After three years, Amari Cooper remains a talented yet enigmatic player. With all of the skills needed to dominate the AFC West, Cooper’s place should sit atop of the division. Yet, many would disagree. For this question FPC Raiders writers Chris Simmons, Ray Aspuria, and Kenneth Berry square up and decide:
Who is the best receiver in the AFC West?
Let us be real. For as much as Raider Nation wants to prop Amari Cooper on a pedestal, he is not even the best wide receiver in the AFC West. Look at how Cooper compares to the top wideouts in the division:
Total: 48 catches, 680 yards, 7 TDs
Vs. AFC West: 22 catches, 372 yards, 4 TDs
Keenan Allen (Chargers):
Total: 102 catches, 1,393 yards, 6 TDs
Vs. AFC West: 32 catches, 369 yards, 2 TDs
Tyreek Hill (Chiefs):
Total: 75 catches, 1,183 yards, 7 TDs
Vs. AFC West: 22 catches, 403 yards, 3 TDs
Demariyus Thomas (Broncos):
Total: 83 catches, 949 yards, 5 TDs
Vs. AFC West: 24 catches, 228 yards, one TD
Much to my chagrin, Los Angeles’ Keenan Allen takes home the best wide receiver in AFC West distinction. Playing with the best quarterback in the division makes Allen the best wideout by default, if you ask me. Out of 159 passes thrown his way, he snared 102 of them. That is an impressive 64-percent catch rate. That mark is bested by Hill (75 of 105 for 71 percent) while Thomas boasted a 59-percent and Coop sported a 50-percent clip.
So let us go in order: Allen is stops, Hill is second and Thomas and Cooper fighting it out for the third and fourth spots.
Coincidentally, here is how I rank the dudes throwing these cats the ball: Philip Rivers is tops, Derek Carr second and a tossup between Case Keenum and Patrick Mahomes at third and fourth. Therefore, there is hope for Cooper yet. Just because I currently see him at three or four on the pecking order does not mean that is where Cooper will end up in my book.
First and foremost, Cooper was not 100-percent, according to Carr and the offensive play caller goes from neophyte Todd Downing to wily Jon Gruden. The return of Chucky is going to have a resounding effect on the entire offense and, after last year’s debacle which saw Coop produce career-low numbers (except touchdowns, strangely enough), the arrow is trending up.
Nevertheless, at this moment, Cooper is looking up at Allen and Hill. Maybe even Thomas.
Amari Cooper is not the most talented receiver in the AFC West, or even on his own team, but he is still the best receiver in the division. He has struggled with drops, injuries, and poor coaching but even with that entire Cooper has been the most consistent true receiver for the Raiders, and the AFC West, for the last four seasons. Some may suggest players like Keenan Allen, Demariyus Thomas, or even Tyreek Hill hold the title for best receiver, but this is simply not the case. Through consistency and production, Amari Cooper has paced this group and will continue to lead even if he is not the most talented of the bunch.
Yet for all of his efforts this is one area where he lags significantly behind other number one receivers in the division as he has a significantly lower catch rate when contested.
Part of this lower number is the large spray zone quarterback Derek Carr tends to use when trying to lead a receiver to a spot. However, contested or not Cooper has some very real drop issues that come as often as when he is wide open as when he is covered. This does not preclude him from making spectacular catches but it does tend to limit his overall production and stall offensive drives. Cooper had as many drops as Allen and Hill combined, but tied Thomas for the same amount. Furthermore, contrary to what many believe, Cooper did not lead his team in drops this season, as they were a rampant issue for everyone on the Raider offense.
When comparing all four players since Cooper’s draft, Hill’s numbers lose some of their luster, Thomas’ body of work really sticks out, and Allen’s injuries have hindered his numbers. Hill, like Cooper, has only been around for a very short amount of time with 2017 being only his second season.
Thomas however has been in the NFL for almost a decade and has produced for many more seasons. He is the only player in the division with more yards and catches than Amari since 2015. Thomas averages .1 fewer touchdowns a game. In addition, he boasts the second most yards per game behind Allen’s 87.2. Alone, that is impressive because Allen, like Cooper, lost significant time due to injury. In fact, Allen averages three more receptions than anyone else, but also has the lowest yards per catch. This is an area Cooper, unexpectedly, outpaces the rest of the group by almost a yard and a half.
