A trio of wide receivers are competing to be the first name called in the 2015 NFL Draft: DeVante Parker, Kevin White and Alabama WR Amari Cooper. Mark Schofield has reviewed the film on each and knows who he would take first.
Alabama WR Amari Cooper was essential to the Alabama Crimson Tide offense in 2014. The junior wide receiver caught 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns, accounting for 45 percent of Alabama’s receiving yards and 43 percent of the team’s receptions on the season.
Cooper won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s most outstanding wide receiver, was a Heisman Trophy finalist, and brought home the SEC Offensive Player of the Year award. His 124 receptions led the nation, and his touchdowns and receiving yards were also Top-5 at the FBS level. His season included five multiple-touchdown games, including three scores against each of Florida and Auburn and two more in the National Semifinal against Ohio State.
Tale of the Tape
Cooper was a full participant at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, where he measured 6-foot-1 and weighed in at 211 pounds. He was initially clocked in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.42 seconds, but after the Combine the NFL reportedly informed teams that his actual time was in the 4.35-4.38 range ‒ which would have placed him in the top five of wide receivers at the event.
He also recorded a short shuttle time of 3.98 seconds, best among WRs at the Combine and the only receiver to finish both short shuttle runs in under 4.00 seconds.
During Alabama’s Pro Day Cooper stood on most of his Combine measurables, but did take part in positional drills, where he caught passes from former teammate and fellow draft prospect Blake Sims. According to reports, Cooper impressed during drills.
The receiver battled foot and toe injuries during his sophomore year, missing two games and catching only 45 balls. But in Alabama’s final two games of the season Cooper put up impressive numbers. He caught six passes for 178 yards against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, including a 99-yard touchdown from A.J. McCarron, and against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl the receiver hauled in nine passes for 121 yards.
What He Does Well
Cooper is the most complete receiver in this year’s draft class. While other receivers may have fractionally better speed or hands than him, Cooper has far fewer weaknesses than his peers. He shines in every element of the passing game: route-running, speed, composure, hands, concentration, awareness.
In 2014 Tide Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin lined up the receiver all over the field, forcing defenses to identify where he was prior to every snap. Cooper might be in the slot, along the outside, in the backfield, or in tight splits from the offensive tackle. While the statistics alone speak to his role in Alabama’s offense, what stands out watching his film is that Cooper runs every route – and runs them all well. So what better way to illustrate the depth to his skills than by having him take us through the route tree?
On this first play against Tennessee, Cooper lines up in the slot to the right of the offense. The Volunteers run Cover 1 on this play, and the defensive back sets up across from Cooper in catch-man alignment. The receiver will run a quick out route, breaking to the sideline at a depth of five yards.
Cooper bursts out of his stance and uses three hard, driving steps to achieve the desired length of his route. He then uses quick chop steps to throttle down and gain control of his momentum. This allows him to break his cut at a 90-degree angle toward the sideline:
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The combination of his chop steps and the sharp break creates natural separation between Cooper and his defender – although the fact that Cooper’s break twists the cornerback around helps. The receiver secures the throw – arms extended well away from his body – and turns upfield. Not content with merely burning his defender on the route, Cooper then stops on a dime and cuts back inside, leaving the defender lunging at nothing but air.
This one play illustrates three things that he does well: route-running, catching technique, and yards after the catch. But we’re just getting started.
Cooper caught two touchdowns against the Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl, and this is the second of the scoring plays. He runs a slant on the goal line and his route ‒ and positioning ‒ make it an easy pitch-and-catch:
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The receiver uses two hard steps to gain depth into the secondary and threaten the cornerback with a vertical route. The defender responds by opening his hips and beginning to retreat. Seeing this, Cooper snaps off his route diagonally, gaining immediate separation and finds the quarterback, allowing him to quickly identify the flight of the football.
Cooper finishes the play by attacking the ball as it comes to him while using his body to shield the defender from the football. The only way this play is not a touchdown is if Cooper drops the pass, or if the defender commits defensive pass interference.
One weakness that young receivers often display is hyper-awareness of the underneath defenders on crossing routes. Receivers are so concerned about the linebackers that they re-route themselves, disrupting the timing of the play.
On this play, Alabama lines Cooper up to the left of the offense, in a pro set using a tight split. Sims fakes an off-tackle run to the that side and then rolls out to the offense’s right, as Cooper runs a short crossing route that mirrors the passer:
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The receiver glides through the second-level defenders, keeping his head up and maintaining a perfect relationship with his quarterback while gaining separation from the cornerback covering him. Cooper pulls in the throw – arms and hands extended away from the body – and makes two defenders miss on the way to a 15-yard gain.
Cooper might be at his best when running the post route. On this play from early in the Tennessee game, Sims and Cooper link up for a big third-down conversion. Cooper is split wide to the right. At the snap he bursts forward with four hard steps. He then uses a jab step to the sideline, selling the defender on the vertical route and gaining separation in the process:
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The throw from Sims is off-target, rising away from Cooper but the WR high-points the football, pulls in the throw, makes the safety whiff on the tackle attempt, and 23 yards later the Crimson Tide are in Volunteer territory.
Cooper had a huge day against Florida in 2014. On this play against the Gators, Cooper lines up in the slot on 2nd and 11. If you have any questions about his speed, watch as he blows by the coverage on his seam route:
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We apologize for the awkward split-screen, but not for including this play. Cooper runs this route perfectly, by using hesitation steps out of his stance. This slow pace fools the defender, and the receiver then turns on the afterburners to blow right by the coverage and break open for his quarterback. Yet again, Cooper delivers YAC by making multiple defensive backs miss tackles.
