There was little deliberation once the Raiders were on the clock with the fourth overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft.
Amari Cooper, wide receiver out of Alabama, was their favorite as far back as the combine in February.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said:
“You don’t here any negatives about this guy. It’s no wonder he’s as good as he is. The intangibles outside of his skill set are extremely high.”
The Raiders ran one of the worst offenses in the NFL during their 3-13 2014 season, and more often than not, receivers struggled to break away from coverage.
Cooper had no such problem in college, while facing several defenders he will see in the NFL.
His collegiatee career includes several SEC records: Most receptions in a season (124, 2014), third in SEC since 1958 for career receptions (228), second in receiving yards since ’58 (3,463) and first since 1958 in touchdowns (31) for his conference.
Cooper caught 16 touchdowns in his junior season, now his last college season, and accumulated 1,727 yards.
McKenzie and Del Rio met with Cooper at the combine, but their advance scouting group had enough information on him. Jack Del Rio touched on one particular thing with Cooper that was attractive:
“When you talk about this young man, at this level, as a draft prospect, that hasn’t played in the NFL yet, it’s unusual that words like polish are thrown out. That’s what you see.”
Del Rio added:
“He is very serious about football. He is very much business like in his approach. Fairly quiet, soft spoken young man. Mature. And football is important to him. … Coaches and personnel people, we all appreciate those qualities.”
Route running is what set Cooper apart from most receivers, not only in this draft, but in the last 10 drafts.
It’s something he’s been doing since he was about five years old, even before he had played one game of organized football, in his backyard.
Cooper and his friends threw the ball around in his south Florida neighborhood, and his route running was natural. That was 15 years ago, and his playtime is now his occupation. He said:
“It started at a very young age, my coaches tried to teach me how to run a route. And I was already pretty good at it because I’d already been doing it in my backyard. I just didn’t know what the routes were called.”
Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave wants an uptempo offense, run-heavy and pass-second, but just the mere threat of Cooper will help.
Maurice Jones-Drew, who is from the East Bay and played for the Raiders in 2014, said during an NFL Network broadcast that he liked the pick because Cooper can step right in and play.
But Raiders brass say it’s still going to be a competition, as generally expected, though it’d be shocking if Cooper didn’t win the number one job right out of training camp.
Del Rio said:
“They compete at Alabama, just competing in that conference in the time that he’s had. The repetitions that he’s had playing the position, running the route tree and doing all the things he’s done to develop himself makes him a guy that has that label of being polished.”
It was initially expected that the Raiders would select Leonard Williams, a USC defensive lineman, but passed. Most experts had Cooper as the alternative, though a trade was always possible.
But the phone didn’t ring when the Raiders were on the clock. McKenzie fielded a few calls before the draft, but no action was present — surprising, considering the amount of talent available.
The pre-draft conversations may have had something to do with it, assuming the asking price was too steep, but other possibilities are present.
It didn’t matter in the end, judging by the facial expressions from Del Rio and McKenzie, the Raiders liked Cooper enough to pass on some pretty big offers.
“Coop was on our board high from the start. It didn’t matter about the position. It was about the player.”
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.