The hype-train for the 2016 Oakland Raiders left the station months ago. Despite the fact that the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002, the future looks bright for the Silver and Black. A combination of good drafting, consistent coaching, and dumb luck has given the Raider faithful something to be excited about. Khalil Mack is rapidly expanding his trophy-case, Derek Carr is set for a breakout season, and Latavius Murray is set for a huge year. Despite being a crucial part of the offense, one player that hasn’t received a ton of specific attention is wide receiver Amari Cooper.
The Sky Is the Limit for Amari Cooper
Despite having a promising rookie year, people are still sleeping on Amari Cooper. The 22 year old receiver is coming off of a rookie season that saw him catch 72 catches for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns. Those are the most by a 21 year old in NFL history, but perhaps to the naked eye, they don’t seem incredibly impressive. Cooper was 33rd in catches, 20th in yards, and only 29th in touchdown catches. For a receiver that is receiving incredible off-season hype, these numbers don’t add up.
The biggest criticism of Amari Cooper as a rookie was that he had inconsistent hands. At the end of the season, Cooper was tied with New York‘s Brandon Marshall and Carolina‘s Ted Ginn Jr. for the second most drops in the league with ten. Drops are a scary problem for receivers to have. Firstly, catching the ball is a receiver’s first job. Secondly, not every dropped ball falls harmlessly to the turf. Sometimes the ball is caught, but by the other team.
However, it’s not uncommon for rookies to have problems with drops. For the first time in their lives, these young receivers aren’t the best athletes on the field. They’re used to blowing by defenders with raw athleticism alone. Learning how to play in an advanced pro offense against incredible defensive backs can be a lot for young players to handle. And beyond that, Cooper has another excuse.
Nagging Foot Injury
During a practice before their week 14 game against the Denver Broncos, Cooper suffered a devastating foot injury. General manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio considered shutting Cooper down for the season, but the rookie insisted that he keep playing. Despite his toughness, there’s no question that the injury hurt his performance on the field.
Before the injury, Cooper was averaging five catches for about 77 yards a game. After the injury, he caught two fewer passes and only 38 yards per game. Not only did Cooper’s numbers fall off, but so did Carr’s. Derek Carr averaged 265 yards, two touchdowns and an interception each game before Cooper’s injury. Afterwards, he still averaged two touchdowns a game, but he threw for 63 fewer yards and an extra interception. Without Cooper’s injury, who knows what the last quarter of the season could have been like for the Raiders.
Cooper is a truly unique talent. He’s got good size, great speed, and despite some growing pains, great hands. He’s so explosive out of his cuts that he’s dangerous with or without the ball. Every time that Amari Cooper touches the ball, there’s a threat for a home run. Last year against the San Diego Chargers, Cooper took a screen 52 yards to the house, and absolutely humiliated a young defensive back. Cooper has all of the tools, the only question is whether he can stay healthy.
2016 should be a great year for Amari Cooper. An improved offensive line, a mature Derek Carr, and two healthy feet should work wonders for the former first round pick. With more time to develop, Cooper should evolve into one of the best receivers in the league.