Going Deep: Mixon and Cooper’s 2019 Seasons

Erik Smith takes a look at the 2019 seasons of Joe Mixon and Amari Cooper, giving fantasy players an idea of what it was like to roster the two talented veterans last season.

With the real-world events of 2020 growing more and more concerning by the day, 2019 feels like a lifetime ago. There is certainly a part of me that feels foolish writing about fantasy football while the world struggles with the issues of racism, police violence, and rioting, all while the threat of a pandemic looms in the background. But if you are like me, there reaches a point where you need to step away from the important issues and focus on the things that make you happy. And for me, this stupid game of fantasy football makes me happy.

So with that in mind, I wanted to look back at 2019 and shine a spotlight on some of the players who’s seasons were more complicated than their overall stat line would lead you to believe. In this recurring series, we will look at some players who were maddeningly inconsistent from week to week, so much so that your start/sit decisions produced many a sleepless night. Others were players who accumulated great fantasy stats in hard to repeat circumstances. But as we move further along into the whirlwind that is 2020, here are some details from last year that the fantasy football community seems to be forgetting.

 

Joe Mixon: High-Volume Rushing Attempts in Losses

 

In a season where the Cincinnati Bengals went 2-14, Joe Mixon had a fascinating year from a fantasy perspective. Mixon struggled through the first eight games of 2019, averaging just 40 rushing yards on 12.6 attempts per game. He had three games with ten or fewer rushing yards and failed to reach 20 rushing attempts in any of the Bengals’ first eight games. All three of his touchdowns came in the passing game, where he chipped in 2.4 receptions for 13.8 yards per game, less than stellar numbers. As fantasy owners everywhere left Mixon for dead on a winless Bengals team, something changed in the second half of the season. Coming out of their Week 9 bye, the Bengals recommitted to the run, and Mixon thrived.

 

Mixon’s 1st and 2nd Half Per Game Stats

 

Over the final eight weeks, Mixon averaged 22.1 carries for 102 yards per game, scored five total touchdowns (all on the ground), and produced all four of his 100-yard games for the season. Mixon received 15 or more carries in all eight games and topped 20 rushing attempts in five of eight games. Patient fantasy owners were rewarded, and common sense would suggest that Mixon and the Bengals offense will carry this momentum over into 2020. Unfortunately, it may not be that simple.

Mixon’s turnaround started in Week 9 against the Baltimore Ravens, where the Bengals force-fed him the ball to the tune of 30 carries for 114 yards rushing. That sounds like a game where the Bengals jumped out to an early lead and played ball-control offense in the second half of a 49-13 victory, right? What’s that, the Bengals lost 49-13? For some perspective on just how rare this is, Mixon became just the fifth running back since 2010 to rush 30 or more times in a loss. The other games saw the running back’s team lose by 3, 6, 3, and 14 points, while Mixon’s Bengals lost by 36.

 

30+ Rush Attempts in a Loss Since 2010

 

Later in the season, Mixon would reel off three straight 20+ carry games in losses from Weeks 14 through 16, including 25 carries in a Week 15 loss to the New England Patriots. For more perspective, there have been 66 instances of a running back rushing 25 or more times in a loss since 2010. Sorting by the margin of defeat, Mixon accomplished this feat in the second and fourth biggest blowouts on the list — his 2019 games against the Patriots and Ravens. Only Steven Jackson’s 25 carries in a 44-6 loss in 2010 can “top” Mixon’s performance against the Ravens.

 

Largest Margin of Defeat with a 25+ Carry RB Since 2010

 

So, what does this mean for 2020?

Applying Mixon’s 2019 to the upcoming season is tough for many reasons. Joe Burrow takes over at quarterback, which has the potential to immediately inject life into a below-average offense. This will surely help Mixon’s fantasy prospects. However, the Bengals are projected to be a five or six-win team by most betting markets, meaning that they likely will be playing from behind quite a bit for the second-straight year. Can Mixon count on 20+ carries per game in losses as he did in the second half of 2019? Or will Burrow be slinging the ball around now that the Bengals have a potential franchise quarterback? Mixon’s 2020 season may come down to his much anticipated passing game breakout, as his talent as a receiver is better than his career-high 296 receiving yards from 2018 would indicate. But that is a topic for another day. In the end, Mixon finished as the RB13 overall in PPR leagues in 2019. But as our 2020 drafts approach, we should keep in mind that Mixon wasn’t your typical, consistent high-end RB2.

 

Amari Cooper: 7 Games Under 50 Yards Receiving

 

If you were to simply look at where Amari Cooper finished in the overall receiver rankings in 2019, you’d see a soon-to-be 26-year-old coming off of his best statistical season. Cooper finished as the WR10 overall in PPR leagues and the WR15 on a point per game basis, racking up 79 receptions for 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns. Cooper’s age, draft pedigree (4th overall in the 2015 draft), and production (1,000 receiving yards in four of five seasons) would have you believe that Cooper is among the league’s elite young receivers entering 2020. So why is Cooper being passed up by receivers like D.J. Moore, A.J. Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Robinson, Cooper Kupp, and Adam Thielen according to early ADP on some sites? Those who rostered Cooper in 2019 are frantically raising their hands with the answer to that question.

