Oakland Raiders: Criticism Of Cooper Is Perfectly Fair And Valid

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images /

The Oakland Raiders drafted a legitimate number one receiver when they selected Amari Cooper fourth overall in the 2015 NFL Draft – yet, even his early succes shouldn’t make him immune to criticism.

For many, many years, the Oakland Raiders lacked a genuine number one receiver. They didn’t have anybody who could stretch the field, make big plays, and keep opposing defenses honest. That all changed though, when they drafted Amari Cooper out of Alabama in the first round of the 2015 Draft.

Suddenly, the Raiders had the threat on the outside they lacked for so long. Paired with Michael Crabtree, Oakland has one of the most potent 1-2 receiving punches in the league. And they”ve given the Raiders one of the most prolific offenses that they’ve had in a very long time.

Over his first two seasons in the league, Cooper has absolutely been on fire. He’s been everything the team could have hoped for when they drafted him – and more. In his first two seasons in the league, Cooper has gone off for 2,223 yards on155 catches — a healthy clip of 14.3 yards per reception — and has hauled in 11 touchdowns.

As scintillating as Cooper has been over his first two seasons though, he hasn’t yet hit his ceiling. He still has room to grow and improve – something that should terrify opposing defenses. And something that even the most hardcore of the hardcore fans shouldn’t be afraid to say.

There is a camp emerging who apparently views criticism of Cooper as – to quote one source – “ridiculous” and “asinine.”

In both of Cooper’s pro seasons, he started off the season white hot – only to fade down the stretch. Which makes talking about Cooper’s second half of the season disappearing act not only worth noting, but a very fair and valid criticism.

Not so, according to some in the “rah rah, all the time no matter what” camp.

"“We also have to mention that the offensive yards in terms of passing also was down by about 511 yards over the final eight games. So to say that Coop was the only one that faded down the stretch could be argued as a fallacy.”"

The first thing that can and should be noted is that nobody is making the argument that Cooper is the only one to see a decline in production over the second half of the season. It just happens to be more noticeable given the fact that Cooper is the team’s undisputed number one receiver.

You can say that Cooper is a victim of his own success in that regard.

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The writer of the article in question goes on to give various reasons for why Cooper’s performance declined over the second half of the season.

"“Let’s be real — Cooper was not the only great offensive weapon the Raiders had in 2016. The team also had the 6th ranked rushing attack, giving them a balanced offense. They also had one of the best #2 receivers in the entire NFL in Michael Crabtree, who was going to take some targets away from Coop. In retrospect, Cooper was not going to demand the same amount of targets that an Odell Beckham or an Antonio Brown was going to receive because the Raiders had a much more fluid balance to their offense.”"

Some of that word salad is absolutely, undeniably true. The Raiders did have the league’s sixth best rushing attack. They had a much more balanced offense than they’ve had in quite some time. They do also have one of the best complementary receivers in Michael Crabtree. That’s all very, very true.

But after all that, things start getting a little dicey.

For the season, Crabtree had 145 targets – Cooper had 132. So, it’s not like there was a huge disparity in the number of targets to begin with. And it’s not like Crabtree was taking a lot of potential receptions away from Cooper. They were 13 targets apart – that’s pretty balanced.

Also, it seems fair to point out that Odell Beckham Jr. Had 169 targets on the 2016 season, while Antonio Brown had 154. So to address the writer’s point, the disparity between Beckham, Brown, and Cooper really wasn’t all that great either.

And none of that – nothing at all – touches on Cooper’s fade in the second half of both seasons he’s played thus far.

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But let’s look at some raw numbers from Cooper’s 2106 season. Over the first half of the year, he was on fire. He hauled in 65 percent of the passes thrown his way (52 receptions on 80 targets) for 787 yards and a very healthy average of 15.1 yards per reception.

Over the final eight games of the year though, Cooper’s numbers dipped dramatically. Over those last eight games, Cooper caught just 59 percent of the passes thrown his way (31 receptions on 52 targets) for just 366 yards – a more pedestrian average of 11.8 yards per reception.

It’s also worth noting that over the first half of the year, Cooper averaged a touch over 98 receiving yards per game – and had four 100 plus yard games. Over the last half, he averaged a tick under 46 receiving yards per game and had zero 100 yard games.

It’s quite a disparity between the two halves of the season.

While yes, he had significantly fewer targets over the final eight games, Cooper also did significantly less with the passes that were thrown his way. Which makes discussion and/or criticism of his second half performance entirely valid, rather than “ridiculous” or “asinine.”

There is something in society today that makes some folks bristle at the notion of criticism. Too many think criticism is inherently bad, or that you’re tearing somebody down and being “asinine” by critiquing their performance. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The great ones embrace criticism and use it to fuel their progress. After Cooper’s first season, he heard the criticism about his incredibly high number of dropped passes. He worked diligently through the offseason on fixing that issue and his number of dropped balls in the 2016 season was dramatically reduced.

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Knowing that his second half fade was a topic of discussion over the offseason – and deciding to do something about it – Cooper dedicated himself to getting bigger, stronger, and better able to deal with the rigors of a full 16 game season. He bulked up this offseason, adding a lot of muscle to his otherwise lean frame, which should help him be more effective all season long.

Cooper – like some of the greats – does not shy away from criticism. He uses it as fuel to progress. To get better. To improve his craft. To be the best. And it shows.

There is no doubt that Cooper is a true number one receiver with the potential to be one of the greats in team – and perhaps even league – history. His ceiling is extraordinarily high, and if his first two seasons in the league are any indicator, we’re going to be seeing some amazing things from him for some time to come.

But even that doesn’t make him immune to criticism. Nor should it. Shutting down all criticism, no matter how valid it may be, leads to life in an echo chamber – an echo chamber filled with yes-men who only say what you want to hear. And that doesn’t help anybody achieve greatness – ask JaMarcus Russell how living in that echo chamber worked out for him.

And to Cooper’s everlasting credit, he is always looking for ways to improve. Ways to hone and sharpen his game. Cooper has the hunger to be one of the all-time greats and it shows in the way he attacks the game – as well as embraces his faults, using them to make himself better.

Making note of Cooper’s shortcomings isn’t saying he’s terrible. It’s not saying the Raiders wasted a draft pick. It’s not saying that he’s not the number one receiver Oakland has lacked for so long. It’s simply making note of an interesting trend and critiquing it. Nothing more and nothing less.

Cooper has the ability and the potential to be one of the best the league has ever seen. But that doesn’t make him immune to criticism. Nor should it.