Can 'special' Amari Cooper help Raiders upset Broncos?


The Denver Broncos have systematically destroyed the Raiders during the Peyton Manning era -- outscoring Oakland 222-85 over six easy wins since 2012 -- but this year's Silver and Black regime offers a twist.

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Raiders rookie wideout Amari Cooper has emerged as the league's most dangerous first-year pass-catcher, easily topping the Class of 2015 in targets, receptions, yardage and field-stretching plays.

The fourth-overall pick is on pace for 96 catches and 1,356 yards through the air, placing Cooper within striking distance of Anquan Boldin's rookie receiving record of 1,377 yards from 2003.

"I'm not really pleased with my first four games," Cooper said Tuesday, per the Bay Area News Group. "There's always room for improvement. It's why I'm here today. It's why I'm here tomorrow. To get better."

The work ethic is noted, but Cooper already won over Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden after frying the Browns for 134 yards off eight grabs in Week 3, leaving Haden to say: "I've been watching him on film. That dude, he's gonna be special. He has a really good stop-and-start. His burst. Everything."

Cooper's outburst against Cleveland followed his 109-yard torching of Baltimore in Week 2. The Ravens had no answer for a newbie whose five catches of 20-plus yards are two more than any other first-year player. Meanwhile, no rookie is remotely close to Cooper's 12 first downs.

While Chicago's Kevin White, Miami's DeVante Parker and Baltimore's Breshad Perriman have kept their teams waiting, Cooper has altered perceptions of the Raiders. With Derek Carr making strides under center, his top target has turned Oakland's typically stagnant air attack into a top-10 operation.

Cooper's occasional drops remain, but defenses are still catching up to a star-in-the-making who was just four years old when Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson made his NFL debut:

As with Odell Beckham in New York, teams are learning to pay increased attention to Cooper, with Carr noting to the San Jose Mercury News that the rookie was doubled by the Bears on nearly every play in Week 4. We expect more of that on Sunday against the Broncos, a team that hasn't faced a Raiders aerial weapon of this magnitude since the days of Tim Brown.

"Never underestimate rookies," said former Raiders great Bo Jackson on Sunday. "The team needs a spark."

By all accounts, they've found one.