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ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — One year after finding their quarterback, the Oakland Raiders added the kind of big-play receiver for Derek Carr that has been missing for nearly a decade in Oakland.
The Raiders selected Alabama's Amari Cooper with the fourth pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night with hopes that he can team with Carr for years to come as a foundation of Oakland's offense.
"You have to have some speed and some playmaking ability on the outside," coach Jack Del Rio said. "That certainly was a goal coming into this weekend."
Cooper is considered one of the most polished receivers to come out of college in recent years and figures to instantly become Carr's top option in the passing game.
He led the nation with 124 catches last season in the tough SEC and ranked second with 1,727 yards receiving and 16 touchdown catches. In three years with the Crimson Tide, Cooper had 228 catches for 3,463 yards and 31 touchdowns.
"It's rare when you find guys that come into the league and they have that kind of polish coming out," Del Rio said. "Typically guys, they can't get off press, they have something they haven't done. He's done all those things. He knows how to get off press. He knows how to attack defenses, find the soft spots and run the full complement of the route tree. That sets him apart in terms of the rest of this class."
Cooper is just the third receiver taken by the Raiders in the top 10 of the draft since 1967 and Oakland hopes he will turn out as well as Tim Brown did back in 1988.
Brown is the last receiver drafted by the Raiders to gain at least 1,000 yards receiving in a single season. In fact, the Raiders haven't had any receiver reach that mark since Randy Moss in 2005, tied with Jacksonville for the longest current drought in the league.
Oakland had done little to address the receiver position this offseason with Michael Crabtree the only notable addition. Now with Cooper on board and the return of Rod Streater from a season-ending injury, Carr should have a lot more options to pass to this season.
Carr showed signs of finally ending the revolving door at quarterback in Oakland as a rookie. But he averaged a league-low 5.46 yards per attempt as he struggled to get the ball down field.
While Cooper is smaller than most elite receivers at 6-foot-1, he is considered an expert route runner and should be ready to contribute immediately.
"He can run a route," general manager Reggie McKenzie said. "Seems like he can do that with his eyes closed. He's exceptionally quick, he's fast and he understands the game. You can tell the guy's been playing football and playing that position all his life."
Cooper said he began running routes in his backyard at age 5 or 6 before he even started playing organized football. When he joined his first team as a third grader, the coaches put him at receiver and he has played there ever since.
He has spent all those years at the position polishing his craft.
"There's only two ways you can get open as a wide receiver: your releases and the top of your routes," Cooper said. "The whole route running process is really important. I just focus on it, try to be the best that I can at it so I can create as much separation as I can for my quarterback."
After years of lackluster drafts, the Raiders finally started building their foundation for ending a 12-year run without a playoff berth or winning record by adding Carr, linebacker Khalil Mack, defensive tackle Justin Ellis and cornerback TJ Carrie.
The Raiders still would like to add a pass rusher early in the draft. They could have taken Southern California defensive lineman Leonard Williams but decided on Cooper, who was the top player on their board at the team's biggest position of need.
"It's very nice when it goes hand in hand," McKenzie said. "You get a chance to get a great player, and he fits one of the needs. So it was great when that fell in place."
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