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Can Jon Gruden Fix Derek Carr and Amari Cooper?

The Oakland Raiders made one of the biggest splash hires coming out of the 2017 NFL Season, hiring Jon Gruden as their next head coach. Gruden was formerly the head coach of the Raiders from 1998-2001 and of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002-2007, where he won one Super Bowl. The Raiders signed Gruden to an astronomical 10-year, $100 Million contract, dwarfing those of other coaches around the league both in salary and in longevity. The question on the minds of most fantasy players is whether Jon Gruden will “fix” Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, who are both coming off of disappointing campaigns in 2017.

Jon GrudenLet’s start with a few basics before really picking apart the question. With Gruden as either the Offensive Coordinator (Philadelphia Eagles from 1995-1997) or the Head Coach, his teams averaged a 60.5 Completion Percentage, 3,604 Passing Yards, 20.93 Passing Touchdowns, and an efficiency of 6.81 Yards per Attempt (Y/A), which are not stellar by today’s NFL standards. Those numbers resemble Blake Bortles’s 2017 season, and they aren’t very far off from Case Keenum or Derek Carr of 2017. Bortles finished 2017 as the QB16 in fantasy points per game, Keenum the QB15, and Carr the QB20. The league is certainly more pass-heavy than it was when Gruden was coaching previously, though. The average passing statistics under Gruden align more with Drew Bledsoe from 1998, for example (who finished 6th in the league in Passing Yards). Bledsoe finished as the QB10 overall that year, though partially limited by his mobility and rushing production for fantasy scoring purposes. This roughly holds on average, though Gruden’s days in Oakland and Tampa Bay look very different. In Oakland, Gruden had Rich Gannon under center for 3 out of his 4 years. Gannon finished as the QB3 each year (but the QB1 and the NFL MVP in 2002 after Gruden left). None of Gruden’s Tampa Bay QBs even came close to Gannon’s success under Gruden. Gannon’s only successful years came in the 4-year stretch under Gruden from 1999-2001 and in 2002 immediately following Gruden’s departure. All of this amounts to a very unclear answer as to whether Gruden will have a positive impact on Derek Carr moving forward.

The next question becomes whether he can help Amari Cooper. Under Gruden with the Eagles, Raiders, and Buccaneers, the team’s WR1 averaged 79 Receptions on 136 Targets for 1,142 Receiving Yards and 7.5 Receiving Touchdowns per season. Those numbers resemble roughly a mixture of Tyreek Hill and Adam Thielen from 2017. Hill and Thielen finished as the WR7 and WR10, respectively, in fantasy points per game in PPR formats. Especially in an era focused less on passing, that looks very promising. Gruden had Joey Galloway as his WR1 for three seasons, 2005-2007 in Tampa Bay. Galloway’s finishes in standard (non-PPR) fantasy scoring were WR5, WR17, and WR18. Galloway’s 2005 season was the best season by a WR under Gruden’s coaching. 2017 was a bit of a down year for WR fantasy scoring, which explains why Galloway’s best finish is WR5 and Gruden’s WR1 average looks like the WR7-WR10 range from the 2017 group. In 2016, for example, the average pretty closely resembles Amari Cooper’s WR12 season. Again, our result is uncertain at best. Gruden-led offenses can certainly support a WR1 for fantasy purposes, but the bigger question is whether Amari Cooper or Michael Crabtree is the WR1 on Oakland. In 2017, Crabtree saw a higher target share (percentage of team’s targets), and that difference became even worse for Cooper in the Red Zone, and even worse again in the End Zone.

Raiders WRs Michael Crabtree Amari Cooper
Target Share 22.10% 20.00%
Red Zone Target Share 35.00% 24.40%
End Zone Target Share 53.10% 16.10%

So, the production of Gruden’s players historically doesn’t give clear answers into whether he will be able to produce the Derek Carr and Amari Cooper that fantasy players want. Perhaps Gruden’s play-calling tendencies will help determine what to expect in 2018 from the offense, as Gruden is planning to handle play-calling duties for the Raiders. As the adage goes, volume is king, so a pass-happy attack will cure many ailments for Carr and Cooper. Here’s how play-calling looked while Gruden was the Head Coach of the Raiders and Buccaneers.

Year Passes Rushes Ratio
1998 519 449 1.16
1999 520 488 1.07
2000 475 520 0.91
2001 553 450 1.23
2002 567 414 1.37
2003 592 421 1.41
2004 512 393 1.3
2005 487 457 1.07
2006 535 404 1.32
2007 490 449 1.09
2008 562 451 1.25
Average 528.36 445.09 1.19

The total number of plays in the NFL in 2017 comes out to a pass to run ratio of 1.36, which is surpassed only by Gruden’s first two seasons with the Buccaneers. It’s probably safe to say that Gruden won’t be one of the more pass-happy coaches in the NFL next year. Considering that Derek Carr has a career efficiency of 6.5 Y/A, it would take 615 Pass Attempts at that rate to reach 4,000 Passing Yards. None of Gruden’s teams have ever attempted more than 592 Pass Plays, and those were not all with the same QB under center, so expecting Derek Carr to finish as a 4,000 yard passer seems unwise. If we exclude his rookie season, it would only take 577 attempts (at his 6.93 Y/A from 2015-2017). That’s still nearly 50 attempts higher than teams under Gruden averaged, and more than any Rich Gannon team under Gruden. 4,000 yards for Carr still seems lofty. In his three years in the league, Amari Cooper has seen 21.7% of Derek Carr’s targets.

Derek CarrIf Carr throws 577 passes, at his career target rate, Cooper would see 125 targets. If we use Cooper’s career catch rate and yards per reception, he would catch 71 of those targets for 1,015 yards. It would have taken 9 Receiving Touchdowns for Amari Cooper to finish as a WR1 this year in fantasy with those numbers (he would have just passed Marvin Jones and A.J. Green to finish as the WR11 if that was the case). That scoring number seems very lofty considering that Cooper sees a drop in target share when the team gets closer to the end zone. The prospects of Derek Carr and Amari Cooper entering the elite company of fantasy studs does not seem increased by the arrival of Jon Gruden. It certainly looks more likely for Cooper than Carr, as Cooper may become the WR1 if the team elects to cut Crabtree this offseason as has been rumored. Amari Cooper can safely be called a buy-low candidate for Dynasty players at this point, and will likely be a nice value in 2018 drafts, while Carr does not offer that appeal.

Will Jon Gruden’s arrival awaken Derek Carr and Amari Cooper? No one really knows, but suffice it to say that it seems unlikely that we’ll see either one finish as a top-end fantasy option in 2018. That could change significantly if Michael Crabtree is no longer with the team, but if he is still in a Raiders uniform, I will advise betting the “under” on most player props for both. If Crabtree does in fact leave the team, Cooper could easily enter the high-end WR1 conversation based on target upside.

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