The Bucs' rookie made a lot of big plays last year, but he'll need to cut down on turnovers and sloppy throws to live up to his draft status.
14 Apr 2010
by David Gardner
He was Tim Tebow's favorite target last year, but not many people are talking about Riley Cooper.
Before his senior season, when he was buried on a depth chart behind Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, he decided to sign with baseball's Texas Rangers. They allowed him to return to football his senior season, and he's glad that he did. He caught 51 passes for 961 yards and nine touchdowns.
Recently, he spoke on the phone with Football Outsiders.
Football Outsiders: You had a very successful senior season, but you're not getting a lot of media exposure. Why do you think that is?
Riley Cooper: I don't know why that's the case. But that's what it is. I had a good season, you know, everyone's time comes, after being the third guy behind Louis (Murphy) and Percy Harvin two years ago. Everyone's time comes. My time was my senior year.
FO: Is there still a stigma against Florida wide receivers?
Cooper: I don't think so. Murphy started and Percy got rookie of the year, so that says a lot right there.
FO: What are you hearing about your draft stock?
Cooper: I'm hearing second or third round. I think fourth is out of the question now, so I'm hearing 2-3. I'm not getting a lot of publicity. Obviously, I'd like to have it, but if the teams are interested in me, that's what's most important. I want to be a football player. I want to play in the NFL for a long time. But if the publicity doesn't come along with it, that's fine.
FO: When you are visiting with teams, how often is the baseball question coming up? NFL teams are looking for players who are obsessed with football.
Cooper: I think they were at the beginning. I think it's definitely out there that I'm a football player -- I have a football mindset and a football mentality. I signed with Texas over the summer, and they let me come back for my senior season at Florida, and luckily they did. We sat down with the family after the season was over, and it's just better for the family and better for me to play football. One, I can't hit the curveball. That definitely doesn't help. Football is just my game.
FO: How difficult a decision was it to leave baseball and pursue football instead when you already had a baseball contract?
Cooper: It was kind of easy. I didn't know how promising my football career was because in my junior season, I didn't have very many catches or touchdowns, so I knew I wasn't very high on people's boards. It was a decision to be made, but we sat down as a family and talked about it. I was supposed to show up January 17 to get half my signing bonus and to take my physical. My dad and I called them and said, "Thanks for the opportunity, but we're doing football." I never received any money from Texas, because I was still a college athlete. So I didn't have to give anything back -- they just weren't gonna give me anything."
FO: And how did the Rangers react to that?
Cooper: They were kind of upset with me. They wanted to talk about it and renegotiate. But I just kind of said, we're doing the football thing. That's just my type of personality. If you fail seven out of 10 times in baseball, you'll be in the Hall of Fame. And I just hate failing -- that's the kind of person I am. I wanna win at everything I do. Baseball is just not that type of game.
FO: So how do you convince teams that football is your only focus now?
Cooper: It's kind of died down now. You can see when I play, if you just flip on the film, I go 100 miles per hour, whether it's a run play, pass play, whether I have a chance of catching the ball or not, I go hard. I love the game. I love being physical -- that's my nature. And I'm really excited about these next few years.
FO: Talk about your blocking. You're known as a guy who will get down the field and clear a path. A lot of Florida's long runs last season were thanks to you and the other receivers leading the way downfield.
Cooper: I take a lot of pride in it. I think I'm a great blocker. Coach Meyer said that I'm the best blocker he's ever coached and ever seen at the wide receiver position. And, you know, that means a lot. I take a lot of pride in it, and I like doing it.
FO: Talk about your performance at the Combine a little bit. Was the 4.52 a disappointing time for you? Early in your Florida career, you were pegged as 4.4 or even 4.3 guy.
Cooper: As an athlete, you always think you can do better. I think Chicago had me around 4.46 to 4.48 -- those were their two times that they had. I guess I went from a 4.46 to a 4.52. That's what it is. I definitely think I can do better, and I wanted to run at Pro Day, but teams told me not to. Coach Tomlin from the Pittsburgh Steelers, I had a meeting with him, and he told me not to. It was a good time considering how big I am (6-3, 215)... I'm the biggest receiver in the draft this year.
FO: You had a chance to catch some passes from Tebow on Florida's Pro Day. How do you evaluate his changed throwing motion and his chances to be a successful pro passer?
Cooper: He looks a lot better. His throwing motion looks great. He was on rhythm in all of his drops. He was throwing on the run. He did a great job at Pro Day -- I was really impressed. I know he'll be successful as a quarterback in the NFL, for sure.
7 comments, Last at 17 Apr 2010, 1:44am by Kibbles