The Raiders are traveling 5,345 miles Thursday night in hopes of finding Amari Cooper.
Cooper will be on the team charter, of course, as he is every week. But whether Derek Carr will be able to locate Cooper on the field Sunday at London’s Wembley Stadium against the Seattle Seahawks is anybody’s guess.
Carr threw the ball just one time to Cooper in a 26-10 Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, completing it for a 10-yard gain.
Cooper’s dropoff in production began last season, when he caught 48 passes for 680 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games. That came after a pair of 1,000-plus yard years which sagged at the end of each season due in part to injury.
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At his present pace (22 catches, 280 yards, one touchdown in five games), Cooper would finish with 70 catches, 896 yards and three touchdowns.
It isn’t what coach Jon Gruden, Carr, Cooper or anyone else had in mind when the receiver’s fifth-year option was picked up for the 2019 season at a price of approximately $13.9 million.
(The Raiders aren’t obligated to pay that contract unless Cooper is on the roster at the start of the new league year in March).
When Gruden took over as coach, he identified Cooper as a “focal point” and a “headliner” at the NFL owner’s meetings. That’s happened twice in five games so far, a 10-catch, 116-yard game against Denver and an eight-catch, 128-yard performance in an overtime win over Cleveland.
The tone has shifted in terms of Cooper’s use, as the Raiders have stressed finding the best matchups regardless of who is doing the receiving as opposed to scheming to get specific receivers open.
“We have a lot of good receivers on this team. We have (seven) receivers with 10 catches or more,” Gruden said. “We want to get Martavis (Bryant) involved, we want to get Jordy Nelson involved . . . Jared Cook is having a heck of a year for us. Coop is a good player and he’s had two games with over 100 yards in five games. Hopefully this week we get him the ball more.”
Cooper hasn’t even been the No. 1 option on his own team. Cook, who Carr’s brother David told 95.7 The Game is Derek’s favorite receiver — has been targeted 41 times, or on 20.3 percent of pass plays. Cooper has been thrown to 31 times and 15.4 percent.
It’s not nearly the commitment Gruden’s offense made in 1998 with Tim Brown, whose numbers through five games weren’t all that different from those of Cooper (21 catches, 266 yards, one touchdown) but was the intended receiver on 26.8 percent of the passes from Raiders quarterbacks Jeff George and Donald Hollas in those games.
Nor is Cooper currently anywhere near the No. 1 target the Raiders hoped he’d be considering his draft status and promising first two seasons.
Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, for instance, has been thrown to 66 times by Ben Roethlisberger, or 30.7 percent of all pass plays. Odell Beckham Jr. has been targed on 31.4 percent of all the New York Giants’ throws.
Other No. 1 targets such as Atlanta’s Julio Jones (28.9 percent), Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry (29.8 percent), Minnesota’s Adam Thielen (29.2 percent) and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins (29.7 percent) are targeted roughly twice as often as Cooper is with the Raiders.
“It’s on all of us really,finding ways to get him open and him working to get open,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “I think it goes both ways. There have been teams that have tried to take him away and we’ve worked on other matchups.
“Certainly we like him as a wide receiver and every week we install plays to take advantage of those matchups with him . . . each week it’s going to change. We’re always going to have a certain amount of targets for those top three guys and he’s one of those guys.”
When Cooper was drafted, what few critics there were of his game thought he was so polished as a route runner that he was almost a finished product. Cooper contended he was only 20 years old and had plenty of room for growth and improvement.
Cooper is still only 24, and the Raiders have the rest of the season to figure out of he can still become one of the NFL’s better receivers or if this is all there is.