Cooper’s 2019 was a rollercoaster for those who drafted him. Here are the highlights (or lowlights):

  • Cooper began making news in the preseason, as he missed time from early August up until the regular-season opener with a foot injury. Diagnosed as plantar fasciitis, Cooper has battled this injury dating back to his time in college at Alabama and has had numerous injury issues with his right foot and ankle throughout his career. Cooper has missed a game here and there during his career but typically has been able to play through the pain, making it difficult to know just how much his foot has slowed him at times. Cooper started Week 1 and played 76% of the Cowboys’ snaps, and by Week 2 was up to 91% of the snaps and seemingly healthy.

  • Cooper would need an MRI on his ankle in late September but did not miss a game, and in fact, played a season-high 97% of the snaps against the Saints the following week.

  • On October 13, Cooper was knocked out of a loss to the Jets after just three snaps with a thigh bruise, giving those who rostered him a near goose-egg that they likely still haven’t forgotten. He was back the next week, playing 81% of the snaps and topping 100 yards receiving.

  • The following week, on November 4, Cooper suffered a knee patella sprain and briefly exited the game, though he was able to return. Cooper had one of his best weeks of the season the following game against Minnesota, and the fantasy community finally thought Cooper had made it through his injury issues. The bottom fell out the following weeks, however, as Cooper played just 56% of the snaps against Detroit in Week 11, and despite playing 81% of the snaps against New England in Week 12 Cooper was shut out on just two targets.

  • Week 13 against the Bills saw Cooper leave with a knee injury that would later require an x-ray, though he would return to the game. He had a productive next game on 78% of the offensive snaps only to bottom out again, combining for 43 yards in Weeks 15 and 16 despite playing 71% and 74% of the snaps, respectively.

Here’s what Cooper’s game log looked like to get the full perspective of his ups and downs.

 

Amari Cooper 2019 Gamelog

 

In 2019 there were just 11 games where a wide receiver topped 30 PPR points with fewer than two touchdowns, and Cooper accounted for two of those games. Cooper was a week-winner on his good days, and his eight receiving touchdowns were more than acceptable. On his bad days, however, Cooper submarined fantasy teams. Cooper failed to reach 50 receiving yards in seven games in 2019, an unacceptable number for a duo as talented as Cooper and quarterback Dak Prescott. And while injuries certainly played a role in his down weeks, it was nearly impossible to tell if that was the case, as Cooper often played the next game after injury, only for fantasy players to experience heartbreak two or three weeks after the fact. So what does this mean for his 2020 outlook? As usual with Cooper, it’s a bit of a conundrum.

On the plus side, Cooper is coming off his best year as a pro, and his career-high 15.1 yards per reception topped explosive players like Tyreek Hill and Julio Jones. Cooper has hopefully had an offseason to heal, and as an added bonus the Cowboys have freed themselves from the stale play-calling of head coach Jason Garrett. Dallas projects to be one of the league’s elite offenses in 2020, and Cooper and Prescott have formed an excellent connection over the past season and a half.

Those looking for negatives when considering Cooper will point to the Cowboys’ first-round draft pick, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb out of Oklahoma. A high-end prospect, Lamb will fight Cooper for targets along with impressive third-year receiver Michael Gallup (16.8 yards reception, even better than Cooper), potentially making Cooper even more boom and bust in 2020. And coming off a 2019 season that saw Cooper fail to catch even two passes in three different games, that could be enough to drop him down the rankings in a league that is full of young, talented receivers.

 

Conclusion

 

As we get further and further away from the 2019 season, it’s important not to lose sight of what it was like to roster players like Mixon and Cooper on a weekly basis. Fantasy football is, after all, a weekly game.

While Mixon finished as a fringe RB1 in 2019, this far from encapsulates his season. He sunk many fantasy teams over the first half of the season, leading plenty of owners to no doubt bench him ahead of his 30 carry game against a superior Ravens team. Some of Mixon’s big performances during the final eight games of 2019 came while the Bengals were quite literally running out the clock on their season. Mixon has other areas of his game that he can improve on, such as pass-catching and touchdowns, but we probably shouldn’t count on another season with high rushing totals in losses.

As for Cooper, he epitomized the boom/bust receiver during the 2019 season, so his WR10 finish is deceiving. It’s hard to determine how much of his inconsistencies were a result of his injuries and whether more competition from Lamb will have an effect on his numbers. So much about Cooper’s profile hints at a higher level of fantasy performance in his future, but many of his pressing questions are nearly impossible to answer.

Both Mixon and Cooper will be under heavy scrutiny as early-round fantasy selections in 2020. While their new situations leave a lot to be analyzed as our drafts slowly approach, don’t forget what lessons we learned from their 2019 seasons.

 

(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

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