The Raiders receiving corps will no doubt get a makeover this offseason. It doesn’t appear Michael Crabtree is in their plans, and the team is likely to add a pass catcher (or two) in free agency or the draft.
But Oakland would be foolish to part ways with Amari Cooper, even though he took a step back in 2017.
Cooper often disappeared from the Raiders’ game plans this past season. He also had trouble with drops. He went from 83 catches and 1,153 receiving yards in 2016 to 48 catches for 680 yards. It would be tempting for the Raiders to perhaps trade him and get what they can if they believe his performance was a sign that Cooper already has peaked.
But Cooper is just 23 years old and entering his fourth NFL season. He has two 1,000-yard seasons and has shown that when he’s in the game plan, he can be an impact player.
In a 31-30 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs this season, Cooper took over the game, catching 11 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. In the season finale against the Chargers, he had three catches for a whopping 115 yards and a score.
Yet in four games he was targeted four or fewer times. In two others he was thrown to just five times. It could be that Cooper will rebound in Jon Gruden’s offense in 2018 and become the dynamic receiver he was in his first two seasons. He was targeted 132 times in 2016 but just 96 times in 2017.
Josh Dubow of the Associated Press noted this week that Gruden has had a 1,000-yard receiver in all 11 of his seasons as an NFL head coach.
Former Raiders standout wide receiver Tim Brown believes Cooper can still be a star and that Gruden will be perfect for him and the entire passing game.
“If he can’t (fix Cooper) nobody can,” Brown told Dubow. “There’s no doubt about it. For Amari, this is going to be an incredible opportunity for him to have 120, 125 catches a year without any problem.”
Some have suggested Cooper was suffering from injuries that were undisclosed. Others believe Cooper’s lack of production was on first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing.
Wrote Scott Pianowski of Yahoo! Sports: “Did his confidence get crushed in the middle of the team’s slump? Could anyone have taken off with the struggling (Derek) Carr? This is one case where all we have is wild guesses, no definitive leads.”
Like Brown, Pianowski believes having Gruden as “a different voice in Cooper’s ear” could spark him to make a big comeback in 2018.