Coming out of college, Amari Cooper was the consensus top wide receiver prospect in the draft. He was also the "safest" pick and the standard line about Amari was that he was "polished."
For most players it would seem like a pretty great description, but for Amari, in many cases it came as a back-handed compliment, as if it were saying Amari would be a solid NFL player but unlikely to improve very much and that he would not be a true impact player.
And while there were many fans and experts praising Amari, there were also quite a few pre-draft assessments that started with "He's very polished but..."
Kevin White was given the Lion's Share of the credit for great athleticism and for "high upside." And now no one will admit it, but there were also a murmur here and there that DeVante Parker may end up as good as Amari.
Amari was rarely given much credit for athleticism, speed, explosiveness, suddenness, dynamism. He was said to be poor at High-Pointing the ball and thus not really a red zone threat. Even when the Combine video showed Amari just edging out Kevin White on the 40 yard dash, the prevaling wisdom was that Kevin White was fast and Amari had just "ok" speed.
A few thoughts about "polish". To paraphrase the great philosopher Chris Rock :
"You're SUPPOSED to be polished, you low-expectation [person]"
Polish does not happen by accident. It is a product of the high effort that takes place over years and years of dedication. Malcolm Gladwell would call it a product of 10,000 hours. K Anders Ericsson would call it a result of "Deliberate Practice". Regardless, it's what you expect when talent meets effort; either one alone is not sufficient to give this type of result.
Another very interesting aspect of very polished practitioners of any discipline is that they tend to make things look easier than they are. The repetition, the training, and the focus prepares the athlete to be relaxed while executing and to use only as much effort as needed.
This sort of efficiency in execution makes it look like the athlete is not really putting in much effort even though s/he is 100% committed. In the extreme case, you watch a sublime athlete and you start to think "Hey, that doesn't look so hard; I think I could probably do that..."
After a mere 24 games, it's too early to make any definitive proclamations about Amari Cooper's career, but we are getting a clearer image about what kind of player we have here.
Those that are watching are falling in love with what he is bringing the team and are getting an increasing appreciation for Cooper's athletic gifts.
Amari has shown drastic improvement in many aspects of his game that shows that he is nowhere near his ceiling. Catching, high-pointing, route running, QB/WR timing, endurance, strength, open field running, sideline awareness and catching. Everything. It's all getting better. And not just a little bit better; he's significantly improving in unexpectedly short time spans.
The polish he's exhibiting is a top tier athlete combined with top tier effort over the past decade-plus. I won't compare him to Jerry Rice (it's too soon to do that), but that's what Jerry Rice was.
In week 8, Amari returned to his home state and decided to hold a cookout and roast the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For the day :
- 15 tar, 12 rec, 173 yards, 14.4 avg, 1 TD
- 31 yard DPI drawn.
And he put on a show with some stunning moves on the field.
One of Amari's really fantastic and underappreciated skills is how he uses his speed.
Young players generally tend to play at one speed (full speed). Amari shifts from gear to gear as he needs to which puts defenders off balance and makes it difficult for them to track him. It's the football equivalent of the way the old Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux would change speeds on hitters.
How do you make a 4.4s-guy look like a 4.2s-guy? Lull the defender with 4.6s speed and then suddenly turn on the 4.4.
It normally takes young players a few years to figure this out. Amari was already doing this last year.
Just watch how Amari makes the first defender miss by accelerating away from him.
At 6'1", Amari isn't tall but isn't short. A good height, but neither a Megatron-ish size/speed freak nor a Tavon Austin/Darren Sproles lateral teleporting talent. Well, at least Amari isn't given much credit for being an open field nightmare, but fans that have been paying attention have seen that his balance, footwork, and quickness does translate to some sore ankles and dangling jock straps.
Here the CB #28 Vernon Hargreaves has Amari squared up, but Amari gives a shake and swat to put him on the ground.
Later, Musgrave calls the same play again.
Amari puts two Buccaneers on the ground. First, safety #30 Bradley McDougald and then Super Stud, All-Everything LB #54 Lavonte David :
In the Intermediate Range, Amari can be devastating.
Here's a ridiculous example where Amari gets a free inside release on Vernon Hargreaves and then gives a little fake and then hard cuts to the slant. Rarely does cutting to a slant break a CB's ankles like this.
If the throw is a little lower and hits Amari in stride, this had a chance to go all the way :
Fans may underestimate Amari's speed, but CBs don't. Here's Amari blistering CB #24 Brent Grimes, though Carr goes to the other side with the throw :
Amari is a legitimate Over-the-Top downfield threat and on this day, Derek Carr was looking to make the big play hookup with Amari.
Here's a near-touchdown, broken up by a Pass Interference penalty by Brent Grimes
Not to worry. Later Derek would make the pinpoint "Drop it in the Bucket" throw and Amari makes the perfect over the shoulder basket catch.
A subtle bit to this play is how Amari tracks the ball and then quickly adjust to the placement. He expects it to the inside, but the ball goes just a bit upfield and to the outside. Doesn't matter; Amari makes a quick out-step and brings it in.
Amari has not been given much credit for being a leaper or for being a High Point receiver. Against Vernon Hargreaves and the Buccaneers, Amari showed his ability to go up and get the ball :
Amari has also not been noted for being a "Contested Catch"-type receiver, probably because he spends so much time wide open. Here he has to battle Vernon Hargreaves for the ball, secure the catch, and toe-touch inside the sideline.
It's been two games since he lost multiple catches due to not getting both feet in bounds. It's crazy that he's rectified that in such a short period of time.
In 2015, Amari dropped a significant number of catchable passes. It's something that has effectively gone away as he's put the time in to correct it in the offseason.
This was the type of pass that he would sometimes miss :
Proving that he is only human, Amari had this one crucial drop near the end of regulation. It was perhaps one of the easier catch attempts on the day as he was all alone and Derek put some beautiful touch on the pass.
Being near the sideline and with time ticking down, Amari may have been just a bit distracted with thinking about sideline foot technique.
The good thing is that Amari puts the work in to continually polish his game. It's tempting to think of Amari Cooper as a 10 year veteran, but he's only in the middle of his 2nd year and he's still learning and growing.
Kevin White, DeVante Parker, and Leonard Williams may all certainly grow and become great NFL players, but I like our guy.
The combination of 22 year old Amari Cooper and 25 year old Derek Carr is just now starting to connect up; they are still growing together and that bond is still forming. The AC/DC duo will be setting Raiders and NFL records for the next decade and it's going to be a rare treat to follow this emergence.
Amari's moves are Dirrty and so here's a edit with that in mind :