Training Camp Tour: Amari Cooper poised for breakout year?
NAPA, Calif. – On yet another leg of the PFF training camp tour, a few members of our analysis team made their way to beautiful Napa, Calif., for Raiders camp on Friday. There was definitely a positive vibe around camp, as the team has realistic playoff expectations for the first time in over a decade.
After consecutive days in pads, Friday was an abbreviated session in just shells. Even so, a couple of things did stand out.
Amari Cooper poised for breakout year?
Coming out of college, the PFF analysis team as a whole was big fan of WR Amari Cooper, as the former Alabama star did the little things incredibly well and was already polished as a receiver. In his first NFL season, we saw the stats translate, as he caught 72 passes for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Cooper’s positives as a rookie were marred by a staggering case of the drops—he led the league with 18.
“I took everything I learned from last year and really analyzed it in the offseason. I’m trying to focus on staying healthy, try to wake up earlier and get treatment and everything. Just stay away from getting hurt if I can. My motto is, if I can avoid it, then I don’t want it to happen,” Cooper said at camp on Friday. “Then just catching the ball, looking it in all the way through, and focusing on the small things.”
If Cooper can eliminate the drop issue—which he should be capable of doing, given his top-15 drop rate among Power-5 receivers in 2014 (just eight drops out of 132 catchable targets that season)—he could quickly become of the league’s elite targets.
The Raiders made a concerted effort to upgrade their defensive backfield this offseason, signing free agents Sean Smith (Chiefs) and Reggie Nelson (Bengals), while also using their first-round draft pick on safety Karl Joseph of West Virginia.
Joseph returned to practice on Friday after sitting out the day before. He is returning from a torn ACL suffered just four games into his season with the Mountaineers. In addition to being a strong force against the run, Joseph tallied five interceptions in just 12 targets during his shortened 2015 campaign. If healthy, he should be able to step in right away and have an impact.
Sean Smith’s height and length are readily apparent when watching from the sidelines, as he routinely causes difficulty for receivers when playing press-man. With Kansas City last season, Smith earned PFF’s 12th-highest overall grade among NFL corners, capping his third-straight year of positive season grades.
Nelson, who will turn 33 in late September, provides Oakland with both a veteran presence and productive player, having graded among the league’s top-10 safeties last season (and no lower than 22nd since 2011).
“It’s been great. I like to play chess, and it’s like a game of chess out there,” Cooper said of the additions of Smith and Nelson. “The NFL is really more of a mental game than anything, and those guys are really smart and you have to adjust every time.”
The revamped Raiders secondary sits at ninth-overall in PFF’s preseason rankings.
Other camp notes:
– The play of the day belonged to wide receiver Max McCaffrey (brother of Stanford RB Christian), who made a twisting sideline catch on a ball behind his back shoulder while executing a nice toe-tap to complete the reception.