores the other this season, Mike Evans and Amari Cooper are two of the league's best and most dynamic young receivers. Both are clearly top-10 dynasty receivers and each might just be scratching the surface of their individual potential.

Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB or like on Facebook.

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