This week, Raiders rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper is in Hawaii. He's enjoying the weather, his first Pro Bowl experience and getting ready for this Sunday’s game.
All seems right in his world. His foot injury has had a chance to heal and he’s even formed a friendship with Bengals cornerback Adam Jones, who tusseled with him in the 2015 season opener, ripping off his helmet and slamming his head against it. On Wednesday, Jones posted a photo on his Instagram account of he and Cooper together. The two were selected to play on the same side in Sunday’s Pro Bowl.
But also yesterday, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie revealed that Cooper’s foot injury was considered more serious than the team let on.
In an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio, McKenzie told Alex Marvez that the Raiders considered “shutting down” Cooper in December because of the foot injury. The team decided not to, however, and Cooper finished out the season, though his ability to cut and accelerate away from defenders was greatly impaired. Cooper wound up playing all 16 games, catching 72 passes for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns. However, over the final four games, Cooper wasn’t the same player he was through the first week of December. In the final month of games Cooper had just 10 catches for 150 yards. That included just four catches for 30 yards over the final two games.
McKenzie said Wednesday that he was impressed by how Cooper toughed it out, playing through the discomfort to try to help his team.
Cooper finished his first year as the only Raiders receiver ever to have a 1,000-yard season.
Barring a setback, Cooper is expected to be fully healthy for 2016, when he can start building on what he learned as a rookie. His rookie stats indicate he may be on his way to many more Pro Bowls.
As Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com noted recently, Cooper’s numbers as a rookie were far better than those of Raiders stars Fred Biletnikoff, Tim Brown and Cliff Branch in their first seasons. Biletnikoff had just 24 catches for 331 yards, Brown had 43 for 725 and Branch had only three for 41.
As Gutierrez wrote, too, Cooper was just 21 as a rookie. His 72 catches are the most ever by an NFL player 21 or younger.