Pop quiz: How old is Amari Cooper?
With Michael Crabtree jettisoned, Cooper is atop the depth chart.
Heading into his fourth season with the Silver & Black and with a brand new head coach and play caller in town, will Cooper be the alpha in the Raiders’ wide receiver room?
Jon Gruden is hell-bent on making sure it happens.
“I said it when he came out of Alabama, that he reminded me of a young Tim Brown,” the Raiders head coach said. “He has that type of game speed. He’s elusive and has a wide range of routes he can run. He’s flexible. It’ll benefit him to stay healthy and stay in the same system for a few years. If he does that, great things are ahead.
“We are really excited about him. I think he’s entering the prime of his career.”
Wow. That’s a hell of a comparison.
Yet, Gruden is right. Not only will Cooper hit age 24 come June 17 — you’d think he’d be a lot older heading into year four in the NFL — but Brown didn’t hit his stride until year five. By year six and age 27, Brown was compiling his hall of fame resume.
Not saying Cooper is going to be in the same realm as Brown when all is said and done, but he’s got the tools.
In fact, Brown is just as confident as Gruden, stating Cooper is going to thrive in Gruden’s offense and “120 to 125 caches a year without any problem” is his expected mark.
In three seasons, Cooper hauled in two 1,000-plus yard season (2,223 yards and 11 touchdowns combined) before a 48-catch, 680-yard head-scratcher this past season. (He did set a career-high in touchdowns: Seven.)
Cooper has yet to meet the lofty expectations that come with being the fourth-overall pick in the 2015 draft. Don’t get it twisted, Cooper hasn’t been atrocious. Far from it. But he hasn’t been magnificent, either. Case in point: Cooper hasn’t sniffed the elite status fellow Top 5 pick Khalil Mack (No. 5 overall in 2014) developed to.
One could certainly argue Cooper has been a relative disappointment considering the pedigree he had coming in from Alabama.
A myriad of reasons exist as to why the wide receiver hasn’t been a consistent threat. He wasn’t thrown the ball enough. Not enough plays were designed specifically for him. Quarterback Derek Carr looked for the sure-handed Crabtree in the red zone as soon as he got the snap.
For Gruden, Cooper’s rollercoaster performance is due to the wideout being dinged.
“He has to get healthy and stay healthy,” Gruden said. “We need him to be the player he was the first two years. I’ve said it earlier. We’re going to make him the main vein of our passing offense and move him around a lot.”
Is the Brown comparison and placing the burden of aerial production too much for Cooper? It shouldn’t be. He came from a collegiate program steeped in pressure. Nick Saban isn’t Mr. Nice Guy, by any means.
Cooper came into the league as an exemplary route runner with deceptive speed (in and out of breaks and down the field). He was polished. And Gruden wants to make his top receiving options even shinier.
It’s imperative Cooper ascend to another level. It’s equally critical Gruden assist and allow him to do so. The time to provide excuses is over. All that’s left is to explain why Cooper is so good. Gruden can do that in a very colorful way.
The onus of making Cooper elite is on the wideout’s and Gruden’s shoulders.
After all, heat and pressure do make the finest diamonds.