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Thursday, May 26, 2022

What the Cleveland Browns are getting in Amari Cooper

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Except, of course, that nothing is official yet…

However, with the “legal handling period” scheduled to begin Monday and the NFL league year beginning Wednesday, we have our first trade deal. The Dallas Cowboys have agreed to trade wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter was one of the first to report the news and the terms of the trade:

So what are the Browns getting with Cooper?

Perhaps Baker Mayfield’s new best friend.

A winner on the field and in the action game.

(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Before we get to Cooper’s biggest asset as a receiver, we can focus on one aspect of his game that is impressive, and that’s his ability in the vertical passing game. Whether winning over the defense or making a difficult adjustment at the capture point, Cooper brings to any offense the ability to create plays on the playbook side.

On this play against the Carolina Panthers, Cooper manages to split downfield on a back-and-forth route. The pace on this route is exquisite, as he shifts into third gear coming off the initial break, but so is what Cooper does at the capture point, managing to shield the defender away from the ball:

Perhaps the best example of what Cooper offers in the bottom-of-the-field portion of the playbook comes in this finish against the Minnesota Vikings:

The Cowboys also used their threat as a vertical receiver to sell cornerbacks on deep routes, before separating Cooper and giving Dak Prescott an easy read and shot. On this play against the Panthers, Cooper uses a stutter step to sell the cornerback on a double-move vertical route, before breaking the stem into a curl:

Designs like these would allow Kevin Stefanski to incorporate Cooper and his road race (more on that in a second) into Cleveland’s offense.

Last season, according to chart data from Pro Football Focus, Mayfield saw his yards per attempt increase by 3.7 when using play-action, which was the largest such increase among qualified quarterbacks in the league. Mayfield’s completion percentage had a similar boost in game action layouts, up 7.8%, which was sixth-highest in the NFL.

The action game is a core component of what the Browns do, and Cooper can help them in this effort.

A road technician

(AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

One area where Cooper excels as a wide receiver, dating back not only to his time with the Raiders but also his time on campus with the Alabama Crimson Tide, is his road racing. Cooper was the rare wide receiver prospect who offered a full road tree out of college, something I documented during his draft cycle a few years ago, and he’s only refined his craft during his time in the NFL.

As such, the Browns will get a road coach when this trade is complete.

Cooper is excellent at getting in and out of breaks, often using his entire body to help sell defenders on routes. He will use his field of vision, his shoulders or other means to convince defensive backs that he is doing one thing, setting himself up for the split when he is actually running the intended route.

Take this 41-yard completion against the New Orleans Saints, which finds Cooper operating as the center receiver in a travel formation to the right side of the offense:

Cooper first bends his route to the outside, but then pushes vertically, and it appears to Jackson that the receiver is running forward. As Cooper stands upright, he rolls his eyes downfield, helping to sell the route. But then he gets stuck on breaks and sinks his hips, going back to the ball on a return route. That separates him more than enough from Jackson, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, to complete.

Perhaps the best example of Cooper’s skill as a route runner comes in this finish against the New York Giants. The receiver starts on the left side of the formation and goes to run a back route. What is important to note is the cornerback’s leverage. Rodarius Williams is lined up about two yards inside of Cooper, and he’s trying to force him to the outside, removing any routes he breaks into the middle of the field:

Cooper has impressive talent as a route runner, with the ability to set up and manipulate defenders and get separation from their breaks. That creates a bigger window for his quarterback to target, and it will make Mayfield’s life a little easier next season.

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