A recap and review of the 2017 season of Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Any conversation about the 2017 season of Amari Cooper must begin by addressing the elephant-sized Juggs Machine in the room — drops.
Cooper dropped a lot of passes in 2017. He also dropped a lot as a rookie in 2015. Depending on which site you consult, he dropped between 5 (NBC Sports, FOX sports) and 10 (Pro Football Focus) passes in 2017. He was targeted 96 times, after being targeted 130 (2015) and 132 (2016) times his first two seasons. Big drop off.
Five drops is a 5.2% drop rate, top-10 worst in the NFL. 10 drops is a 10.4% drop rate, easily the worst in the NFL. Take your pick. It was bad, and is a continuing concern that has repeatedly cost him and the team big plays at key moments. He needs to get better and catch the ball consistently.
Through three years, Cooper has a total of 18 drops on 358 targets. That’s a 5.1% drop rate, roughly 1.1% over the league average. He led the league in drops in 2015 (his rookie season) and could have in 2017 had he not been injured for the better part of four games. He played in 14 games, but was only fully healthy in 11 or 12 of them.
Despite dropping a whopping 7.7% of his passes his rookie season, Cooper still put up 72 catches, 1,070 yards and 6 TDs, quite impressive for one of the youngest (20 years old) players in the NFL at the time. He vastly improved in 2016 with only three drops and a very impressive 2.3% drop rate, which ranked among the league leaders.
Amari has excellent football IQ, route-tree knowledge and route-running ability. When coupled with his ability to make defenders miss and run after the catch with his size and speed he can be pretty impressive. This was all on full display in 2016. Cooper notched 82 catches, 1,153 yards and 5 TDs, garnering his first Pro Bowl selection.
Then 2017 happened. If someone doesn’t catch the ball or isn’t on the field — or has coaches and quarterbacks unwilling to throw more than five yards downfield — he can’t use his gifts to full effect. Or at all, really.
This is basically the perfect storm of an incredibly disappointing 2017 campaign that saw Cooper’s production wane significantly. Derek Carr just wasn’t himself either mentally or physically much of 2017. The play-calling was weak and predictable after a short time. The offense, in general, had a disastrous year all-around.
Cooper’s individual performance is no exception. The Raiders surprising success in 2016, and the AC/DC connection Cooper and Carr had formed, caused expectations for the team, the quarterback and the young Cooper to skyrocket.
Entering his third year in 2017, Cooper was expected to further ascend to the upper tier of NFL receivers. There is a theory — mostly rooted in Fantasy Football but with some plausibility — that receivers tend to show the most improvement from year two to year three.
So entering his third year, coming off a Pro Bowl season and adding more than 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, many expected Cooper to join the ranks of NFL receiving elite. Early in the first game of the year it certainly looked that way.
Against the Titans, Cooper was instrumental in the Raiders taking an early lead. He capped off an impressive opening drive with a touchdown that was beautiful in its maximum power and effort:
— History of Sports (@BeforeFamePics) September 10, 2017
Raider Nation was understandably excited to see that TD. Coop’s quickness and agility had never been in question but his grittiness and strength weren’t talked about much. So that’s why he bulked up in the offseason. One thing about Cooper — he always works very hard to improve his weaknesses. His work ethic is second to none.
Cooper finished with 5 catches for 62 yards and a TD to help the Raiders open the year with a 26-16 road win. This is a decent stat line to begin the year — the only problem is that he was targeted 13 times. Had he been able to corral at least two other catchable passes he would’ve had a minimum of 20 more yards and another TD.
The next week against the Jets, the Raiders offense continued to roll. Cooper was a major target of the Jets defensive game plan, and as a result became a bit of an after-thought. Even though the Raiders scored 45 points, Cooper had just 4 catches for 33 yards on five targets.
Michael Crabtree benefited from the extra attention Cooper garnered and caught all three of Carr’s touchdowns in the victory. And despite beginning the season with an opening-drive TD, Cooper now had only 9 catches for 95 yards and a TD through two games. With two key drops.
Then, Washington. If you are a Raiders fan or have spoken to one about the 2017 season, then you know this game is basically the moment the wheels fell off the season — never to be put back on again.
