The Dallas Cowboys were struggling offensively back in 2018 and needed a spark. At 3-4, they traded a 2019 first-round pick to the Las Vegas Raiders for Amari Cooper, and their offense took off. In nine games, Cooper caught 53 passes for 725 yards and six touchdowns and the Cowboys won seven of them to finish 10-6 and win the NFC East.
In Cooper's first full season in Dallas, he set career highs in yards (1,189), touchdowns (8), and yards per catch (15.1). When ESPN did its top 10 rankings for wide receivers before the 2020 season, Cooper landed at No. 10 on the list. However, earlier this week, he failed to make the top 10 for 2021.
A legitimate case can be made for the first eight names on this list to be ahead of Cooper. When you get to the ninth and tenth spots, that's where the head-scratching begins.
At number nine is where DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks landed. He's immensely talented without a doubt, but he's only been in the league for two seasons and has only reached the 1,000-yard mark once. One spot after is where A.J. Brown of the Tennessee Titans came in. Much like Metcalf, Brown has only been in the NFL for two seasons, and although he's reached 1,000 yards in both, he hasn't consistently shown that he should be ranked higher than Cooper on any list for wide receivers.
The fact that Cooper wasn't ranked in the top 10 was egregious enough, but it gets worse. There were nine honorable mentions at the wide receiver position as well, and Cooper wasn't one of them. Now, let's look at how a few of them stack up to the Cowboy's WR1.
Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams has shown his worth over the last two seasons with 186 receptions and over 2,000 yards. However, 2019 was the only season in which he reached 1,000 yards in his four-year career. Jarvis Landry of the Cleveland Browns came into the NFL a year before Cooper (2014) and has had a productive career with 636 receptions and over 7,000 yards in seven seasons. While that's noteworthy, Landry only has three seasons over 1,000 yards and has reached that mark just once in the last four seasons.
Cooper on the other hand has five 1,000-yard campaigns in his six years in the NFL which includes reaching that level of production in each of the last three seasons. Rush and Landry are good receivers, but not better than Cooper.
The 2020 season was a disaster for the Cowboys on the injury front, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The absence of Dak Prescott for 11 games and their top-three offensive linemen (Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, La'el Collins) missing 36 games combined forced the Cowboys to play three other quarterbacks and trout out 13 different offensive line combinations. Despite this, Cooper had an excellent year.
He was on pace for 148 receptions and 1,604 yards through the first four games (37 receptions and 401 yards) with a healthy Prescott. Cooper wasn't able to keep up that pace but he still produced big time. Not only did he reach 1,100 yards for the second consecutive season (the third time in his career he's done so), he set a career-high with 92 receptions.
The biggest criticism when it came to Cooper after the 2019 season was that he disappeared on the road. That was a fair assessment considering he had just 27 receptions for 320 yards away from AT&T Stadium. 2020 was a different story as Cooper snagged 48 receptions for 448 yards on the road which were comparable numbers to his 44 receptions for 666 yards at home.
Cooper has a history of making big plays and having huge games in terms of yardage over his career. His three games of 200 receiving yards or more since 2015 lead the NFL. Since his first full season with the Cowboys in 2019, his 774 yards on throws over 20 yards ranks fourth for all receivers. Also, his 15 touchdowns of 30 yards or more since 2016 ranked third in the league.
The first few names that come to mind in terms of wide receivers in the NFL won't include Cooper. However, to suggest that there are 10 receivers better than him today isn't a smart thing to say. That may change after the 2021 season, who knows. But as Jess Haynie wrote less than two weeks ago, Cooper deserves more respect than he gets right now, and ESPN's latest rankings prove that.