After an impressive freshman campaign, Alabama WR Amari Cooper is poised for a huge year in 2013.
As a true freshman last season, Amari Cooper emerged as one of college football's brightest young playmakers. A first-team preseason All-American selection by Phil Steele, Cooper enters his sophomore season as one of the nation’s most dynamic receivers.
But can he top a freshman campaign that saw him haul in 59 receptions for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns?
To put those numbers in perspective, Cooper eclipsed the freshman totals put up by former Tide great Julio Jones in 2008 (58 catches, 924 yards, four touchdowns). In fact, Cooper’s 2012 totals trail only Jones (2010) and D.J. Hall (2007) for the most receiving yards in a season in the Nick Saban era.
So how will the Tide’s premier game-breaker fare in 2013?
Cooper put up modest numbers (nine catches for 138 yards and one touchdown) in his first four college games.
However, after starting receiver DeAndrew White went down with a torn ACL against Ole Miss, Cooper stepped in to record eight catches for 84 yards and a pair of scores against the Rebels.
Cooper instantly became the Tide's go-to receiver. He would go on to average five receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown over the final 10 games. Included in that stretch were games against LSU and Western Carolina in which Cooper played limited snaps.
Despite that, there are a few reasons why Cooper’s numbers could dip this season.
For starters, Alabama will field a deeper fleet of pass-catchers, and that may lead quarterback AJ McCarron to spread the wealth in the passing game.
Additionally, Cooper is likely to attract more attention from defenses.
However, his bond with McCarron was undeniable late in the season. Their chemistry was evident whenever the Tide needed a big play, and that relationship should only get stronger in the offseason.
To get to 60 receptions, Cooper would need to average five receptions per game in the regular season. Assuming he stays healthy, that figure looks reasonably within reach.
Projection on Receptions: Over
Cooper is just the fifth receiver in Alabama history to record 1,000 yards in a single season.
Jones set a school record with 1,133 yards in the 2010 season, and Cooper has a realistic chance to top that if he gets more touches this fall.
Last season, Cooper was the main beneficiary when valuable contributors such as White, Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood missed games due to injury.
While their presence could hurt Cooper’s chances to improve his numbers, having talented receivers flanking him can also help him avoid double-teams.
Cooper is clearly the Tide’s No. 1 receiving option, and making sure he gets enough touches should be one of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's top priorities.
Assuming that logic holds true, Cooper has a strong chance to join D.J. Hall (2006-07) as only the second Tide receiver in school history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
Projection on Receiving Yards: Over
Cooper’s 11 touchdown receptions broke the school single-season record.
No other Tide receiver scored more than four touchdowns last season, but they will have more weapons to choose from this fall.
While Cooper’s production may increase, the scoring load could be spread more evenly among a talented cast of skill players.
Cooper remains a threat to score anytime he touches the ball. While the school record of 18 career receiving touchdowns is within striking distance, it's unlikely he will top 11 touchdowns this season.
Projection on Touchdowns: Under
The average length of Cooper’s scoring plays was 30 yards, which illustrates his big-play ability.
That figure is bound to catch the attention of opposing defenses, which means Cooper will probably get more of a cushion from corners in an attempt to keep him from getting deep.
Fellow receivers such as Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood are likely to be the beneficiaries of any extra attention paid to Cooper.
Cooper will still get his share of targets and chew up chunks of yardage when he gets the ball in his hands. However, his average yards per touch could dip closer to 15.
Projection on YPC: Under
Cooper finished 2012 on a tear, racking up more than 100 yards in four of the Tide’s final five games.
That outburst coincided with injuries to Bell and Norwood. Their return is likely to give the Tide more balanced production at the receiver spot.
With the Tide possessing perhaps their strongest personnel in the passing game in school history, Cooper figures to be an integral part of the Tide’s weekly game plan.
As Andrew Gribble of AL.com notes, Cooper has continued to work harder on his game in the offseason. That type of work ethic is something that will help him avoid a sophomore slump and elevate his game to another level in 2013.
Projection on 100-yard Games: Over