This play is from early in the contest with Ohio State. Cooper is split wide to the right as the outside receiver in slot formation. He runs a deep comeback route:
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Again, because of his presence as a deep threat, Cooper uses the fear of a vertical route to gain separation from the defender. His speed sells the cornerback on a vertical route, but Cooper breaks back down the stem towards his quarterback on the deep curl route.
What is crucial to note here is how the receiver keeps working back towards the football, eliminating the threat of the cornerback recovering and making a play on the football. This is a very instinctive play, showing great field awareness.
His success on deeper routes is the reason so many cornerbacks in the plays thus far showed respect for Cooper as a threat in the vertical game. On this play against Ohio State, the receiver lines up in a tight split from the right tackle, and runs a deep corner route. Cooper sets this route up well by coming slowly out of his stance, and then using a hard plant step towards the middle of the field with his left foot. As you watch this play unfold notice what happens to the cornerback in the moments after Cooper uses that plant step:
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Senior Doran Grant (#12), a potential NFL draft selection, is screwed into the turf by Cooper’s hard break to the corner. After he plants his left leg, Cooper cuts back sharply on the diagonal towards the corner of the end zone. With Grant twisting into the Superdome surface, Cooper races away from the coverage and pulls in the throw for the score.
Can he track the football over his shoulder on the deep routes? You tell me:
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On this play from the Florida game Cooper splits wide to the right, and the cornerback uses press-man alignment. The defender decides not to jam the receiver, and Cooper uses a stutter-step move, forcing the CB to turn his hips quickly. Once the defender is exposed, Cooper uses his high-level speed to race past the cornerback.
From there, the receiver tracks the football over his shoulder perfectly, making the catch along the sideline. The play is called back because of an offensive penalty (not on Cooper) but that does not diminish the skills on display during this snap.
Goal Line Fades
Here, Cooper runs the goal line fade route. He sets this play up by using a slight hesitation in his stride after his first two steps off the line of scrimmage:
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The setup shows the defender the slant route. But Cooper continues on the vertical, fading into the end zone and toward the sideline. Sims throws a jump-ball and Cooper wins the battle in the air. Of note is that the past two plays were against Vernon Hargreaves III, one of the best young cornerbacks in college football and an All-SEC selection as a freshman in 2013.
How about one more goal line fade, if only to further demonstrate how to make a defender buy the slant route:
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Cooper uses a stutter-step on this play, selling the cornerback on the slant route, before he fading to the boundary. The defender bites inside on the slant, and then tries to get a jam on Cooper as the receiver breaks outside. But the Alabama player is too quick, and breaks open for his QB.
While Cooper’s Combine 40-yard dash time may still be a mystery, what is no secret is how fast the receiver plays. Even when defenders seem to have an angle on him, Cooper kicks into another gear to blow by defenders. Take these two plays from 2014. The first is a bubble screen thrown to Cooper in the 2014 Kickoff Classic against West Virginia:
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The receiver catches the pass behind the line of scrimmage and linebacker Wes Tonkery (#37) looks to have this play diagnosed, with a good angle on Cooper. But the receiver’s speed and quickness eliminate any advantage the LB might have had. In seconds Tonkery goes from having the angle, to having nothing but a view of the 9 on the back of Cooper’s jersey as the receiver races by him.
On this play against Tennessee, the Crimson Tide use play-action with Cooper running a crossing route behind the line of scrimmage from left to right. The misdirection of the play buys the receiver some space, but his pure speed does the rest:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/CooperPlayTwelveVideo.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/CooperPlayTwelveStillOne.jpg”]
A host of defenders – most notably free safety Brian Randolph (#37) – are in position to make the tackle but none of them do. Cooper pulls in the toss at the Alabama 20-yard line and 80 yards later the Crimson Tide are on the board.
If Cooper has one weakness, it is as a blocker. While he is willing to do the work in this department, at times he fails to finish blocks, or takes poor angles towards his targets. On this first example from the Tennessee game, Cooper is split wide to the right. Alabama runs a stretch play in his direction. The receiver actually gets an assist from the defender, who tries to cut inside at the start of this play by taking two steps toward the middle of the field. This gives Cooper the opportunity to simply engage the defender and ride him to the inside:
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But Cooper is slow to press the advantage, and the cornerback slides back to the outside just as the receiver engages. Compounding matters, Cooper fails to finish the block and the defender disengages and bumps the running back out of bounds after a minimal gain.
On this play against West Virginia, Cooper splits wide to the right and the Crimson Tide run a toss play in his direction. The receiver is again slow to engage his defender, allowing the cornerback to get inside and establish an angle of attack toward the ball carrier:
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To make matters worse, once beaten Cooper decides to try and block the defender anyway, leading to a block-in-the-back penalty.
While receivers are drafted to catch the ball, not block, Cooper does need to work on this aspect of his game as he develops in the NFL
The other question mark surrounding Cooper is his height. Standing 6-foot-1, the receiver is shorter than the other two players who are discussed as the first receiver to come off the board in the first round. Both Kevin White and DeVante Parker are 6-foot-3. But Cooper is able to win the 50/50 ball in the air, as displayed against Florida above.
Marvin Harrison. Similar in size, Cooper’s wide skill-set is reminiscent of Harrison during his prime years.
Cooper is the most complete wide receiver in this draft class. He does everything well, from his footwork off the line of scrimmage, through the route and to the catch-point. He gives an offensive coordinator the ability to use him inside and outside, and the ability to run every single route in the playbook well from Day 1. He is the very definition of a “plug-and-play” player and should be an immediate contributor next season.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.