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Amari Cooper better as rookie than Jerry Rice

Hall of Fame voter and longtime publisher Frank Cooney provided SeahawkFootball.com with an inside look at the Oakland Raiders, including the team's blooming stars Derek Carr and Amari Cooper and head coach Jack Del Rio. Just how good is the Raiders' prized rookie? Even better at this stage of his career than Jerry Rice, according to Cooney, one of the industry's most respected writers and scouts.

In preparation for the Seahawks and Raiders' preseason game Thursday, I asked Chris McClain of Silver and Black Report to answer three questions as part of a weekly "Speaking with the Enemy" column, previewing each week's opponent. 

Later, however, the opportunity arose to also interview "another" writer with ties to the Oakland Raiders -- Frank Cooney, publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com (a partner of CBSSports.com), Hall of Fame voter and collaborator with John Madden and the late Bill Walsh.

Cooney is perhaps best known nationally for his publishing and writing but he's also a very astute scout who covered the NFL draft long before myself, Mike Mayock, Mel Kiper, Jr. or even the late Joel Buchsbaum.

Cooney's sharp eye for talent and willingness to think for himself rather than agree to the consensus first caught my attention 10 years ago when he and I (and a couple of Raiders' scouts) attended practices for the 2005 East West Shrine Game, which, at the time was played in San Francisco. Upon watching running back Brandon Jacobs alternately barrel over defenders or dance by them, I distinctly recall Cooney stating that the 6-foot-4, 264 pounder would wind up enjoying  a more productive NFL career than either of his former teammates at Auburn, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Ronnie Brown, each of whom were projected first round picks.

Jacobs -- who transferred to Southern Illinois for his senior season because he wasn't getting enough playing time with Williams and Brown ahead of him -- wound up being drafted in the fourth round (No. 110 overall) by the New York Giants. Brown was selected by Miami with second overall pick of the 2005 draft. Williams went three picks later to Tampa Bay. In his nine-year career, Jacobs rushed for a total of 5,094 yards and 60 touchdowns with a healthy 4.5 yards per carry average. Williams (4,038-3.8-21) and Brown (5,391-38-4.2) provided mostly lesser numbers at much higher prices to the Dolphins and Bucs.

Cooney is old-school. He isn't one to lavish praise on young players based on statistics, understanding that today's schemes, rules and longer season make it easier to post gaudy numbers - which is why his bold statements, including those on Raiders' rookie Amari Cooper demands attention.

1.      Based on what you've seen of him in Oakland as well as previously at Fresno State or the Senior Bowl, is Derek Carr a legitimate long-term answer at quarterback for the Raiders?

---Frankly: He has the foundation, the temperament and an NFL caliber arm. He may not be the type of player who can make an average team good, but he should be able to make a good team maximize abilities. So his success may depend on a good supporting cast and consistent coaching. We are not talking about Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. Think Alex Smith or Russell Wilson minus the running dimension. He should become a better passer than Wilson, who has some limitations.

2.      Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree each generated a great deal of buzz entering the NFL. After fizzling at the end of his career in San Francisco, has Crabtree shown any evidence of rebounding in Oakland? Has Cooper been as impressive as his hype?

--Frankly: I watched Jerry Rice break in as a rookie. He showed rare animal ability as a runner, generating all power to his feet, moving in and out of breaks like a wild cat chasing prey. His hands were sure, soft and quick. Cooper is already more advanced at this stage in all areas than Rice was as a rookie and his fluid running and sure hands are reminiscent of Rice's.   I disagree that Crabtree fizzled at San Francisco. Even if we ignore his substantial setbacks due to injuries, he suffered as much as Colin Kaepernick last year from bad play calling as well as being impacted by Kaepernick's inability to consistently throw catchable passes. Crabtree flashed greatness, but lacked consistency for all those reasons.

3.      No former player turned head coach and administrator had more success than Tom Flores, who, of course helped the Raiders win Super Bowls in 1980 and 1983 and worked as general and head coach in Seattle in the early 90s. Whether he ever helps them reach the Super Bowl or not, has former linebacker (and Jacksonville Jaguars head coach) Jack Del Rio impressed in his second chance at head coach, thus far?

           --Frankly: We have a problem with the premise. Tom Landry was a Pro Bowl and All Pro player defensive back/punter and went on to be head coach of a Dallas team that won five conference championships and two Super Bowls. Don Shula was a defensive back with the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts and Washington Redskins before being a head coach in SIX Super Bowls (one in the infamous loss to Namath), winning two. He was NFL coach of the year six times and his 347 wins is a pro football record.
You might be ok saying no former player turned Raider head coach.....but Madden may not agree (Eagles OL, injured as rookie).        

But I digress.

         Del Rio is already impressive in that he is creating a culture of discipline in a franchise that has lacked it since Jon Gruden's departure. It is especially noticeable on defense, where he may have a special coordinator in Ken Norton Jr.  Both of them have ample playing and coaching experience at a high level.

A sincere thank you to Frank Cooney for providing his insight and contributing to SeahawkFootball.com.


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