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9 Days ‘Til Kickoff: The one, the only, Amari Cooper

The spark of the Alabama offense through three seasons in Tuscaloosa, Amari Cooper may prove himself the best receiver to play the game at any level

Auburn v Alabama
There hasn’t been a pass thrown that Amari Cooper can’t catch.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Face it. Amari Cooper is just better than you. At everything (with the exception of maybe Family Feud). Don’t feel bad though…as you are not alone.

The stealthy speed of a plunging peregrine. The loaded-leg leaping ability of a klipspringer. The agility of a mountain cat on ice skates. Cooper was gifted with the hand-crafted measurables of a wide receiver created to spec in a performance lab. But it isn’t just his physicality that separated him from his fellow receivers during an illustrious career at Alabama. Cooper had the total package: a legendary work ethic, rare physical traits, and route-running that is the stuff of legend (ankle-breaker status achieved).

Though Julio Jones is widely regarded as one of the finest receivers to ever don the crimson, the argument could successfully be made that Cooper was even better in Julio’s immediate wake. Better than Julio? Surely you jest. But when looking at the statistics, the case can easily be made that Cooper was more explosive than Jones at Alabama (and may prove to be as well in the NFL).

Cooper was not only an individual performer, but in his time in Tuscaloosa, the Tide won a national championship, two SEC championships, and competed for the national title deep into the 2013 and 2014 season. At Alabama, the Miami native was the kind of Tide player who raised all around him with his presence, as he would outperform, outwork, and outcompete his opponents (and his teammates) time after time.

In recognition of the nine remaining days until the kickoff of the 2016 season, we look back at the recent, illustrious career of Amari Cooper, who wore #9 in his days at Alabama.

Early Years

At Miami Northwestern High School, Cooper was a multi-sport athlete who excelled at all levels. A basketball and track star at Northwestern, Cooper was also part of a state championship-contending perennial football powerhouse that turned out quarterbacks such as Miami’s Jacory Harris and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. In fact, Cooper played with Bridgewater in his junior season (Bridgewater was a senior), and though the receiver was injured and missed time, he still accounted for 175 yards on 16 catches with four touchdowns off of Bridgewater’s golden arm.

Following a lackluster junior campaign, a healed Cooper took to the summer 7-on-7 circuit, traveling the Southeast and showing his wares at college camps. It was on one such occasion that Cooper found himself in Tuscaloosa at the University of Alabama camp. After proving himself a man among boys at the camp, the speedy wideout garnered a nearly immediate scholarship offer from Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.

In his senior season, Cooper proved himself more than just a camp champ, emerging as a top-flight receiver prospect in the opinion of many SEC and ACC coaching staffs. He caught 33 receptions in his senior campaign for 722 yards and six touchdowns, and as a result, garnered first-team honors on the Florida High School Athletic Association All-State roster. After his final high school season, he was invited to participate in the 2012 Under Armour All-American Game, in which he once again showed his skills were not a fluke, reeling in a 75 yard touchdown catch and exploding for an electric 93 yard punt return for a touchdown.

Cooper committed to Alabama earlier in his senior season, ending his recruitment and solidifying his place in yet another stellar recruiting class for Alabama. Cooper was considered a consensus four-star recruit in the 2012 cycle, and he was ranked as the 45th best player in the nation by Scout considered him the 8th best player in the state of Florida and the 12th best receiver prospect in the nation. Little did they know that seemingly lofty praise was an exercise in understatement, as Cooper went on to become a terror for opposing secondaries from Day 1 at Alabama.

College Years

The 12th best receiver prospect in the country soon proved himself the top receiving target on the Tide roster in his freshman campaign. In his first year in Tuscaloosa, Cooper played in all 14 games, eventually emerging as the primary receiving target for quarterback AJ McCarron. After working through the rotation in his first five games, Cooper started the remaining nine games of the season, including the Tide’s BCS National Championship match-up with Notre Dame. Not only did Cooper lead all receivers at Alabama with 59 receptions for 1,000 yards that year, but he broke Jones’ freshman receiving records to boot. His 11 touchdowns also broke Al Lary’s 62-year-old school record for receiving touchdowns as a freshman.

Cooper chose the biggest stage of his young career to have one of his best games to that point, becoming a high-flying offensive weapon against Notre Dame’s secondary in the national championship. With McCarron’s pin-point passing and Cooper’s ability to come down with the ball, the Tide air attack savaged the Irish secondary for 264 yards and four touchdowns (with 105 yards and two TDs belonging to Cooper).