Derek Carr averaged under 4 yards per attempt. Under FOUR yards. Four. Just, wow. The Raiders, who had put up 71 points in their first two games, scored 10 against Washington. Cooper had 1 catch on five targets — dropping another key 3rd down conversion — for 6 yards.
Oakland lost 27-10 and it wasn’t that close. The team seemed out of sorts, disjointed — a shadow of themselves.
They took this mentality into Denver against the Broncos the next week, where Carr got injured and had to leave the game. Cooper struggled mightily against Chris Harris and Justin Simmons, catching just two of eight targets for 9 yards.
The Broncos sealed their 16-10 victory when Manuel threw up a 50/50 ball to Cooper that Simmons ultimately came down with. Simmons, to his credit, simply outfought Cooper, who took a poor angle to the ball and didn’t show much fight for it:
Amari Cooper : 2 catches for 9 yards & 1 drop (Targeted 8 times. Leads the NFL with 7 drops this season) pic.twitter.com/a4hs7hUZDl
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) October 1, 2017
Cooper at this point had as many drops his past two games as he’d had catches (three) and through four games he had a total of 12 catches on 31 targets with one TD.
He also led the league with four drops in those 31 targets (12.9% drop rate!!). Some said he had five drops at this point — the tweet above says seven. At the very least, his catch rate to this point (37.8%) was absolutely abysmal.
This continued through the next week against the Ravens, where Manuel started in place of the injured Carr. Throwing the ball downfield has never been Manuel’s strong suit, and that certainly continued in this game. Cooper, who had 3 catches for 15 yards his past two games, continued his downward spiral against Baltimore. Manuel barely glanced at Cooper, targeting him just twice. Amari brought in one of those passes for 8 yards.
The Raiders had lost three straight games, and their offense was spiraling. Though Cooper’s performance wasn’t helping, it certainly wasn’t the only issue. Michael Crabtree and Jared Cook also dropped the ball at an alarming rate. Todd Downing was struggling mightily to adjust to defensive game-plans that had adjusted to him. The whole team looked poorly coached and out of sync, and Cooper was being sucked down with it.
Carr rushed back too soon from his back injury the next week against the Chargers. This was a heartbreaking loss, as a missed Giorgio Tavecchio extra point came back to bite the Raiders in one-point defeat. The Raiders offense again struggled, putting up only 16 points — the fourth consecutive game they’d scored 17 or fewer points.
Despite missing top corner Jason Verrett, the Chargers still had Casey Hayward and he played Cooper well this game. Carr clearly wasn’t comfortable throwing the ball and averaged under 6 yards per attempt. Cooper was targeted six times and caught an impressive five of the six — but for 28 total yards. His longest play was 8 yards and he failed to make any impact plays the entire game.
Then, the Thursday night Chiefs game. This game was absolute insanity, with the Raiders pulling out a last-second 31-30 victory with time expired due to defensive penalties. Just a nutty game.
It was an insane game for Cooper as well. Targeted a whopping 19 times, Amari brought in 11 catches for 210 yards and 2 TDs. His second touchdown of the evening exhibited his speed and ability to run after the catch beautifully:
— BamaVideo (@BamaVideo_) October 20, 2017
Once again, Cooper had at least two other throws that could have been caught that would’ve given him at least another 40 or so yards and another TD. Too many times in 2017 that was the case — plays, yards, and points left on the field by Carr, Cooper and the rest of the Raiders offense.
With Cooper’s talent and production through his first two seasons, the 210-yard performance was the breakout game Raider Nation was waiting for. The AC/DC connection was cooking again — time for the kid to go out and set the league on fire.
Except, no. The next week, against the Bills in Buffalo, Carr was again Downing-ed into short, safe passes. Cooper struggled to catch the ball, but this time had no impact plays. He finished with 5 catches on 10 targets for 48 yards, nothing of significance. And just like that, talk went from Coop’s back, baby! to ho-hum, what’s wrong with Amari?
He was semi-productive the next two weeks against the Dolphins and Patriots, with a combined 7 catches for 86 yards and a meaningless TD in the New England game. Then, on the same play against the Broncos, Cooper suffered both an ankle injury and a concussion.