Clearly all of these players are fairly close to each other in terms of production over the last few seasons. However, Cooper, in my opinion, has been the most consistent posting back to back thousand yard seasons before 2017. During his worst season, he still had a 200+ yard multi-touchdown game and operated as an incredible decoy. He has shown the capacity to win with his feet, burn opponents off the line, and operate out of the slot.
Very few players in the NFL can do the things he does despite lacking elite physical traits and dealing with focus drops. Keenan Allen, for everything he can do, cannot play in the slot. Also, he lacks long speed. Demaryius Thomas owns the largest body of work but is also the oldest by far and clearly being hindered by his quarterback play. Tyreek Hill may hold this mantle in due time as an all around offensive player but the NFL knows he is not a true number one wide receiver. The one player who can do it all, and has done it in the last three seasons, is Amari Cooper whose versatility, consistency, and grit land him on top of this list.
Best in the AFC West
- Demaryius Thomas: Denver Broncos
- Keenan Allen: San Diego Chargers
- Emmanuel Sanders: Denver Broncos
- Amari Cooper: Oakland Raiders
- Tyreek Hill: Kansas City Chiefs
Thomas, at one point resembled a top-five receiver and with his speed, strength and downfield ability. On the other hand,r since Peyton Manning retired, Thomas suffered due to putrid quarterback play. He had a career low 11.4 yards per catch this past season on 83 catches, 949 yards, and 5 touchdowns. The signing of Case Keenum does nothing in the way of helping the vertical passing game. . Keenum does not have the arm strength to get him the ball downfield. People tend to forget Thomas ran a 4.38 40 at 6’3, 230lbs. He is developed into a complete receiver and his 949 yards was the fewest since his second year in the league with 551 yards. He has played and started in every game since 2012, his third year in the league.
Keenan Allen proved his elite status after having a career year in receiving yards and winning Comeback Player of the Year. With a career-high 102 catches for a career-high 1393 yards and six touchdowns. He has the luxury of playing with Phillip River. His lack of speed hides in the construct of the LA offense. He is a chain mover and a master of the slot. His only other 1,000-yard season was his rookie year in 2013. Before this season, his last three seasons were injury-plagued with torn ACL’s a ruptured Achilles tendon. Allen is one more injury away from being replaced by the likes of former top-10 pick Mike Williams. When healthy he is incredibly productive but only when he is healthy, which is still up in the air.
Emmanuel Sanders has been a great second option to Thomas the past four years. He only had 555 yards this year but had three straight 1,000-yard seasons for the Broncos. He can still return kicks and punts so his value goes beyond working the slot and middle of the field. Even though he is 30, his production ability as a second option to Demaryius Thomas makes him incredibly dangerous. His career-year in 2014 saw him produce 101 catches for 1,404 yards, nine touchdowns. These marks will never be matched again. Yet, his clutch versatility, and great hands will keep him relevant in the AFC West.
Amari Cooper is at a career crossroads. His drops have stifled his career and injuries have made him truly inconsistent. More is expected from the former fourth overall pick. Former Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree led the group during his time in Oakland. Also, Cooper adding weight hurt his production and his third season was his worst with 680 receiving yards. Cooper is the future of this division and with John Gruden adding Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant allows Cooper to dominate in the slot and not face double teams every play. Amari might have to take the Torry Holt approach and try catching 1,000 balls a day.
Tyreek Hill is the fastest & most dangerous player on this list; however, he is not a dominant route runner or catcher of the football. He is more of the nightmare of a mismatch that Percy Harvin used to be on the field minus the headaches Harvin provided off it. (Pardon the pun.) Hill can hurt you in every way possible & is more on the benefit of being coached and utilized by an elite play caller in Andy Reid. Sammy Watkins, Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce will benefit from Hill improving his technique. He is undeniably the best deep threat and offensive weapon in the AFC an arguably the NFL. However, he’s not yet on the level of these receivers. He is still Percy Harvin 2.0 in his current state.
Cooper needs to realize his potential. If the Raiders own any hopes of a title soon, Cooper must elevate his game.