Cooper ended the season as a consensus Freshman All-American and SEC All-Freshman team performer. The exclamation point on his rookie season was his performance against the Irish on the game’s largest stage, and with both Cooper and McCarron returning for the following season, the outlook was rosy for the Crimson Tide offense.

Unfortunately, Cooper sustained an injury in 2013 that somewhat limited his effectiveness. That said, the Tide wideout still recorded 736 yards on 45 catches with four touchdowns in only seven games as a starter. Cooper participated in 12 games overall, but he wasn’t as explosive with the injury by any stretch of the imagination. That said, he had a particularly impressive end to his sophomore season in the game against Auburn (a Tide loss), when he accounted for 178 yards on a mere six receptions, including a school-record 99-yard catch for a touchdown.

After a disappointing year by Cooper’s standards, the junior wideout came back to the field at full-speed with a vengeance. Cooper had previously proven that when properly motivated, defensive backs quiver before him and records are reduced to mere dust.

In 2014, Cooper set the Alabama single-game receiving record against bitter rival Tennessee, hauling in 224 yards against the Vol secondary from Tide quarterback Blake Sims. Many had predicted that, given Alabama quarterback situation, Cooper’s numbers would take a step back in his junior season. That, much to the chagrin of Tide opponents, was not the case. Cooper became Sims’ security blanket, his ace in the hole he could call upon when he didn’t know what else to do with the ball. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin used the dynamic wideout all over the formation: split wide, in the slot, wherever a match-up could be created that would allow Cooper to use his outlandish athleticism and precision routes to victimize opposing defensive backs.

After setting the record against the Vols, Cooper matched his own mark with a second 224 receiving yard game against the Tide’s other chief rival, Auburn. When the dust settled on what would be Cooper’s last year in Tuscaloosa, he had claimed nearly every receiving record worth having at the Capstone. He finished the year with 1,727 yards on 124 receptions with 16 touchdowns. The 124 receptions not only set an Alabama record, but an SEC record for most catches in a season. Cooper became the all-time career receptions leader (229 catches), the all-time career receiving yards leader (3,463 yards) and the all-time career receiving touchdowns leader (31) at Alabama. He finished third in the Heisman voting behind Marcus Mariota and Melvin Gordon. Cooper ended his final season at Alabama as the Biletnikoff Award winner and a consensus All-American.

After Alabama

Projected as a top-10 pick in the coming 2015 NFL Draft, Cooper elected to leave Alabama after his junior campaign and test his fortune as a pro. The explosive receiver was atop the list of every team in the market for a game-breaking pass-catcher, and he made it no further than the fourth pick of the opening round before being selected by the Oakland Raiders.

Cooper saw action early in his rookie campaign, making his debut against Cincinnati. Despite the unfortunate outcome, Cooper accounted for 47 yards on five catches in the 33-13 loss. In his second game against the Ravens, Cooper began to emerge as a primary weapon for Raiders quarterback David Carr, as he hauled in a 68 yard touchdown catch for his first TD of his career. In the opening stanza of his NFL career, Cooper became the first Raiders receiver with back-to-back receiving games since Randy Moss id it in 2005. Against the Steelers, Cooper broke Tim Brown’s rookie receiving record, and he later became the first Raiders receiver in history with 1,000 yards receiving as a rookie. He was the first Raiders receiver to reach 1,000 yards receiving since Moss’ ’85 campaign.

Cooper finished the season with an impressive 1,070 yards and six touchdowns through 16 games. His performance earned him a spot in the 2015 Pro Bowl as a rookie, the first of what will undoubtedly be many visits to Hawaii for the former Tide great.

Cooper represents the deadly combination of qualities that define elite wide receivers in both the college and pro games. He is gifted with perfect size, electric speed, the intuitive ability to highpoint, and a work ethic that puts his teammates to shame. Cooper proved himself at Alabama, and if his rookie year in the NFL is any indication, he will be the holder of countless Raiders’ receiving records before his time in Oakland is done.

(To relive some of Amari Cooper’s greatest moments in crimson, click here and here. To see Coop in action in his rookie season with the silver and black, check this out. And just for fun, here’s Amari clownin’ with Steve Harvey and Tyrann Mathieu on Family Feud…don’t know how I missed this episode.)