The job of the wide receiver is one of the flashiest in the NFL. While several positional players, from the bullish linemen to the hard-hitting linebackers, are doing the brunt of their work in the trenches, the pass-catching savants are making their waves on the outside, skying for jump balls and dazzling with clever post-catch moves that make them some of the most recognized faces in the game.
There’s a reason why many of those who are employed at the position are labeled as “divas”, and oftentimes, attributes like foot-speed, stop-and-go agility, and body dexterity, as opposed to brute strength, separate the best of the best from the rest of the pack.
Now, that isn’t to say that strength is not an invaluable tool to success for the position, but the league is jam-packed with top-flight targets whose achievements are far from predicated on their muscles.
So naturally, certain wideouts have become the subject of questions surrounding their toughness, and have even been labeled as soft. The Cowboys’ WR1 falls into this category.
Amari Cooper is a pass-receiving machine, and has cemented a sterling reputation for himself league-wide as a vacuum for QB targets, consistently thrashing opponents to the tune of five 1,000 yard seasons. But he’s also had the merits of his resolve and mental fortitude closely examined for years. He’s not the most talkative athlete, is far from the most emotional, and rarely even offers much in the form of flamboyant celebration after game-breaking plays.
He shows up, straps up his shoulder pads, and lets his production do the speaking for him. And while some have no resignations with his consummate style of quiet excellence, others have blatantly criticized it.
On a recent episode of FanSided’s The Matt Lombardo Show, former ‘Boys receiver Jimmy Smith commented on Cooper’s laid-back disposition:
“I just wish there was a little more effort on Amari Cooper’s part. He is a guy who is so talented, but the lack of effort really, really gets under my skin.’’
It’s hard to chastise guy who hauled in 92 catches for 1,114 yards and five touchdowns in a Dak Prescott-less plagued season.
There was also this from a wide receiver ranking going into the 2020 season.
The most polarizing player on the list by a wide margin, Cooper took heat from several voters because of what he should be. One coordinator said Cooper is “top 10 in his sleep” with “effortless” ability, which is the problem. He’s 10th, but should be fifth.
“There’s something holding him back,” one NFL personnel man said. “He was the best receiver on the market and I didn’t want to sign him.”
Cooper is from Miami but doesn’t carry that “Miami swag” and is more reserved by nature, an NFC exec said.
Sure, Cooper is known for his lack of vibrant antics, and oftentimes when he’s shown on the sideline during games, his face carries a near unreadable impassive expression.
But Cooper does his damage where it matters, and that’s between the lines.
He sprints all out while progressing through his routes, cutting and turning with a fierce intensity. He’s not shy to trek across the middle of the field, and sacrifice his body for a reception on a slant or drag route. When he does make off with a reception, his unwillingness to go down, and ability to fight through contact is capable of providing a boost to his team.
“Soft” is not an adequate adjective that can be used to describe Cooper. He’s calm, he's collected, but he’s far from hesitant on the gridiron. And while some think a change in heart is necessary in the cards for #19, if he keeps performing the way he has been, Dallas will be more than satisfied.