2015 NFL Combine Watch List; Part 1: Wide Receiver

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Sep 20, 2014; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Amari Cooper (9) makes a catch against Florida Gators defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (1) in the first quarter of their game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won 42-21. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Amari Cooper, Alabama

Amari Cooper is the best-known receiver coming into the Combine, a statistical beast who put up solid production for three years at Alabama but exploded in 2014 in Lane Kiffin’s pro-style offense. Cooper, projected as a top 5 pick, is many analysts’ choice for the Raiders at the 4th overall spot in the 2014 draft. There’s not a lot to say negatively about Cooper: he’s fast, he’s not a large player but he’s got decent size, he has great ball skills, he’s physical, he’s a good blocker, he runs good routes and he has sure hands. In fact, Cooper’s best play may be to simply sit the Combine out altogether. But, should he show up in Indianapolis, here are some key drills/events that evaluators like Reggie McKenzie will likely key in on to see if what he has shown for three years on tape matches up:

1. 40-yard dash: While Reggie is not a 40-time junkie like Al Davis, the 4o-yard dash is still a great tool to measure the straight-line speed and acceleration – as well as the running mechanics – of a prospect. This drill is immensely important in understanding the relative speed of wideouts and defensive backs, especially, and if Cooper chooses to run it – and he very well may not – his 40-time will be examined very closely. And while a great 40 time will reinforce his already high draft stock, a bad showing, even a showing in the 4.55 range, could actually hurt his stock somewhat.

2. Vertical: One of the most important assets a wideout can have is the ability to leap over defensive backs and make contested catches. While Cooper has shown throughout his entire career at Alabama that he can go up and fight for a high ball against college DB’s, pro evaluators will definitely want to find out his measurable numbers in the vertical to see how he stacks up against pros, especially at Cooper’s listed height. This will tell them two things: first, is Cooper able to elevate over an NFL cornerback and get to a jump ball, and second, does Cooper have explosive lower-body strength? If Cooper is strong in this event, he may want to participate, since a 6’1″ athlete with a 40-inch vertical is probably going to turn heads. The Ravens Torrey Smith, who is similar in build to Cooper, graded extremely well in this drill, and it comes in handy for him regularly as the primary deep-ball receiver for his team. A good vertical can definitely keep Cooper’s first-round stock high.

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  • 3. Body measurements: One of the first things players undergo at the Combine is measurements of their height, weight, arm length, and hand size. We’ve heard hand size get keyed in on quite a bit for quarterbacks, and often times the listed height and weight of a player can change after the NFL’s staff takes a look. Cooper, who is listed by Alabama as 6’1″ and 202 pounds, may suffer a bit of a blow if the NFL decides he is actually 6’0″ and 195 pounds – yes, an inch and seven pounds can make that much different. While 6’1″ is not big, it is certainly in line with the standard at the wide receiver position in the NFL. Last year, the Raiders’ leading receiver – James Jones – was roughly the same size as Cooper. While smaller receivers are capable of putting up huge numbers as receivers, they aren’t necessarily always top draft picks, as their ability as perimeter players is somewhat limited. At 6’1″ and over 200, Jones is a perimeter receiver. If he’s 6’0″ and less than 200, he may be considered more of a slot receiver.

    Another key measurement for a wideout – one that can cover for a mediocre showing in the vertical and a downgrade in height – is his arm length or “wingspan.” This number is crucial for a wideout, because the longer the arms, the larger the area in which a receiver can be expected to reach out and catch a football. A 5’11” guy with a 30 inch vertical is unimpressive, but give that guy a 33-inch arm length and all of a sudden he’s able to reach out past any corner who may be covering him. The eye test says Cooper has long arms as well, allowing him to play much bigger than his 6’1″ height. In this way, he is similar to the 49ers’ Michael Crabtree, who at 6’2″ has 34 1/4″ arms that allow him to go up and snag balls like a player two or three inches taller than him.

    Next: WR to Watch: Kevin White