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Raiders draft Cooper to fuel Carr

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ALAMEDA, Calif. — Listening to all the pre-draft speculation, there was no way Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Jack Del Rio could possibly pass on USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams if he was available with the fourth pick in the first round.

McKenzie and Del Rio are both former NFL linebackers with a defensive mentality, and Williams would pair nicely with last year’s top pick, strong-side linebacker Khalil Mack, to give the Raiders a potentially dominating defense.

Maybe it was the condition of Williams’ shoulder, or more likely the general manager and coach were simply tired of looking at all the film of the Raiders flailing in the passing game.

So the Raiders took Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night and were ecstatic about it.

“Coop was high on our board from the start,” McKenzie said. “It didn’t matter about the position, it was about the player. We thought we had a chance to get a really good player and we were excited he was there.”

It makes it even better that he plays a position where the Raiders have been sub-par for years. Veteran James Jones led the Raiders with 73 receptions but gained only 666 yards — less than 10 yards per catch. Andre Holmes led the team in receiving yards with a paltry 693 on 47 receptions.

Within the last two weeks, the Raiders have added Cooper, who won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football with 124 receivers for 1,740 yards and 16 touchdowns, and former 49er Michael Crabtree in free agency.

“It’s nice when it goes hand in hand,” McKenzie said. “You get a great player and he fits one of the needs. It’s great when it falls into place.”

Cooper and Kevin White of West Virginia were the two highest rated receivers in the draft. Cooper was regarded as more ready for the pro game based on how he was used at Alabama.

“When you’re talking about a young man coming in at this level, a draft prospect that has not played in the NFL, it’s unusual when words like ‘polished’ are thrown out,” Del Rio said. “But that’s what you see. He’s exposed to a lot. He’s run the entire route tree. He knows how to attack defenses, find the soft spots, that’s what sets him apart in terms of the rest of the class.”

The Raiders never had Cooper to the facility for a pre-draft visit, but his destination came as no surprise.

“I wasn’t that shocked,” Cooper said. “I kind of knew they liked me just from talking to them at the combine.”

The Raiders like Cooper’s low-maintenance demeanor. He’s a self-starter with a serious work ethic.

“I’m just trying to be consistent in my performance,” Cooper said. “Look the ball all the way through every single time so I can catch the ball as many times as it’s thrown to me. High-pointing the ball every time. Just the small things to make me a better player.”

Cooper comes in expecting nothing, and Del Rio appreciates that attitude.

“I think the way we like to do things is to come in and earn your role and compete,” Del Rio said. “But the expectation level should be high for a young man that comes in and is selected that high in the draft. But he’ll need to go on the field and earn it.”


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