Cooper Could Grow from Good to Great in Second Season

Wide receiver Amari Cooper, healthy and rested after rookie season, could be poised for huge numbers, based on growth rate of some other top NFL receivers

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As a rookie in 2011, Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons had 54 catches for 959 yards. In Year 2 those numbers rose to 79 for 1,198. Also in 2011, the Bengals’ A.J. Green had 65 catches for 1,057 yards in his debut season, which he topped with 97 catches for 1,350 yards in 2012.

In his first NFL season of 2004, Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals had 58 catches for 780 yards. That was followed in 2005 by 103 catches for 1,409.

All three – Jones, Green and Fitzgerald – came into the NFL as prized wide receiver prospects and each was among the NFL receiving leaders in 2015. All three lived up to their billing in their first seasons – but then had huge second years.

So, with Raiders standout Amari Cooper coming off a solid first year, what can the Raiders expect from him in Year 2?

Possibly, much, much more.

In 2015, Cooper was terrific, catching 72 passes for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns. He had some untimely drops, but for the most part showed he was the field-stretching playmaker the Raiders needed.

Midway through Cooper’s rookie season, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr praised his favorite target.

“He’s amazing, he’s awesome and he’s one of the best in the league,” Carr told reporters. “Obviously because he’s a rookie and hasn’t done it for a certain amount of time, people won’t stay that, but he’s one of the best.”

The analytics website Pro Football Focus also judged Cooper as one of the NFL’s top first-year players.

But as good as Cooper’s numbers were, they dropped off considerably late in the season because of a foot injury that limited his speed and explosiveness. He had just 10 catches over his final four games for only 150 yards, including just four for 30 in the final two games.

Now, as Cooper comes back healthy leading into 2016 and with the knowledge gained from his first season, it seems likely that Cooper is poised to take a big step forward this season, just as Jones, Green and Fitzgerald did in their second years.

Conor Orr, an analyst with NFL.com, wrote about the Raiders’ strengths and weaknesses in a recent story and noted that Cooper could be primed for bigger things this fall and winter.

“How great will Amari Cooper become?” he asked. “Cooper was excellent in nearly all aspects last year, but had just three catches for 38 yards (and seven targets) in the red zone. That’s some nitpicking on a rookie who had a majority of his catches in pressure situations (when trailing) and caught more than half his targets on both first-and-10 and third-and-10.”

After his rookie season, Cooper admitted he was banged up and ready to get some rest – but eager to improve in 2016.

“I’m definitely not fresh,” he told the media. “Got a couple of nicks and bruises that I need to get fixed in the offseason, but everything will heal up and I’ll be just fine.”

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