How the Raiders would go about improving their wide receiver corps this offseason could have gone one of two ways. They could add a bigger target who can go deep or a smaller, quicker slot receiver. Either one would have been fine based on the versatility of Amari Cooper.
Cooper can play outside or inside. He has the speed to go deep and the quickness and outstanding route running to go over the middle.
Over his first three seasons with the team, they haven’t made nearly enough use of his abilities in the slot. Mostly because he was drafted to be a number one receiver and they haven’t had anyone better suited as the every down starter on the outside.
That could change this season.
The Raiders used one of their third round picks in a trade to acquire wide receiver Martavis Bryant from the Steelers. He is a 6-4, 216-pounder who can stretch the field. But he does not play the slot.
Bryant worked out of the slot just 48 times last season out of 447 routes run, according to Pro Football Focus. Of those times in the slot, he caught a total of 3 passes for 11 yards.
He was targeted a total of 81 times, 23 of which were on deep passes, catching 4 for 143 yards and one touchdown. And those numbers were down from previous seasons.
He didn’t play in 2016 while serving a one-year suspension, but in 2015 he had 7 deep catches on 27 targets for 318 yards and 3 TDs. And in 2014 he had 20 deep targets with 7 catches for 369 yards and 4 TD’s.
Though he has great speed (4.42 40-yard-dash), he is not especially quick and doesn’t run routes well enough to perform in the slot.
Cooper, on the other hand, may be better suited for the slot than he is outside. As Austin Gayle details here:
#Raiders' Amari Cooper has averaged 2.65 yards per route run from the slot in his career, amassing 773 receiving yards and seven TDs on just 291 career slot routes.— Austin Gayle (@AustinGayle_PFF) February 3, 2018
Away from the slot, Cooper has averaged 1.62 YPRR, recording 2,143 receiving yards and 11 TDs on 1,324 routes.
The Raiders tried Coop in the slot some last season to great success. Including his career best game against the Chiefs in week 7 in which Coop had 95 yards and a touchdown on 18 snaps from the slot. He would finish with 11 catches for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Gruden sent a third round pick to get Martavis Bryant from Pittsburgh. Bryant wanted out and the Steelers wanted him out. He was was suspended three times in the past three years, twice for substance abuse (4 games, 16 games) and once for airing out his grievances with losing his starting job on social media (1 game).
What Gruden likes is Bryant’s size and speed and practice habits, which he said are outstanding. He wants to get him on the field as much as possible and use him properly. And Bryant works best on the outside. Which would mean either Jordy Nelson seeing less time or moving Cooper inside.
It’s hard to see Gruden making Nelson a part time player, especially while paying him $7.5 million per season and after Nelson was Aaron Rodgers’s top target for so many years in Green Bay.
This wouldn’t mean Cooper losing his starting spot. Often times they would probably line up three wide to start the game and when there were just two receivers in the game, it would more than likely be with Cooper moving back outside and either Bryant or Jordy Nelson leaving the game, depending on the situation.
In today’s game, teams tend to roll three wide about 60% of the time. Those times, Cooper is the natural choice to line up in the slot, if you’re talking about keeping the best players on the field at all times. Barring an injury, I can see no other way this would work out.