The Case for Amari Cooper Over Leonard Williams


Sep 20, 2014; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Amari Cooper (9) celebrates his touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of their game against the Florida Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won 42-21. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

During an episode of the Grantland NFL Podcast a couple weeks ago, Bill Barnwell made an interesting point on behalf of the argument for taking Amari Cooper or Kevin White over Leonard Williams with the 4th overall draft pick. The idea was simply that Oakland is still evaluating Derek Carr as a long term franchise quarterback. Giving Carr solid, legitimate weapons to throw to speeds up that evaluation process, much like having the control elements setup for a science experiment. In that way, a WR is much more valuable than a pass rusher, no matter how good Leonard Williams is. For in the NFL, the team’s overall success often follows the individual success of the quarterback.

Evaluating Carr’s rookie season has some complexity to it. Despite occasional bright spots from Brice Butler, Kenbrell Thompkins, & Andre Holmes, no Raiders receiver managed to establish themselves as a consistent dangerous weapon. Veteran James Jones was the most consistent receiver on the team, but nowhere near an elite level. The lack of WR talent on the field didn’t often give Carr many options to make the big, flashy plays, or scare defenders into overplaying one particular threat at the expense of another.

The 2014 offensive scheme comes into play as well. Watching the Raiders game film from last season makes one thing apparent: they were scheming specifically to put Derek Carr in the best position to succeed. This works both for and against him. The vast majority of route concepts ran by the Oakland offense in 2014 prioritized short to medium crossing routes and comeback/curl routes. These are your dink-and-dunk type plays which are defenses are often willing to allow in lieu of a bigger play, forcing the onus onto the receivers to make plays after the catch. Routes such as these are also the types which require a quick release, minimizing the likeliness of the offense suffering QB sacks. Carr supporters might argue that the offensive schematics artificially lowered Carr’s productivity and a change in scheme will show that. Critics will argue that the safety of the scheme benefitted Carr’s accuracy numbers, specifically his impressive 21/12 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

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The numbers tell a more cautious story. Pro Football Focus rated Derek Carr as the 38th of 39 quarterbacks in the league who played more than 25% of snaps for their team, with an overall PFF grade of -32.6. Only Blake Bortles ranked lower than Carr. If we move to quarterback rating, the traditional NFL QB rating moves Carr up past Jake Locker and Josh McCown with a QB rating of 76.6 on the year. Carr’s yards per attempt were lowest in the league at 5.46, but his overall yards are closer to Alex Smith numbers at 3,270 yards on the season – which is more than Cam Newton and Teddy Bridgewater.

Don’t forget, all these numbers were on an offense at the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive category outside of Carr. They finished dead last in the league in rushing yards (1240). There wasn’t a single wide receiver that could consistently take the top off of defenses and force them to play more honest. Then of course there were the dropped passes. Oakland finished the year with the 5th most dropped passes of any team (33). Carr wasn’t getting help from anyone else on the offense all year.

This would change with the addition of Amari Cooper. The Cooper/White comparisons have been well researched and the general consensus is that while Cooper possibly doesn’t have the ceiling that Kevin White has, he’s the more polished receiver and is ready to play today as a #1 guy. Oakland needs a #1 receiver that can be at his best right now. Combining him with Michael Crabtree and the other Raiders receivers begins to take excuses away from Derek Carr’s performance. Crabtree has already displayed an ability to find holes in defenses and make tough catches in traffic. Cooper was the most electric receiver in college football, constantly running sharp routes, exposing defensive weaknesses, and making big catches both short and deep.

With a Cooper/Crabtree led receiving corps and hopefully a more creative offensive scheme from Bill Musgrave, Carr should have most of the pieces in place to really showcase his talents. For a team finally beginning to climb its way out of the deep dark rebuilding pit, certainty about the quarterback is a must-have – as soon as possible. Imagine the alternative: Oakland drafts Williams, Carr struggles again next season with only a less explosive Crabtree to throw to, and his numbers continue to suffer, which forces the Raiders to wait another year to get a receiver or two to properly evaluate Carr. Then, if Carr doesn’t work out, Oakland is three years deep in the Carr experiment before finally having enough information to decide whether to move on. It seems far more beneficial to the team to have that question answered sooner rather than later so McKenzie and Del Rio can adjust their personnel plans accordingly in building a Raiders team that can make a solid push into the playoffs for years to come.