Just three months before Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the organization used its fourth overall pick on Alabama’s Amari Cooper, a can’t-miss wideout with the potential to follow in Brown’s footsteps.
Cooper, who turned 21 in June, is only three games into his NFL career and averaging 96.7 receiving yards a game. He’s already a top-10 receiver. In Week 2 against the Ravens, Cooper took a bomb from Derek Carr to the end zone, illustrating impressive route running, sheer speed and natural chemistry with his quarterback. His precise footwork has been universally praised in league circles.
When Cooper arrived for his first rookie minicamp in May, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio gave him an assignment: Study the history of the organization and understand the greats who have played the position before him. Cooper spent most of his time on Brown.
Since Brown left Oakland in 2003, the Raiders’ wide receiving corps has been at best a deficiency and at worst a laughingstock.
In 2005, the Raiders acquired Randy Moss, still in his prime. After an acceptable first season in which he topped 1,000 yards, Moss’s reported laziness in Oakland manifested itself on the field. He was widely seen as giving up on his teammates, averaging just 42.5 yards a game that second season, and forcing the team to trade him to New England for just a fourth-round pick.
In 2008, the Raiders signed promising free agent Javon Walker to a six-year, $55 million contract with an $11 million dollar signing bonus. Walker was dealing with a litany of issues and shaken by the murder of his Broncos teammate Darrent Williams. Walker only played 11 games over two seasons and never played a down of professional football after, another Raiders bust.
In 2009, the fourth straight season the Raiders had a top-10 pick, they selected Darrius Heyward-Bey at No. 7. Despite his blazing speed, Heyward-Bey was yet another miss at the position due to his inability to actually catch a football.
But that was then.
With Cooper, things feel drastically different. Three weeks in, he appears immune to the Raiders’ past woes at receiver.
“I try not to think about the history here too much,” Cooper says. “I’m elated to be in Oakland after all these years of dreaming about being in the NFL. I’m just soaking it all in.”
While Cooper soaks it in, it’s easy for observers to drum up memories of Brown when they see this budding superstar in black and silver.
Jerry Rice, who played for Oakland from 2001 to ‘04, has already dubbed Cooper “the new Tim Brown.” Rice was referring to Cooper’s speed and explosiveness, but he could have easily been referring to his quiet humility and dedication to his craft.
Despite the growing attention circling Cooper, you see little off-the-field swagger. He doesn’t do many interviews, nor is he interested in engaging opponents. When asked which cornerback he was most excited to face this season, Cooper declines to comment, emphasizing that his focus is on thriving as a receiver.
“I spend a lot of time studying film,” he says. “I have a lot room to improve and work on the little things so when I do come into the games I can try to be that player.”
Make no mistake, Cooper has goals this season. Specific numerical goals, he said. But unlike so many players across the league, he is keeping them to himself.
Amy Trask, a top executive with the Raiders from 1997 to 2013 and now an NFL analyst at CBS, is impressed by what she sees.
“It appears at this early point in his career that Amari is a tremendously talented wide receiver who is committed to developing a dynamic relationship with his quarterback and that’s a great fit for any organization,” Trask says. “Beyond that, it appears that he is embracing both the opportunity to be a Raider and Raiders fans, and that’s both terrific and important to the Raider Nation.”
The unique fan base in Oakland is not lost on Cooper. He is familiar with The Violator, Spike and all the other members of Oakland’s famed Black Hole who spend hours intricately decorating their faces in silver and black makeup while wearing black leather with protruding silver spikes.
Cooper calls the Raider fans “awesome” and understands the importance of thriving off their energy.
Cooper’s start in Oakland could not be going better. His chemistry with Carr is obvious.
“Both Derek and I want to be great,” Cooper said. “We have the same commitment to working on the little things to take us there.”
Let’s face it: Having a quarterback like Carr is a luxury that the failed Raiders receivers of the past did not experience. A rejuvenated Michael Crabtree and emergence of former practice squad wideout Seth Roberts have also helped to elevate Cooper’s game.
As a result, Oakland is heading into October with playoff aspirations on the heels of a 2–1 start and a base of young talent that is poised to drive a contender for years to come.
Again, Cooper is only three weeks into his career. It’s not really fair to compare him to a Hall of Famer like Brown who finished his career with almost 15,000 receiving yards and more than 100 touchdowns, and who continues to be so beloved by the Raider Nation. But from what he's shown thus far, it’s hard to avoid.