This is the first football post for ‘Who’s Up Next?’ With the NFL season right around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to start writing about America’s true pastime. For the duration of the ‘Who’s Up Next?’ series, I will be covering both NBA and NFL players.
Amari Cooper is nothing short of a star in the making. There’s an argument to be made that he’s too good to be considered on the way up, but I disagree. We have seen just a sliver of Cooper’s true potential.
Cooper was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the fourth overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. The former Alabama wide receiver had a very productive rookie season:
120 targets, 72 receptions, 1,070 yards, six touchdowns, 10 drops
It’s not too often that rookie wide receivers have over 1,000 yards. It’s happened more frequently in recent years, as the league has begun to become more reliant on passing, but historically, it is rare. This puts Cooper in the company of receivers like A.J. Green, Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin and Odell Beckham Jr.
Cooper is a wide receiver who, unlike Moss’ height or Beckham’s insane hands, doesn’t have a defining trait. He’s of average height for a receiver, at 6’1″, and definitely needs to work on his pass catching. Cooper’s true defining skill is everything.
He’s a great route runner who knows how to manipulate defenders into thinking he’s going one way, then cutting the other direction. Cooper knows how to get open and does frequently.
The 22-year-old Raider is also adept at avoiding big hits, while not being afraid to run routes across the middle of the field.
He has decent speed, clocked at 4.42 sec in the 40-yard dash, but can’t truly blow by defenders. Cooper is more of a threat changing directions, and he showed that at the NFL Combine. He had a 6.71 sec three-cone drill, and a 3.98 sec 20-yard shuffle.
So Cooper runs crisp routes, knows how to get open, and can change directions with the best of them, what can he get better at?
Catching the ball.
Cooper was tied for second in the NFL in drops last year, with 10. He dropped nearly 8 percent of passes thrown his way. That’s certainly not good, but Cooper is only 22. If he can learn to limit those drops, he’s not far away from legitimately being an elite receiver.
As third-year QB Derek Carr continues to improve, so will Cooper. Don’t be surprised if Amari is a top-10 wide receiver in two years.