NFL Draft Preview 2015: WR Amari Cooper
A top recruit coming out of high school, Amari Cooper burst onto the scene in his 2012 freshman season. The wide out set a University of Alabama record with 11 TDs in a season, adding 59 catches for 1,000 yards and a 105 yard, 2 TD performance in the BCS National Championship Game. This earned him both SEC and All-American Freshman honors for the year.
Cooper's sophomore campaign was slightly derailed by injuries, with less lofty receiving totals of 736 yards and 4 TDs. However, he would more than make up for in 2014, shattering more school records and the willpower of opposing defensive backs. His 124 receptions, 1,727 yards, and 16 TDs on the season would all set new marks at Alabama, cementing him as the school's career leader in all three categories. For his impressive efforts, Cooper would be named a Heisman finalist and the recipient of the Blietnikoff Award, given to the nation's most outstanding receiver.
Cooper is generally accepted as the top receiver in this year's draft class, due mainly to his skills in all facets of his game. Most notable are his great hands and excellent route running abilities, which can combine for eye-popping highlights and big plays. His record production at Alabama bodes well for his NFL future, as Crimson Tide players under coach Nick Saban have generally been very successful in their transition to the NFL.
In addition, the off-the-field issues plaguing many other of this year's top WR prospects appear to be non-existent with Cooper, who has been the model of work ethic and good citizenship. Although high-risk players are not necessarily failures (see Dez Bryant), they do come with bust potential (see Justin Blackmon), and Cooper's stability further solidifies him as the safest pick at his position.
The knock on Cooper is that he doesn't have the speed and size of some of this year's other prospects, and this is valid; he'll never be a Calvin Johnson-esque freak of nature. Some analysts see his status as a "safe bet" working against him, noting that some teams may prefer the high-risk, high-reward nature of a Kevin White or Dorial Beckham-Green, who may be faster and stronger.
Still, these complaints are minor. It would take a disastrous performance from Cooper or an otherworldly one from his competition for the Alabama prospect to not be the first receiver taken in the draft. And as to the strength complaints, I'll let Cooper himself answer those concerns.
In a league that continually emphasizes the passing offense and the production of receivers, Cooper is almost a sure bet to be selected in the top five. And given the overwhelming success of the 2014 draftees at wide receiver, teams will have no qualms picking Cooper early. Not that he isn't worthy on his own merit; Cooper's talent and brains give him a high floor, as he should be at least a solid NFL starter. As for his ceiling--well, he could turn into a star of the caliber of Julio Jones, another recent Alabama prospect.
Each of the top five teams in the draft need major upgrades at wide out, but consensus seems to be that the Oakland Raiders will select Cooper. They could certainly use his talents, as Derek Carr showed flashes of promise last year but didn't have enough offensive weapons around him to make a strong judgment. The Raiders would be wise to pair Carr with Cooper, hopefully securing the franchise receiver they've been lacking.