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Time for Raiders WR Amari Cooper to take next step

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 08: Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) before a Thursday night AFC West showdown between the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs on December 08, 2016 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)
(Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)

Derek Carr said Amari Cooper has some “dog” in him.

The Oakland Raiders need that dog to hunt for the long haul in 2017.

Cooper, who turned 23 last Saturday, has been almost everything the upstart Raiders have hoped since they took the polished receiver out of Alabama with the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2015. The Raiders selected Cooper over USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams (who went to the New York Jets two picks later) for two reasons: The Raiders wanted to give a gift to Carr, who suffered because of poor receiving help as a rookie in 2014. Also, the Raiders wanted to end their streak of porous receiver play.

It wasn’t long ago when the Raiders’ top receiving options were the likes of Andre Holmes and Rod Streater. Things were so bad, Holmes’ 693 receiving yards led the team in 2014. That, of course, is pathetic.

One of the reasons why Cooper – whom the Raiders wisely chose over Kevin White – was drafted by the Raiders was the last time they had a 1,000-yard season by a receiver was 10 years earlier by Randy Moss.

10 years.

1,000-yard seasons are pretty routine in today’s NFL. The Raiders had to catch up and did when they took Cooper. He has put together 1,000-plus yards in both of his NFL seasons.

Cooper has 155 catches for 2,223 yards and 11 touchdowns combined in his first two seasons. Cooper is already one of the better receivers in the NFL. He and No. 2 receiver Michael Crabtree, who was signed as a free agent weeks before the Raiders drafted Cooper, were the NFL’s best receiver tandem in 2015 and will surely be one of the NFL’s best again this season, along with Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson and the New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall.

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 08: Oakland Raiders wide receivers Amari Cooper (89) and Michael Crabtree (15) during a Thursday night AFC West showdown between the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs on December 08, 2016 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. The Chiefs won 21-13. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)

While Cooper was the right choice in Oakland, he has been productive and the future is bright, he still faces a large challenge in 2017. He needs to produce throughout the season. In both of his first two seasons, Cooper’s production dipped in the second half of the season. The dreaded rookie wall and some injuries contributed to his production slip in 2015.

However, after 2016, Oakland coach Jack Del Rio said injuries did not affect Cooper much in the season. And there was some alarming production slippage in Year 2 for Cooper. He had four 100-yard receiving games last season. All four of those games came in the first half of the year. His highest yardage total in the second half was 76 yards. However, he had games of 39 yards or fewer four times in the second half of the season. Cooper is too talented to see his production dip low. It’s been noticed.

“I really like Cooper, but you can’t deny the lack of production late in his first two seasons,” one NFL scout said. “I did not like what I saw in some of his film in the second half of last season. … But there’s no way I’d give up on him. He’s too talented and he has shown he can make plays in this league. I just want to see it for the long haul of the season.”

Cooper has acknowledged he has to show more consistency and he has bulked up this offseason in an attempt to keep his production up over the journey of a long season. Carr told reporters at Oakland’s minicamp last week that he sees a determined Cooper.

“I think that with him, that just dog in him is coming out,” Carr said. “That thing that you saw at Alabama where he’ll just take things over, and not to say that he hasn’t because he has, but I just think that’s it’s not just becoming a thing of what game it’s going to be, it’s becoming a thing where that’s who he is. DBs better know that he’s really taking it serious that he’s trying to go attack them this year. He’s not going to let them come to him anymore, and I think that just comes with age and seeing him do it out here, we were just laughing, man. The guy has been going off all camp, all offseason. We were kind of just laughing at how impressive he has been.”

While Cooper’s late season swoons can’t be overlooked, there’s little to worry about. After all, he is still very young. Even though he celebrated his 23rd birthday two days ago, he has 33 games of NFL experience, including a playoff game. The first two receivers taken in this April’s draft – Corey Davis (Titans, No. 5) and Mike Williams (Chargers, No. 7) – are already both 22. Cooper came into the league at the age of 20.

He is still learning, and in 2017, expect him to learn how to produce over the course of a full season.

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