What a difference a logical offseason makes. Derek Carr was a cautious checkdown machine in his rookie year, and now he’s got some dynamic receiving targets. First they signed free agent Michael Crabtree, who drew very little interest due to several concerns.
The signing seemed like a no-brainer even before it happened, but Reggie McKenzie still gets credit for luring Crabtree to Oakland. There were a lot of Crabtree doubters out there, those who wondered if he’d ever be the same after his Achilles tear, or if he was a so-called diva whose ego wasn’t commensurate with his production. Apparently he still has something left in the tank.
Then the Raiders selected Amari Cooper, another no-brainer move … in my opinion, anyway. I was on SportsTalk Live during the draft, and Jim Kozimor and John Lund (two guys I love doing the show with, by the way) were very skeptical. They thought the Raiders should’ve selected Leonard Williams, and they were surprised when, after about two minutes of questioning the pick, I threw out my opinion: Carr needed weapons, and Cooper looked like the best receiver (by far) in college, so why not go with him instead of a combine demon like Kevin White?
Cooper has made my flaming-hot draft take look pretty, pretty good … 33 catches, 519 yards and three touchdowns in six games. That’s a per game average of 6.5 receptions, 86.5 yards and 0.5 touchdowns. I think Cooper might end up becoming the best receiver in the league by next year — that’s how precise he runs his routes, how great his hands are, and how elusive he is when he catches the ball. What’s weird is not many people are talking a lot about him, although I’ve been heavily focused on the nuclear waste dump that is the San Francisco 49ers lately.
Anyway, since Cooper reminds me of a slightly smaller and faster Jerry Rice, I figured it might be fun to compare Cooper’s production to what the best receivers in history did over their first six games. Here’s Cooper’s stats along with the top-12 all-time in receiving yardage. (Since the last two guys are active and less than 100 yards behind Cris Carter and less than 200 yards behind James Lofton, one would assume they’ll end up in the top-10 before this season is over).
- Amari Cooper: 33 receptions, 519 yards (three 100-yd games), 3 TD
- Jerry Rice: 15 receptions, 275 yards, 1 TD
- Terrell Owens: 7 receptions, 32 yards, 0 TD
- Randy Moss: 27 receptions, 527 yards (one 100-yd game), 6 TD
- Isaac Bruce: 8 receptions, 100 yards, 1 TD
- Tony Gonzalez: 8 receptions, 110 yards, 1 TD
- Tim Brown: 10 receptions, 209 yards, 3 TD
- Marvin Harrison: 21 receptions, 255 yards, 1 TD
- Reggie Wayne: 13 receptions, 192 yards, 0 TD
- James Lofton: 15 receptions, 304 yards, 4 TD
- Cris Carter: 3 receptions, 60 yards, 1 TD
- Steve Smith: 2 receptions, 27 yards, 0 TD
- Andre Johnson: 31 receptions, 466 yards, 2 TD
Among the top 12 in all-time receiving yardage, only Moss surpasses Cooper’s production (and not by a whole lot). Cooper’s first six games also easily bests that of several other Hall of Fame (or HOF-caliber) receivers such as Steve Largent, Andre Reed, Art Monk, Michael Irvin, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson.
How about receivers who were named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year (an award Cooper is very likely to win)?
- Odell Beckham: 31 receptions, 463 yards (two 100-yd games), 2 TD
- Percy Harvin: 20 receptions, 243 yards, 2 TD
- Anquan Boldin: 39 receptions, 592 yards (one 200-yd game), 2 TD
- Randy Moss: 27 receptions, 527 yards (one 100-yd game), 6 TD
- Carl Pickens: 7 receptions, 108 yards, 0 TD
- Eddie Brown: 19 receptions, 316 yards, 2 TD
- Louis Lipps: 21 receptions, 463 yards, 5 TD
- Earl McCullouch: 23 receptions, 501 yards, 5 TD
Of the top-12 players in all-time receiving yardage, and seven ROY receivers, only Moss, Johnson, Beckham, Boldin, Lipps and McCullouch have comparable numbers over their first six NFL games, and Boldin (who had a debut for the ages — 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns) is the only one who has the clear advantage six games in.
This puts the Raiders’ first round pick in rare company. Receivers aren’t expected to come in and dominate from the jump, and Cooper is on pace to finish with 88 catches, 1,384 yards and eight scores. That would almost mirror Boldin’s rookie season (101 receptions, 1,377 yards, eight touchdowns) and beat Moss’ rookie year (69/1,313/17) in every category besides touchdowns. Who knows what will happen over the next 10 games, but Carr-to-Cooper certainly gives Raiders fans a reason to be excited.
Another reason for Silver-and-Black optimism comes in the form of another Biletnikoff Award winner. Crabtree actually pulled off that feat twice, which led to Raiders fans crying streaks into their black facepaint and 49ers fans wildly celebrating when Al Davis made Darrius Heyward-Bey the first receiver taken in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Crabtree would hold out for the first five games of his rookie season. Although he had a decent 11-game campaign in ’09, 49ers fans never fully forgave Crabtree for his lengthy holdout and production that — while solid — never matched the promise he showed at Texas Tech. Niners fans also didn’t exactly enjoy Crabtree’s penchant for training camp injuries, which forced him to miss almost every possible preseason game during his 49ers tenure.
I thought the 49ers should’ve looked into re-signing Crabtree, and apparently they did — he claimed the 49ers offered him more money than the Raiders. However, Crabtree ventured to the East Bay on a one-year “prove it” deal instead. So far, he’s already shown that he can still be an effective starting receiver. In fact (and this is where the comparison comes in), Crabtree is outperforming every receiver on the 49ers … including the guy signed to replace him.
- Michael Crabtree: 33 receptions, 381 yards (63.5 yards per game), 2 TD
- Anquan Boldin: 31 receptions, 372 yards (53.1 yards per game), 2 TD
- Torrey Smith: 14 receptions, 323 yards (46.1 yards per game), 2 TD
Granted, Crabtree has the quarterback who’s currently ranked sixth in passer (101.0) rating throwing him the ball, while Colin Kaepernick’s rating of 82.8 puts him at 24th among qualified passers. But if Crabtree really did turn down more money, he deserves credit for making a move that could pay off after this season.
“I needed new scenery. It wasn’t for me,” Crabtree said before the season. “I needed a quarterback that can deliver the ball, and that was hungry like I was.”