FRISCO, Texas — Amari Cooper‘s feet seem to barely touch the ground as he runs.
As others pound the grass with their feet, Cooper, the Dallas Cowboys‘ $20 million a year receiver, seems to almost float before sticking his right foot in the ground and exploding back to his left like a souped-up sports car that reaches 60 mph in mere seconds.
“He certainly has a really good pace to him,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “He likes to play with a pace to his routes and obviously he’s got that change of pace but he has that suddenness that when he goes, he goes. I think that’s a tremendous tool for him.”
No team should better understand Cooper’s route-running ability than Monday night’s foe at AT&T Stadium (ESPN, 8:15 p.m. ET), the Philadelphia Eagles.
In seven career games against the Eagles, Cooper has caught 33 passes for 614 yards and four touchdowns. Six of those games have come since he was traded to the Cowboys in 2018 and three have resulted in more than 100 yards. His best game was his sixth as a Cowboy after he was dealt by the Oakland Raiders, when he grabbed 10 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns. But Cooper injured his ribs in the Week 2 win over the Los Angeles Chargers and is questionable.
If the Eagles wanted to get a better read on Cooper, they could go to his Instagram account @therouterunnerofficial, which he started earlier this month.
“It’s for everybody, man,” Cooper said. “It’s a brand. I do understand that there are people who don’t know much about football, but they still watch football. A lot of people watch football, and so it’s just kind of teaching people the finer points of the game. Because even people that do play it and do know football, they don’t really know the intricacies of route running, per se. So that’s why it’s been so fun.”
The idea came to Cooper a few months ago. He was reading “The Airbnb Story,” a book about the creation and success of the online lodging company, and Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s memoir, “Shoe Dog.”
“It kind of made perfect sense with what I want to do,” Cooper said. “One day [Knight] was just running because he was a runner and he was completely lost with what he wanted to do in life. He didn’t know what he was going to do after college and he just came up with the idea of running shoes. It made perfect sense to me because he’s a runner and I’m a route runner.”
Arguably one of the NFL’s best route runners actually, but he puts himself first.
“Of course,” he smiled. “That’s why it’s THE route runner.”
“If you ask me to list off my groomsmen right now, I’d probably leave one of them off,” Adams said. “Coop is for sure in my top five, so I just want to give him that credit first because anybody who can influence a DB and really get him to do what is intended every single time — which is what I pride myself on, if I want to go left, I feel like I can really get you to move right anytime that I want to. I watch Coop’s film, too … The way that we can attack guys and can kind of manipulate a defender, it’s between me, him and [Chargers receiver] Keenan [Allen]. The way we move people is really similar, so I’ve got a lot of respect for Coop.”
Amari Cooper has put on a route-running clinic this season 🤭
— ESPN (@espn) November 14, 2019
Cooper puts Adams and Allen among his favorite route runners. He has Buffalo Bills receiver Stefon Diggs as well, plus two Alabama alums in Calvin Ridley of the Falcons and Jerry Jeudy of the Raiders.
Ridley was in high school when he started watching Cooper. They have talked on occasion since.
“He’s one of the guys I’m definitely watching all the time,” Ridley said. “I could get better from him any time, any day, just by watching.”
That’s why Cooper started therouterunnerofficial brand. He puts videos on the Instagram page of routes in practices and games, asking questions to those viewing.
“It’s something easy because it’s something I like doing, something I’ve been doing my whole life,” he said. “And it’s fun at the same time. I love when people ask me questions about route running.”
Cooper is 27, but he is the veteran voice in the Cowboys’ wide receivers room. He is always dishing out advice. Early on in his return from offseason ankle surgery in training camp, HBO’s “Hard Knocks” cameras caught him teaching CeeDee Lamb different releases to get a cornerback off the mark.
“He gave me the clues like as far as how to move a guy or just be deceptive,” Lamb said. “He’s very understanding. Very easy going. Easy to pick his thoughts.”
Said Cooper, “It would be a disservice to my teammates who are doing the same job as I am doing to consistently see them running a route that might not be the best way to run it and not saying anything.”
Cooper said his route-running ability is God-given, but it also comes from hard work he put in while growing up in Miami. He started playing football at an after-school program.
“That’s where I became like a technician because everybody was so good, so you had to focus on the small details of route running because everybody will play receiver,” Cooper said. “I don’t know if you know, but when you’re playing football in an unorganized manner, you have a quarterback and everybody else is at receiver. Our counselor at the after-school program, he was the quarterback. He’s only going to throw it to you if you’re open. So if you go back to him, ‘Why didn’t you throw me the ball?’ He’s going to be like, ‘You ain’t getting open.’ So I started finding ways to get open.”
Over the years, he has mastered the rules of running a slant or a comeback, but Cooper has incorporated his own style into each.
“It’s like the difference between going to school and studying something and actually doing the real job,” Cooper said. “It’s like you see the differences of what you learned in school and actually doing it, if that makes sense.”
He paints outside the lines, so to speak, with a variety of releases designed to throw the cornerback off. But what matters most is gaining the trust of the quarterback in being at the proper depth or width designated by the playcall.
Dak just doesn’t quit on the play.
— NFL (@NFL) September 10, 2021
“It’s interesting with [Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott]. He doesn’t care what I do. He don’t care,” Cooper said. “He just wants to make sure I understand what he has to do. For example, like on the touchdown against Tampa Bay on the cone route. I was telling him in practice, ‘I’m going to this release. I’m going to do this.’ He’s like, ‘I don’t care. I’m throwing it to a spot as soon as I see you break.’ What’s funny is the snap was kind of mishandled and that just goes to show you that he was really telling the truth because he still threw it to that spot. It didn’t matter what I did. Just when I broke he threw it to that spot.”
Teammates marvel at Cooper’s route running. They know they are seeing something special. Cooper’s fellow receiver, Michael Gallup, who is dealing with a calf strain, was asked to describe Cooper’s style.
“He knows what he wants to do when he gets up there, but even if plans change, he’s so good at making something out of nothing,” Gallup said. “But at the same time, him having a plan when he goes up to the line, he just knows in his head, determination, he’s going to win regardless. That’s definitely what he’s told us plenty of times. He’s going to win right off the line, even if he doesn’t get the ball. So, really just straight instincts, strength, speed. He’s got too many — you can’t put just one word on Amari Cooper. You can’t.”
No, it’s actually two words: route runner.
NFL Nation Green Bay Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Atlanta Falcons reporter Michael Rothstein contributed.