After selecting Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper with the No. 4 overall selection in this year’s NFL draft, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio made little secret about his stoically confident approach.
“You’ll see when he’s here, he’s very serious about football,” Del Rio said. “Very business-like in his approach, a fairly quiet, soft-spoken young man, mature. Football is very important to him.”
At his introduction in Alameda on Friday, Cooper backed up his new coach’s words. With the franchise’s three Vince Lombardi trophies at his back, and general manager Reggie McKenzie and Del Rio at his sides, perhaps the loudest thing about the 6-foot-1, 210-pound first-rounder was his deep-black, crushed-velvet blazer.
When pushed about whether playing in the NFL was the main dream he had growing up, Cooper replied with a simple “Yes.”
Cooper’s selection was followed by a pair of important early-round selections on Friday. In the second round, the Raiders selected defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., a 6-foot-3, 279-pound defensive end. The Florida State product was an All-ACC First Team and All-American selection in 2014, when he posted 11 tackles for a loss and three sacks. He had 89 tackles and eight sacks in his career.
Edwards, who started as a true freshman in 2012, also brings a strong genetic pedigree. His father Mario played in the NFL from 2000 to 2005. But the player who will be counted on to make the most immediate impact is Cooper, who was reportedly the top prospect on a number of team’s draft boards.
The 2014 Fred Biletnikoff Award-winner took questions for about 10 minutes on an array of topics, including a handful about his demeanor. At one point, he was even asked to speak up by a television videographer.
When asked how playing in the SEC translates into the NFL: “I really can’t answer that, because I’ve never played in the NFL.”
In fact, in many ways, the 20-year-old Miami native’s matter-of-fact approach was by and large refreshingly truthful. He will wear the No. 19 jersey, which was worn by one-time Raiders wide receiver Randy Moss, whom he emulated as a kid.
And when asked specifically where his direct, “no-maintenance” approach came, he responded, “I’m really not sure. It’s just how I’ve always been. It’s really hard for me to answer that question.”
Indeed, Cooper seems to save his loudest statements for the field, as evidenced by his 31 career touchdowns (most in SEC history) and 1,727 yards receiving in his junior campaign. It will be just fine for Raider fans should quarterback Derek Carr’s new target bring that same level of production to O.co Coliseum next season.
“It seems like he can [run routes] with his eyes closed,” McKenzie said. “He’s exceptionally quick, fast and understands the game. You can tell the guy’s been playing football and playing that position all his life. He’s an extremely hard worker and you don’t hear any negatives about this guy, so it’s no wonder he’s as good as he is because the intangibles outside of his skill set are extremely high.”
Cooper joins newly signed Michael Crabtree in a revamped Raiders’ receiving corps, alongside James Jones (team-high 73 catches last season) and Andre Holmes (team-leading 693 yards).
Although the franchise has not posted an 1,000 yard receiver since Moss in 2005 — Tim Brown, drafted in 1988, was the last Raiders draft pick to accomplish the feat — Carr now has a full-compliment of wideouts to potentially end that drought.
Starting with Cooper, who’ll get his chance to show off his intensely business-like approach at practice in just a few short months.
“I just treat practice as if it’s a game,” Cooper said. “I try to visualize me running those routes in practice like I’m running them in the game, so I just take practice really serious. That’s it.”
That quality and deep dedication was certainly not lost on team management.
“I think that mindset he brings is one that we are building here in terms of understanding the correlation between practice and the performance you give during practice,” Del Rio said. “Having a healthy appreciation of that is a good thing, and that we’re working very hard to develop to make sure guys understand that.”Amari CooperJack Del RioNFLOakland Raiders & NFLRaiders