Amari Cooper, if you haven’t been paying attention, has been terrible this year. Normally, sudden and unexpected struggles can be attributed to severe injuries and other off-field issues, but here, we just have a young receiver who put up consecutive 1,000 yard seasons before age 23 and cannot get open, or catch the ball when he does.
That dropoff is virtually unprecedented. There have been 34 guys since 1978 to average 50+ yards per game in each of the first two seasons at age 23 or younger. None of them had the large decline in yards per game that we’ve seen with Cooper, who has 146 receiving yards in 6 games this year. Sure, some disappeared with significant injuries, and others peaked early and had a slow decline, but none exhibited what we are seeing so far this year.
Bucky Brooks took a look at Cooper and says that his inability to beat press coverage has been a factor, and now teams have adjusted to him.
Fast-forward to 2017, and defensive backs have figured out that eliminating free access at the line makes it tougher for Cooper to impact the game on the outside. Thus, you’re seeing more defenders walk up and press him at the line (bump-and-run coverage), to make him earn his catches and yards. “He doesn’t respond well to press coverage and physicality,” an AFC secondary coach told me. “When defenders put their hands on him and knock him around a little bit, they can take him out of the game.”
Brooks includes several stats that illustrate how much Cooper has struggled against press coverage compared to other wide receivers. That is compounded by also having 5 drops already this year.
The struggles, though, go back to last season. Cooper played through some injuries over the second half of last season, battling both back and shoulder injuries but not missing a game. Here are his numbers over his last 16 NFL games, including last year’s playoff game:
101 targets, 51 receptions, 522 yards (10.2 yards per catch), 4 TDs
That’s pretty bad for someone who has been a starter the entire time. While Cooper’s start to this year is somewhat unprecedented for a two-time pro bowler, here is a look at the lowest yards per target starts through 6 games, for wide receivers with 36 or more targets.
Cooper is in the bottom 10.
Only two of those players would go on to have another 1,000 yard season at any point in their careers. One was Chris Chambers, and if you were involved in fantasy football in 2004 you no doubt had arguments about Chambers and his highly inefficient but high volume numbers. The other was Nate Washington, who would have a 1,000 yard season a couple of years later.
That’s not great company. Amari Cooper has a big name and was a top pick, but for the last year, he has played like a bust. He–and the Raiders–need to turn that around tonight.