By: Matt Horn, KCOU Sports
There is no doubt that the Heisman Trophy has become an award dominated by the offensive backfield. Since 1990, there have been 16 quarterbacks and six running backs awarded college football’s highest honor. The last time a wide receiver took the trophy was 1991 when Michigan receiver/return man Desmond Howard received an impressive 75.5% of the vote.
The wide receiver position is definitely at a disadvantage for the award. While teams play one quarterback and usually feature one running back, there are multiple receivers fighting to be targeted on every pass play. With such a vast array of players at the position, seldom does a receiver far stand out from the rest of the roster, let alone the rest of the country.
Thus was not the case in 2014. Alabama’s Amari Cooper has separated himself from the pack, both in the NCAA and in Alabama history. The junior from Miami, Florida has caught 103 passes (3rd in the nation) for 1573 yards (2nd) and 14 touchdowns (2nd). He holds the Alabama’s all time record in all three categories.
Cooper stands at 6-1 and weighs in at 210 pounds, but he plays like a 6-4 225 pound monster. His ability to run through defenders is comparable to the ranks of former Bama receiver Julio Jones, and dare I say, Calvin Johnson.
Once he gets away from the tacklers, good luck catching him. Cooper has breakaway speed in the open field making him extremely difficult for any defensive back to catch. Cooper told AL.com back in March that he was clocked at 4.31, 4.35, and 4.38 during the 40-yard dash at Alabama’s Pro Day.
Even with great running ability, Cooper’s greatest strength may be his route running. His ability to find holes in a defense gives quarterback Blake Sims both a deep threat and a target to check down to. Despite his relatively small size, number nine is undoubtedly the best jump ball receiver in all of the NCAA.
To say that Cooper is an asset to the Crimson Tide pass game would be a dramatic understatement. The junior accounts for 46.3% of Alabama’s pass yards and has as many receiving touchdowns (14) as the rest of the team combined.
The Missouri Tigers will no doubt have their hands full defending Cooper in Saturday’s SEC Championship game. Missouri cornerback Aarion Penton told the Kansas City Star that Cooper is the best player he has played against so far, and the same may go for the entire Tiger defense.
Penton will not be able to shut down Cooper on his own. The Tigers will need tight man coverage coupled with additional help from the second level. Senior safety Braylon Webb will be heavily relied on to keep an eye on Cooper all night.
There is a defensive cliché in football that states “never let your man get behind you.” On Saturday the Tigers will have to live by philosophy “never let Amari Cooper get behind you.” Shut down Cooper, and Alabama will be forced to limit their passing game- something that could be beneficial to a Tiger defense that allows only 3.4 yards per rush.
ESPN currently has Cooper ranked third on their Heisman Watch list. Saturday’s game could very well be the deciding factor to make him the first receiver to win the award in 23 years. The SEC Championship Game against Missouri is set for Saturday at 3 p.m. The 80th annual presentation of the Heisman Trophy is Saturday, December 13, at 7 p.m.