Amari Cooper will be able to unlock the Cowboys’ offense

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys made a  bold move for Amari Cooper, but maybe it won’t end up the overpay most believe it to be.

I wasn’t shocked when the Dallas Cowboys traded for Amari Cooper. At The Raiders Wire, it was something that we saw coming a few weeks out. With the Raiders selling away any players who had some trade value, Jon Gruden seemed intent on trying to stockpile as many picks as possible. Dallas, needing a No.1 receiver, was a perfect landing spot for Cooper.

However, the compensation was surprising. I thought Dallas would offer a second-round pick, at most, considering that Cooper has just a half of a year left on his rookie contract plus the fifth-year option.

Instead, Dallas gave into the Raiders’ demands and surrendered their first choice in the 2019 draft, a pick that very well could wind up inside the top-15. The compensation isn’t ideal for the Cowboys, but the player is. Cooper is nearly a perfect fit in the Cowboys’ offense. Allow me to explain.

Despite what the Cowboys front office said over the offseason, Dallas needed a No.1 receiver. Like most offenses in the NFL, they can’t function at a high level without a top-flight receiver. Everyone in the league knows that Dallas wants to run the ball, but just having a good rushing attack isn’t enough in today’s NFL.

In 2016, Dez Bryant was demanding double coverage and winning on the outside fairly consistently. In 2017, Bryant’s play dropped off as he battled injuries and drops. In turn, the Cowboys’ offense suffered, especially in the second half of the season. Dallas decided to release Bryant this offseason, and it has suffered the consequences. Without Bryant on the roster, Dallas’ offense has dropped down to 28th in yardage and 26th in points. Simply put, they have been one of the worst offenses in the league.

That is why Dallas made the trade for Cooper. They recognized that without a No.1 receiver, there was no way to get this offense even back to average. While they may have overpaid for Cooper, it was a move that was necessary for the team to have any chance at success this season.

Cooper is a much different player than Bryant. They win in very different ways. With Bryant, he was never really “open.” However, he was such a dominant receiver at the catch point and was incredibly difficult to bring down after the catch. Despite the greatness of Bryant, his skill set never meshed well with Dak Prescott.

Cooper, on the other hand, doesn’t thrive in jump ball situations.  Instead, he wins with route running and quickness. That type of receiver is precisely what Prescott needs on the outside.

His best route is a quick slant. Not coincidently, it is a staple of the Cowboys’ offense. For this route to work, you need a receiver who is quick and can create separation at or near the line of scrimmage, but also understands how to beat man or press coverage off the line of scrimmage. Against the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Cooper has shown that ability over and over again.

If nothing else, Cooper should instantly be the team’s best slant receiver. He’s going to demand the No.1 cornerbacks from Dallas’ opponents and should be able to have success right away. Over the last two and half seasons, Prescott has never really had a receiver he trusted on slants and digs. That should change with Cooper.

Because Cooper is so nuanced and dynamic on slants, it allows him to roast defensive backs on “Sluggo” routes. It’s by far his best route as he uses his quickness and flexibility to sink his hips and get up the field. Take a look at this route from earlier in the season against the Browns:

The more you study the film from Cooper over the past few years, you will see that most of Cooper’s biggest plays come on “Sluggos.” Defenders have no choice but to jump on the underneath route if they are in off-coverage. Over the last few weeks, we have seen Dallas incorporate more “Sluggos” in their route tree. It’s how Michael Gallup scored his touchdown versus Washington. Expect Dallas to use Cooper in this same vein early and often.

Admittedly, one of Prescott’s biggest weakness is that he doesn’t often throw with anticipation. He likes to see receivers “open” before he throws the ball. It is why he has always had so much success throwing to someone like Cole Beasley, rather than someone like Dez Bryant or Terrance Williams. Prescott shouldn’t have a problem finding Cooper because the man is always open. While he is a great athlete, it is his technique and route precision that made him a top prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft.

In the past, Dallas’ No.1 receiver was normally forced to play just on the outside. While the Cowboys occasionally would bring Bryant inside to the slot, it wasn’t his strength. That made Dallas’ offense predictable as the receivers would usually line up in the same spots on every single snap.

Cooper, on the other hand, thrives in the slot. Having Cooper on the team allows Dallas to be more multiple on offense. Because he is such a gifted route runner, you can line him up anywhere, and he will find success. Oakland would often put Cooper in motion to free him up from press coverage to create big plays. That would lead to Cooper getting the ball in space and making explosive plays.

Last but not least is Cooper’s ability in the red zone. As I mentioned before, Cooper isn’t a jump ball receiver. He can win, at times, on those plays. But it’s certainly not his strength. Instead, he uses his route running to defeat defenders in the red zone. He’s much better on fades to the back corner of the end zone, rather than throws in which he needs to be more athletic. Oakland used him more like an Antonio Brown, rather than a Dez Bryant.

Dallas has been average in the red zone this season, scoring touchdowns on just 56 percent of their drives inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. That is the worst percentage for the team since 2015 when Tony Romo and Bryant missed most of the season. With the Dallas wanting to play a ball-control style of football, they have to be more efficient in the red zone.

While many are assuming that the Cooper trade symbolizes Dallas’ desperation, that’s anything but the truth. The most important question surrounding the Cowboys’ organization right now is whether or not Dak Prescott is a franchise quarterback. Now that Prescott has an adequate receiver arsenal at his disposal, Dallas will find out just what they have at quarterback.

If Amari Cooper helps Dallas decide either way on Prescott, the first-round compensation will be well worth it. But I think he has a chance to make this Cowboys’ offense explosive again. Something it hasn’t been since the end of the 2016 season.

In the short-term, Cooper will either do one of two things for the Cowboys. Cooper will either take defenders out of the box for Ezekiel Elliott, who is seeing eight or more defenders in the box on nearly 25 percent of his carries. If teams don’t take guys out of the box to stop Elliott, then Cooper should be able to defeat single coverage with ease.

At 3-4, Dallas doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room left this season. They probably need to win seven of their final nine games to secure a playoff spot. However, with the addition of Cooper, it gives Dallas a legitimate threat on the outside. It also allows Beasley to move into a more complementary role. The Cowboys have the weapons. But will they be able to put a run together? It should be fascinating to watch.

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