Can Amari Cooper Live Up To The Hype?

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Amari Cooper is a sensational wide receiver who’s more than made his mark in college football. But will he actually be as good with the Oakland Raiders as his college production suggests, or will he ultimately blend into the deep, league-wide pool of talented players at his position?

In his final year at Alabama, he caught 124 passes for 16 touchdowns and a ridiculous 1,727 yards. Those numbers got him Heisman consideration, and while he ultimately didn’t win the award, it was crystal clear that Cooper was among the most talented offensive football players in the country. He absolutely looked the part of a future NFL star, and playing for Alabama in a stacked SEC that essentially serves as an NFL minor league system, he did most of his work against the best competition you can find in college.

So how will that translate to the NFL? If you’re wondering from a fantasy football perspective, my advice would be to exercise caution. Cooper’s college numbers are nothing short of eye-popping, and he’s expected to be the Raiders’ WR1 on opening week. He’s a pretty clear pick as the most talented rookie wide receiver, and a lot of people like Oakland quarterback Derek Carr as a second-year player who could ultimately become a reliable franchise cornerstone. Try not to get swept up in all of that, though. Keep in mind, I just used the words “Raiders” and “Derek Carr,” which aren’t exactly exciting terms for fantasy players.

Amari Cooper will certainly have his moments from a pure numbers standpoint. He even has a chance to be the best of the rookie wide receivers when it comes to fantasy scoring. But even if Carr is a promising QB (and he is), and Cooper is WR1 (and he will be), this offense as a whole will be somewhat limited. Carr flashed some ability a year ago, but no pass catcher on the team came anywhere near fantasy relevance.

On the other hand, if we can get away from the public’s obsession with statistics for a moment, Amari Cooper ultimately projects as a very strong, and potentially Pro Bowl caliber wide receiver.

At roughly 6’1’’, 215 pounds, Cooper is the perfect size to be a versatile pass catcher, as opposed to someone who fills a given role. He’s not just a slot guy, or a deep threat. He isn’t a towering, physical type to dominate the goal line, and he’s not so fast he’ll leave cornerbacks in his dust. But what he has is a little bit of the physique and ability to fill each of those roles simultaneously. He’s fast enough, big enough, and strong enough to beat defenses in just about any way he’s asked to.

The biggest red flag is probably his height, where he comes up a little short compared to most of the wide receivers dominating the game today. But Cooper has outstanding hands and the sort of timing and athleticism that allows him to play above his height against bigger defenders. These traits were some of the reasons that ESPN’s Mel Kiper favored a Marvin Harrison comparison for Cooper during pre-draft analysis, and it’s kind of a tough comparison to get out of your head once you watch Amari Cooper play. He’s just the same type of well-rounded, intelligent, gritty receiver, and if the Raiders land themselves a Harrison type, the mood should be pretty happy in Oakland.

A lot of Amari Cooper’s development will ultimately depend on Carr, and how quickly he can become the quarterback his supporters believe he’ll be. And really, Carr showed quite a bit of poise and improvement in the latter portion of his rookie season. For the year, he averaged passing and threw 21 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. But in his last four games, all of which actually came against pretty good defenses, he averaged and tallied seven touchdowns to just one interception. To put that in perspective, Carr’s touchdown to interception ratio went from 14:11 in the first 12 games to 7:1 in his last four. That doesn’t mean he’s headed to the Hall of Fame just yet, but it justifies some of the hype coming out of Oakland.

But the thing is, Carr doesn’t need to become Peyton Manning for Cooper to justify the Harrison comparisons. Cooper is simply too talented and reliable not to become a top-notch wide receiver. Every indication from his time in college was that he’s a very hard working player, and the early word from Raiders preseason is that he’s already impressed coaches and teammates alike with his abilities.

In five or six years, don’t be surprised if we look back and say the Raiders got the best offensive player in the 2015 draft.

 

TUSCALOOSA, AL – OCTOBER 18:  Amari Cooper #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide pulls in this reception for a touchdown against Deshazor Everett #29 of the Texas A&M Aggies at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)