I don’t like Riley Cooper. I don’t think he’s a very good football player. I do, however, believe he’s integral to the success of the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles.
Cooper is a miscast second receiver on an Eagles team that has Super Bowl aspirations. In fact, at this point in the season, the Florida alum appears to be the second receiver in title only. The wideout has lost snaps and targets to rookie receiver Jordan Matthews. Cooper is third on the team in receptions with 43 for just 457 yards and one touchdown. Those yardage and touchdown numbers are a far cry from last year’s totals of 835 and 8 touchdowns. Furthermore, in 84 targets last season, Cooper dropped the ball just three times. This season, he already has two drops in 75 chances with four games left in the season.
In addition to Cooper’s declining numbers, his off the field issues cause further damage to this Eagles team. His 2013 offseason incident at a concert has been widely reported on, and despite the fact that he needed to take time away from training camp to “collect” himself, Cooper has not stayed away from the limelight.
This season alone, the former Gator has complained about playing time, called out teammate Jeremy Maclin for not coming off the field and then mentioned Maclin’s contract status in his next breath. This, just months after signing a five-year, $25 million dollar deal to stay in Philadelphia. On Thanksgiving, Cooper would get into a verbal spat quarterback Mark Sanchez during a play, reportedly because Cooper was lined up in the wrong place after having run a wrong route just a few plays earlier, ultimately causing the team to call a time out.
So why does this Eagles team, a team with a plethora of options on offense, need Riley Cooper?
The answer is simple, sadly. Cooper is one of the best blocking WRs in the league. I’m aware that that sounds like a silly reason to keep a distraction like Riley Cooper on the roster, but realistically, cutting the wide receiver loose will not happen, so why not use 6-foot-3, 214-pound player to the teams advantage?
When the Eagles re-signed Cooper, he was expected to continue to grow as a player and build off a strong season. The loss of DeSean Jackson has effected Cooper’s performance more than he, or anyone in the Eagles organization will admit, but it is not too late to utilize Cooper successfully. In the playoffs, football is won with a stout defense and a strong run game. The Birds have the offensive line and running back to be successful offensively, all they need is the downfield blocking. Cooper provides that.
Despite my disdain for Cooper as a person and player, he can be a worthwhile part of the team for the rest of the season, if used correctly. The Eagles have a coach that knows how to find the strengths of every player, and you can bet that Chip Kelly will put the Eagles, and more so Cooper, in a position to succeed and win.
Hal Greenblatt covers the Eagles and Flyers for Pattison Ave. Follow him on Twitter: @HMGreenblatt