With that, Cooper’s 2017 season is basically a write-off. There isn’t much point in breaking down the rest of the games one-by-one, as the numbers are simply ugly — until the last two games of the year, when the Raiders were done for the year.
The best number? Seven. As in seven touchdowns, a career high for Cooper.
Imagine that. Cooper has his worst statistical season regarding catches (48), catch rate (50%), and yards (680), the Raiders offense and Carr struggle immensely, and somehow Cooper amasses seven TDs. Huh?
Yes, that’s right. He dropped a ton of balls. He barely got targeted and when he did, they weren’t deep throws. Yet somehow, someway in the quagmire of that offense, Cooper put up a career high in TDs in 2017. That’s very encouraging.
So is his play the last two games. He had 3 catches on four targets for 66 yards and a TD against the NFC-champion Eagles top-tier defense, including a beautiful 63-yarder where he absolutely owns talented corner Jalen Mills on the route:
Derek Carr 87-yard TD to Amari Cooper pic.twitter.com/YBsYdKHsz6
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 31, 2017
The next week against the Chargers, he closed out 2017 by catching another 3 passes, but this time for 115 yards, including a fantastic 87-yard touchdown where he torches the corner and safety and runs untouched:
Derek Carr 87-yard TD to Amari Cooper pic.twitter.com/YBsYdKHsz6
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 31, 2017
When Cooper is healthy he can burn folks with his route running and ability to disguise his breaks. A thing of beauty.
And so is the fact that Downing and Del Rio are gone. And so is the fact that Carr looks healthy based on his performance at the Pro Bowl. Many are quick to throw Cooper on the slag heap after 2017, but why? With his age, talent and previous production it’s just silly to give up on the kid already. The best in the business has some advice for the youngster — and a surprising compliment for his hands:
Steelers WR Antonio Brown on Amari Cooper:
"Cooper is nice, bro. He’s got patience, great hands, and big play ability."
He also had some advice for No. 89.
"Don’t take too long to release on ‘em 'Coop,' go after ‘em.” pic.twitter.com/ix7243Q3MF
— Kyle Martin (@KyleMartinMedia) January 25, 2018
He just needs someone to maximize his potential and get the best out of him.
Enter Jon Gruden and Edgar Bennett. Gruden has always had success with top-flight receivers, as one of his former stars points out, and says this is a great opportunity for Cooper:
That should bode well for Amari Cooper, who Gruden will need to fix for #Raiders. Tim Brown: "If he can't nobody can. 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." https://t.co/66avvVs3HM
— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) January 10, 2018
Now that is a lot to ask, but if he can hang on to the ball and Gruden lets Carr loose a bit, who knows? New coaching can go a long way, and Cooper will also have a new position coach to learn from.
Edgar Bennett is the Raiders new WR coach, fresh off a two-year stint as the Packers offensive coordinator. Prior to that, he was the Pack’s WR coach for five seasons. Without going into too much detail — get more info on Bennett here — since 2014 (Carr’s first NFL season) the Packers numbers compare extremely favorably to the Raiders. Bennett, a former NFL RB with a ton of playing and coaching experience, is a big reason why.
The Raiders have been in the top five in drops three of the past four years. The Packers haven’t been in the top five at all, and only in the top ten once.
The Raiders, since Carr took over in 2014, have averaged about 592 pass attempts per season (2367 total). Receivers have dropped, officially, 121 of those passes. That is a 5.1% drop rate, highest in the NFL of any team in that span. The league average is roughly 4.0%. On 2367 attempts, that’s about 24 more completions. A lot can be done with that.
Bennett was the WR coach in 2014 and 2015, and then the OC in Green Bay for 2016 and 2017. In that time, the Pack have averaged roughly 568 pass attempts per season (2272 total). Receivers have dropped, officially, 81 of those passes. That’s a 3.5% drop rate, which is good enough to be in the top 10 most years (or top 5 in some years).
Bottom line, Bennett’s teams have performed well in the receiving game and have caught the ball at a consistently impressive rate. That can only bode well for Cooper, who showed in 2016 — and in a few games of 2017 — what he can do when he’s let loose and he catches the ball.