Even when Amari Cooper isn’t at his best, he ranks as one of the NFL’s top wide receivers with the ball in his hands.
Last season, Cooper’s drop in production was well documented. Like the rest of the Raiders team, Cooper’s 2017 was mostly forgettable as Oakland tumbled from being a playoff team in 2016 to going 6-10 in 2017.
In just his third pro season, Cooper had only 48 catches and 680 yards in 2017 following consecutive 1,000-yard seasons when he pulled in 72 and 83 catches. He also disappeared often from game plans and had trouble with drops.
Yet even in 2017, Cooper showed he’s a game-breaking playmaker when he gets the ball. In a 31-30 victory over the Chiefs in October, Cooper was brilliant, pulling in 11 throws for 210 yards and two touchdowns. In a season-ending loss to the Chargers, Cooper also had a big day with 115 yards and a TD on just three catches.
How good is he after a catch?
Recently, the analytic website Football Outsiders ranked Cooper fifth among all league wideouts in a stat called Yards After Catch-plus, a sort of wonky measurement that estimates how many yards after a catch a receiver makes “compared to what we would have expected from an average receiver catching passes of a smiliar length in similar down-and-distance situations.”
According to the analysis, Cooper had a grade of +1.6 in Yards After Catch-plus, No. 5 in the NFL behind the +2.6 of Tyrell Williams of the Chargers, Keelan Cole of the Jaguars (+2.5), JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Steelers (+2.2) and Cooper Kupp of the Rams (+1.7).
Cooper’s production was better than even some acclaimed big-play receivers such as Julio Jones (+1.1), Brandin Cooks (-1.3) and his new teammate in Oakland, former Packer Jordy Nelson (-1.5).
Wrote Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders: “For as much as Amari Cooper … struggled last year, he still finished fifth in YAC+. Derek Carr … will have to get better at finding his wideouts down the field.”
New Raiders head coach Jon Gruden certainly agrees.
When he took over the team this offseason, Gruden said he wants Cooper to be the focal point of the passing attack. Cooper, if healthy, could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the change in schemes. It’s unlikely Gruden will forget to have Carr throw the ball to Cooper in 2018.
“I said it when he came out of Alabama, that he reminded me of a young Tim Brown,” Gruden told reporters this spring, referencing the Hall of Fame wideout he coached in his first stint with the Raiders. “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.”
Raiders training camp is due to open when players report July 25.