On Sunday, Raiders second-year wide receiver Amari Cooper was on Sirius XM Radio with Gil Brandt and he made some interesting comments about the talent levels of SEC defensive backs as compared to NFL defensive backs.
"Overall guys are better, but overall guys are smarter," Cooper told NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt during a Sunday interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "And that's the biggest thing: Guys are smarter. The talent level, to me, probably is about the same coming from the SEC. But they're smarter, so it makes them better."
So basically Cooper sees no difference in the talent levels of the guys he faced in the SEC (which includes his teammates at Alabama that he faced in practice) and the guys he faces now as a professional. Let's examine that critically for a moment.
Cooper's point here isn't to disrespect professional defensive backs. It's to point out that the main difference between top-level college football and professional football isn't a physical difference. It's a mental difference. It's about not having college classes to worry about, but instead being able to fully immerse yourself in the game and prepare on a weekly basis in a complex professional scheme.
Talent level is talent level, and Cooper's likely right that the talent levels of SEC players and NFL players are roughly equal. Nobody really grows physically after college age, but everyone continues to grow and sharpen mentally and develop focus and instinct to go along with improved reaction time.
The SEC is well-known for being the finest college football conference that has ever existed. It's also known for having generally average offenses and outstanding defenses. Alabama themselves is a prime example of this, as is one of their chief rivals, LSU. For much of Cooper's time at Alabama, they would have had a dreadful offense if not for Cooper himself. He personally made Blake Sims look like a competent player. Alabama's turnstile of Heisman-level running backs doesn't hurt, but Cooper made sure no defense in the SEC could stack the box.
While at Alabama, Cooper routinely went up against the best of the best every week- guys like Vernon Hargreaves III (whom he embarrassed and clearly outclassed), Darius Slay, Jalen Collins, Johnathan Banks and Senquez Golson. In addition to that, in Alabama practices Cooper would face off against the likes of Dee Milliner, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins and Cyrus Jones.
Amari Cooper didn't have any issue with Hargreaves, he didn't have any issue with anyone LSU threw at him. He had no problem with Jimmy Smith in Week 2 and he didn't have any issues with the man widely regarded as the best cornerback in the league, Darrelle Revis, against the Jets in Week 8 of last season.
The only player Amari Cooper has ever had trouble with is, in fact, Amari Cooper. He's had problems with drops and with a foot injury. No cornerback can stop Cooper- he can only stop himself. If he puts all that behind him, he will be truly unstoppable.