The decadelong search for a game-breaking wide receiver in Oakland has ended, but Amari Cooper has bigger sights this season — starting Sunday in Pittsburgh.
The rookie star is already poised to take his place alongside the many talented receivers in Raiders history. He became the first NFL rookie in more than a half-century to record three 100-yard receiving performances in the first six games of the season. He has put together a highlight reel with his precise footwork, big-play ability after the catch and fearless nature.
In his latest feat, he spent a day on Revis Island and came out of it unscathed.
“He’s awesome, man,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said after the Raiders beat the Jets 34-20 last Sunday. “It was fun watching him out there. They had a great game plan, moving him around and a lot of places to give him the ball. Awesome. The sky is the limit for him. A special player, he is.”
Revis is widely considered the best cover cornerback of his generation and has made a career of eliminating the opponent’s top receiving option. He spent almost the entire day matched up with Cooper but Derek Carr showed signs of shying away.
Cooper beat Revis deep on Oakland’s first play from scrimmage only to have Carr overthrow him. But that set the tone for the day. Cooper caught a 12-yard pass on the opening drive, added two receptions for first downs the next time the Raiders had the ball and finished the day with five catches for 46 yards.
“He’s amazing, he’s awesome and he’s one of the best in this league,” Carr said. “Obviously, because he’s a rookie and hasn’t done it for a certain amount of time, people won’t say that but he’s one of the best.”
Cooper could have bigger numbers if the Raiders didn’t have so much success throwing to Michael Crabtree and Andre Holmes against Antonio Cromartie and New York’s other cornerbacks.
But he has put up gaudy numbers so far this season with 38 catches for 565 yards and three touchdowns. Cooper is on pace for 1,291 yards receiving, which would give Oakland its first 1,000-yard receiver since Randy Moss in 2005. Only two Raiders have ever had more yards receiving in a season — Hall of Famer Tim Brown and Art Powell.
Only four NFL rookies have ever had a more prolific season: Bill Groman (1,473), Anquan Boldin (1,377), Moss (1,313), and Odell Beckham Jr. (1,305).
“I feel like there’s room to grow and that I can play so much better than I am right now,” Cooper said.
That kind of response is typical of Cooper, who prefers to do his talking through his play on the field. Unlike some top receivers who get the “diva” label, Cooper is mostly quiet and rarely shows emotion on the field.
He has earned respect around the league that doesn’t often come to rookies. Jets receiver Brandon Marshall called him a “stud muffin” last week, and New York coach Todd Bowles praised his intelligence and said he plays well beyond his years.
Cooper entered the league as the fourth overall pick out of Alabama known as a polished route runner. Cooper said he has been training as a receiver since he was a young kid running patterns in the backyard and that has paid off for him.
What has been a little bit of a surprise is how dangerous he is after the catch. Cooper has been able to turn short passes into big gains, most notably when he took a screen from Carr and ran 52 yards for a score against San Diego, featuring an ankle-breaking cut to elude safety Jimmy Wilson.
“I think a lot of the plays at Alabama you saw him streaking down the sideline,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “He’s caught some balls in the middle of the field for us and made people miss or caught balls on the sideline and stopped, started and juked. It’s amazing stuff.”
The Raiders hope to see plenty more of it.