Coming out of the University of Alabama, Amari Cooper was considered the top wide-receiver prospect in his class. With smooth route-running abilities and great hands, he was a surefire early pick in the draft. Sure enough, the Raiders snatched him up with the No. 4 selection in 2015.
Cooper had some surprising issues with drops during his first two NFL seasons, but he also showcased exactly why he was such a highly-sought-after prospect. He was seemingly always open, and across those two seasons he caught 155 passes for 2,223 yards and 11 touchdowns. That gave him the 11th-most receptions and 12th-most receiving yards for a player in his first two seasons in NFL history.
Everything looked like it was trending in the right direction for Cooper entering Year 3, but he took a major step backward in 2017 -- just as the Raiders did as a team. Cooper managed to set a career high in touchdowns (seven) despite missing two games due to injury, but he also saw his catch rate plummet to a career-worst 50 percent whole racking up career-worst numbers in catches per game (3.4) and yards per game (48.6) as well.
The Raiders hired Jon Gruden as their new coach this offseason, and Gruden has high hopes for Cooper. In praising his young wideout, Gruden invoked the name of Raider royalty.
"I said it when he came out of Alabama, that he reminded me of a young Tim Brown," Gruden said, per NBC Bay Area. "He has that type of game speed. He's elusive, and has a wide range of routes he can run. He's flexible. It'll benefit him to stay healthy and stay in the same system for a few years. If he does that, great things are ahead."
Brown might not be drawing a direct comparison between himself and Cooper, but he also appears to have incredibly high expectations for the fourth-year man. He said earlier this offseason that he expects Cooper to have 120-125 catches in Gruden's offseason, stating that if Cooper can't hit those figures for Gruden, nobody can.
That should bode well for Amari Cooper, who Gruden will need to fix for #Raiders. Tim Brown: "If he can't nobody can. There's no doubt about it. For Amari, this is going to be an incredible opportunity for him to have 120, 125 catches a year without any problem." https://t.co/66avvVs3HM— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) January 10, 2018
It took Brown himself until his sixth NFL season to truly break out, and when he did it was with an 80-catch, 1,180-yard campaign. That was in an era of lower passing volume and efficiency, but Brown did average 142 targets per year from 1993 through 2002. When Gruden was his coach from 1998 through 2001, Brown averaged 84 catches for 1,162 yards and nine touchdowns a season. Something tells me the Raiders would be plenty happy if they got that production out of Cooper 20 years later.