If you asked 100 people who the best college wideout of last season was, maybe 90 would say Amari Cooper.
The other 10 would be Auburn fans.
With plenty of talented wide receivers at team’s disposals during this month’s draft, many people have different preferences as to who the top guy is. Some guys gravitate toward the upside and big play ability in Kevin White and DeVante Parker, but for me, the best all-around pass-catcher is Cooper. Here’s a guy (in my John Madden voice) who can seemingly catch anything from anywhere and dominated the NFL Scouting Combine.
Let’s take a closer look at our second member of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Good size for a receiver, Cooper has great speed and is very sudden out of his routes. Tremendous burst off the line of scrimmage and stays at high-end speed. His 6’1″, 211-pound frame allows him to play both outside and inside consistently, although, he’s not going to overpower you like some other wideouts in the league.
As a freshman, Cooper shattered Julio Jones’ first-year records for receptions (59) and receiving yards (1,000), while also setting a school record for receiving touchdowns in a season (11).
Again, as a freshman…
2013 wasn’t as successful, as Cooper was hampered by with nagging injuries, starting only seven games, but he still caught a strong 45 balls for 736 yards and four scores. However, he came back with a vengeance during his final season at Alabama. A Heisman finalist, Cooper dominated the SEC, hauling in 124 balls for over 1,700 yards and 16 scores, becoming the first player in NCAA history to post at least 100 catches, 1,500 yards and 14-plus touchdowns. And with those 124 receptions, he became only the second player in SEC history to reach the 100-catch mark, a rather impressive number. Cooper also won the Biletnikoff Award as a junior, given to the nation’s best wide receiver. He’s posted monster numbers in big games, including a 13-catch, 224-yard, three-touchdown performance against rival Auburn, as well as 70 yards and two touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl. Cooper may or may not have the highest ceiling among this year’s wideouts, but he 150 percent has the highest floor, which could lead to him being the first receiver selected come April 30th. He hauled in at least five passes in 85 percent of his games last year, while catching at least one touchdown pass about 65 percent of the time.
So other than his elite numbers, what else is there to love about Amari Cooper?
Cooper is very, very skilled as a route-runner and knows how to create separation from opposing defenders. He’s fluid and sudden in his breaks and has a tremendous feel for where he is on the field at all times. Simply put, the guy knows how to get open, using his hands, speed and excellent footwork to gain an advantage on his opposition.
-Gets to top end speed quickly
-Plays beyond his years
-Runs routes with precision
-Terrific awareness, especially when coming out of breaks.
-A truly intelligent player
-Well aware of different zones and coverage
-Elusive–forcing 26 missed tackles in 2014
-Blocking needs work
-Tends to drop some catchable balls
-13 drops over last two seasons
A few months ago, Cooper was the consensus number-one wide receiver prospect heading into the draft. However, lately, the hype has surrounded Kevin White and DeVante Parker, which, and it’s crazy to say, but is almost allowing Cooper to fall a tad under the radar. If he does slip towards the back end of the top-10, or even further, there are some appealing landing spots that will boost his fantasy value in year one.
Of course, there’s the possibility that the Raiders take Cooper 4th overall, which wouldn’t be outstanding for his fantasy appeal, but he’d see an insane amount of targets as the team’s unanimous number-one wideout. Last season, the Raiders surprisingly called a passing play 66.1 percent of the time, which actually led the entire NFL. They also ranked fourth in football in passing attempts per game (39.3). A large part of that had to do with them trailing in so many games, but do I care? The answer to that riddle is no. Besides, do we really expect the Raiders to transform into this ground and pound team that chews up the clock, grinds you out and (excuse me while I laugh) win games? Different riddle, same answer. No. However, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see them grab Kevin White, as they have historically been fond of the speedy receivers (see Heyward-Bey, Darrius.)
The Bears have a hole to fill at the wide receiver position after shipping Brandon Marshall to the Jets for nearly nothing. Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett can clear zones while the talented Cooper can work the underneath routes for Jay Cutler. And while I wish Marc Trestman was still calling the shots in Chicago, the Bears are still capable of rolling out a respectable passing game on Sundays.
St. Louis Rams
How many more years are the Rams going to need a receiver? If Cooper falls to them at pick number 10, I would be shocked if St. Louis didn’t pull the trigger. They don’t really have a prototypical number-one wideout, and Cooper is easily the most pro-ready wideout in this class. And while Nick Foles isn’t great, he does offer Cooper a bit of upside. Last season, according to Pro Football Focus, 18.9 percent of Foles’ passes traveled 20 yards or more down the field, which was the highest rate in the league. Granted, he only completed about 35 percent of those passes, but still, he should allow Cooper to stretch the field and make some big plays for a Rams offense that desperately needs them.
One of my favorite potential landing spots for one of these top receivers is Minnesota. I talked about it in my DeVante Parker piece, but if Cooper does fall to 12, I’d be salivating at the thought of an Amari/Teddy Bridgewater connection, who, oh by the way, were also teammates, but in high school. I fell in love with Teddy last year, and I’m not sure how many people truly realize how impressive he was in year one. For instance, according to PFF, only Alex Smith and Drew Brees posted a higher accuracy percentage than Bridgewater (77.3). And from weeks 12-17, he was a top-10 quarterback in the NFL. Also, he became the first rookie signal caller to complete at least 70 percent of his passes in four straight games. He can throw the intermediate stuff, as well as the deep ball, completing over 50 percent of such passes in college, and 47 percent during his inaugural year in Minnesota.
For me, Cooper is still the top overall receiver in this year’s class. I just think he is so pro-ready and offers upside, but the highest floor, too. Many scouts have compared him to Marvin Harrison, which I can definitely see, as well as maybe a bit more of an explosive version of Reggie Wayne. Both guys had pretty phenomenal carries, I might add.
Whoever selects Cooper on Thursday night is getting a future Pro Bowl pass-catcher.