Amari Cooper is a dynamic NFL receiver. There’s no arguing that. He’s an excellent route runner with sneaky in-line speed and great elusiveness after making the catch.
The Raiders’ top target has used those skills to accumulate great performances. He is not, however, considered among the NFL’s best receivers. That’s an attainable goal, one that he’s working on.
“I just try to work on my craft and be as complete a player as possible,” Cooper said. “I’ve been focusing on being a consistent player.”
Cooper is a complete receiver, but that last part remains a work in progress. The season’s first two weeks are a great example of that. He had one nine-yard catch in the opener, and 10 receptions for 116 yards on as many targets against Denver.
Some of that has to do with coverage, but top receivers rarely get completely taken out of games. Cooper has too often in his career. He had five games with less than 10 receiving yards in 2017. He has only strung consecutive 100-yard games together twice. He has only scored touchdowns in back-to-back games once in three-plus seasons.
Injuries have played a factor late in each completed season, but Cooper has added size to his frame to improve strength and absorb hits. Many believe he can thrive under head coach Jon Gruden if he can stay healthy.
“I’ve had a chance to be around all kinds of different guys,” Gruden said. “The ones I like being around the most are guys that can do what he did on Sunday. He had 10 official catches on 10 targets. He really was 10-for-10. I’ve never had that before. He’s a great receiver. I’ve said that from the beginning. He’s strong, he’s fast, he knows what he’s doing.
"He is quiet, but we are communicating better. We’re getting to know each other. I like where this relationship is heading.”
Cooper feels his on-field relationship with Derek Carr is improving, especially in the Denver game where they were in near perfect sync.
“Our communication during that game was the best it’s been since I’ve been here,” Carr said. “We discussed adjustments, things we thought were coming up. Not even on the sideline, but in the huddle as well. Just our quick communications that we need to have to win games. I feel like all those kinds of things are growing. I think that that is the biggest difference. We know he’s talented. But those kinds of things are the biggest difference that I notice in the first two games.”
Cooper is a quiet sort, definitely not someone to find a megaphone and scream. The wide receiver has focused on improved communication with Carr during games, saying when he won route, when he could’ve done something special after the catch.
That might be Cooper’s subtle way of asking for the gosh darn ball, please.
“Talking that way and doing those things and seeing it happen in the game is what built that communication to grow,” Carr said. “’If they (cover us) like this, I’m throwing it like this.’ Over time, we really worked on it. It was growing and growing but now we’re at a point that’s a good spot for communicating during the game.”
Open communication can help Cooper produce consistently, and find ways to get the ball even when coverage is heavy.
Sunday’s game against the Dolphins would be a good time to pair dominant games together. It’s a homecoming game for Cooper, a Miami native with friends and family still in the area. He and Raiders practice squad player Johnny Holton, on the active roster last year, were childhood friends and shelled out for tickets to watch 2017’s game at Miami.
It’s a special place to me,” Cooper said. “Last year I had to give out a lot of tickets. Johnny had to give out 100, so I’m not going to complain about my number.”