Training Camp Tour: Amari Cooper poised for breakout year?

PFF analysts Jeff Deeney and Kiernan Hogan report from Raiders training camp in Napa, Calif.

| 11 months ago
Raiders WR Amari Cooper

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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.

Upgraded Secondary

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.

  • Mike Riley

    This is the thing I can’t comprehend. For as polished as Cooper is/was coming out of Bama his drops are concerning. He dropped a lot of balls & 1 game came to mind more so than any other. The Lions game lined up against Darius Slay was probably the worst I’ve ever seen him. He dropped one & had another bounce off his chest like he wasn’t ready for it. The 2nd was distressing because he fell to his knees immediately afterward & dropped his head.

    I read he dropped a wide open pass in a scrimmage this past week as well. I won’t get ahead of myself & panic but I believe the fact he is so driven to perfect or hone his craft at times may work against him. He needs to just forget the last play & loosen up. Its a 53-man roster w/ a contingent of position coaches & not 1 individual will determine the outcome.

    • codered5

      He’s fine. This nigga is 22. He has to make mental adjustments. If you are at least 25 you know how much personal growth you had at that age going forward. How many niggas is nfl #1 wr’s at 21? Aj green? Even julio had Roddy white. Just give him time

      • Jenniferehager2

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      • PD

        LOL word

    • jdg3

      Jerry Rice had drop issues his rookie year as well. He worked hard and became the greatest WR to ever play. I think Coop will be fine.

      • Mike Riley

        After posting I immediately thought of Rice’s rookie year. Let’s face it. 70 catches for nearly 1100 yards in what some consider a ho-hum year following OBJ’s rookie season is rather impressive for a 21 year old. I can’t wait to see his and Seth Roberts’ maturation this season.

  • Malachi

    this article was much less about training camp than the previous ones. max’s catch was the only mention of practice play at all

    • crosseyedlemon

      The Raiders have a long tradition of trying to keep training camp secrets from opponents. Al Davis was pretty sneaky and would often leak disinformation to confuse the curious. I guess old habits die hard when your dealing with the Silver & Black.