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Amari Cooper needs to play better for Raiders

Last week – when all was good with the Oakland Raiders’ offense, backed up by their NFL-leading 71 points after two games — we looked at quarterback Derek Carr’s offensive weapons.

Amari Cooper was ranked No. 1 on a 10-player deep list. I noted in the article that I was tempted to select fellow receiver Michael Crabtree because he had a bigger impact than Cooper in the first two weeks. But I stuck with Cooper because he is more talented and the team’s No. 1 receiver. And, at the tender age of 23, Cooper has both already proven to be an impact player in the NFL, and he has immense potential.

That is all still true, even after a complete stinker of a performance at Washington on “Sunday Night Football.” On an extraordinary NFL day, the nightcap provided perhaps the most shocking outcome. Oakland’s offense, which appeared to be elite, was completely terrible in a 27-10 loss at Washington.

The Raiders had 128 yards of total offense. They had five first downs and were 0-for-11 on third-down conversions. Everyone who played offense for Oakland contributed to this disaster. The offensive line was terrible. Carr was awful. Marshawn Lynch did not make an impact and Cooper wasn’t any good.

Do they all get a pass based on previous performances?

Yes, to an extent.

But it can’t be denied, there are some reasons to be concerned about Cooper. He is not off to a good start in 2017. According to Pro Football Focus, Cooper has six drops in 16 catchable targets through three games. He leads all NFL receivers in drops and has the highest PFF drop rate with 10-plus targets.

Cooper has just 10 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in three games. He is on pace for 53 receptions for 536 yards and five touchdown catches for the season. That is far from No. 1 receiver production. It’s more like an average year for a No. 2 receiver.

Does this mean Cooper is on the decline?

No, not necessarily. But it’s fair to say, Cooper is in a slump and must elevate his game.

What is worrisome is that Cooper’s slump is continuing from last season. There has been a theme in Cooper’s first two NFL seasons. He has excelled in the first half of the season and then struggled in the second half of the season.

Since the ninth game of last season, and including the playoff loss at Houston, Cooper has just 43 catches for 477 yards with four touchdowns. That is not the work of a No. 1 receiver and 12 games is a pretty big sample size.

Still, it’s probably premature to be concerned about Cooper’s long-term future production. He is just 23 and has produced at the NFL level. He surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving mark in both of his NFL seasons.

Thus, this is not a case of a team waiting for a high draft pick to develop. Cooper has made plays. But he is there is no denying he is mired in a prolonged slump.

The Raiders have been planning to give Cooper a long-term contract in the next 18 months or so as he is a core member of the franchise. But there’s no doubt, Oakland will watch to see if this slump is a temporary problem or if Cooper’s long-term production potential is less than what they originally thought it was.

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