Conventional wisdom says that NFL wide receivers don't typically break out until their third season. Which could suggest Raiders 22-year-old wideout Amari Cooper is all set to make the leap from young stud to well-established superstar.
Cooper has performed exceptionally well in his first two seasons, amassing 140 receptions, 2,223 yards and 10 touchdowns. Those don't touch that of Odell Beckham Jr. who amassed an absurd 187 receptions, 2,755 yards and 25 touchdowns in a mere 27 games. But they're not far off of Mike Evans' 140 receptions and 2,257 yards though he had five more touchdowns. He exploded last season for 12 touchdowns which matched his rookie total.
A large part of Evans' success has come from his Godzilla-like 6'5 frame and physical dominance at the point-of-attack, as evidenced in his performance against Seattle Seahawks All-Pro corner Richard Sherman this past season.
If you need evidence of how unique it is to have this success so early on, look no further than the graveyard of first-round busts at wide receiver over the past five years; Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, A.J. Jenkins, Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson and Nelson Agholor to name a few.
Cooper's yardage and reception totals have been outstanding. His 2,223 yards through two seasons puts him ahead of some household names in that category — Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas and Jordy Nelson — to name a few.
In the receptions category, Cooper has been equally impressive, with his 140 through two seasons also besting the same group of elite receivers.
The reason Cooper hasn't established himself as elite — despite back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons to begin his career — is his subpar touchdown totals. His lack of scores has undoubtedly kept him out of the top tier in both fantasy and reality.
According to ESPN fantasy specialist Matthew Berry's 2017 early projections, Cooper is the 38th-ranked player and the WR16. Pretty paltry projections for someone who has covered so much yardage and caught so many balls over his first two seasons.
Despite Cooper's lack of elite production in the red zone and the pessimism expressed by Berry and other analysts, there is still a lot of reason for hope.
If you're a Raiders fan you're painfully familiar with this sight: Cooper securing the football in the end zone, only to realize one of his two feet hasn't quite toed the line. This happened several times this season. And twice in the team's first meeting with the San Diego Chargers.
Cooper's four touchdowns could have easily been eight or ten. Could Have. Of course, it didn't play out that way so in reality, it doesn't matter. Every inch is just as important, just ask Al Pacino or Kevin Dyson. The point is that Cooper is still young; these are correctable mistakes. And Cooper was already showing signs of making those corrections last season.
Beckham Jr. had an astronomical 46 red zone targets in his first two seasons according to numbers compiled by Rotowire.com. Evans had a respectable 32. Cooper? A lowly 21. He needs to work on his technique, but he undoubtedly also needs more opportunities.
DeAndre Hopkins' third-year leap is something Cooper should strive for in 2017. Hopkins had a similar number of receptions (128), yards (2,012) and touchdowns (8) as Cooper through his sophomore season. In his third season, he exploded for 111 receptions, 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns with subpar quarterback play, but an inflated target total. Then, Brock Osweiler came to town and crippled his production.
The potential for Cooper to make a similar leap is there. He won't get 192 targets as Hopkins did in 2015, but he does have more speed to blow the top off the defense and he definitely has a better quarterback.
Cooper's route-running and quick-cut ability is already elite. Once he hones some very fixable skills like sure-handedness, spatial awareness and body strength (injuries have hampered him down the stretch in both of his two seasons), there won't be any remaining gap between him and the league's top ball catchers.
According to SB Nation Crimson Tide site Roll Bama Roll, Nick Saban said in the pre-draft process that Cooper "always had a good work ethic," and added that he "became mature enough to play through things that used to affect him." Cooper's drive and quiet determination is clear to anyone that has followed the Raiders over the past two seasons.
Derek Carr is expected to rebound fully from his injury and if he continues on the path to his emerging elite status while Michael Crabtree applies pressure on the opposite side of the field, the possibilities are endless for Amari Cooper at just 22-years-old.
With two seasons under his belt, the speed and physicality of the NFL field are no longer mountains that Cooper must to learn to climb. If all the pieces fall into place in 2017, he will join the likes of Beckham Jr. and Evans as a member of the NFL's exclusive club of young superstar receivers.