ALAMEDA – Amari Cooper grew up a Julio Jones fan. The young receiver loved college football as a prep, and the then Alabama alum Jones was ranked among the sport's very best.
Jones was big and strong, yet agile. He was a great route runner and excellent after the catch. He was what Cooper wanted to be when he committed to the Crimson Tide out of Miami Northwestern High.
Jones went pro after the 2010 season. Cooper arrived in 2012, but the Jones legend lived on. The pair will meet when the Raiders and Falcons play Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum on the same plane. That wasn’t always the case.
“When I got to Alabama he was like the guy, the receiver,” Cooper said. “I looked at a lot of his film, studied a lot of his film, and I was like, ‘I want to do some of the things he did.’”
Problem was, all receivers aren’t built the same. Jones was 6-foot-3, 210 pounds coming out of college. Cooper was 6-1, 175 out of high school.
"When I got to Alabama I was really small, he was always really big,” Cooper said. “There was some stuff that he did that I couldn’t do, that I wanted to do, so I would get in weight room, lift weights, try to get bigger because he was kind of pushing guys around.”
Cooper packed on muscle at Alabama, but still isn’t a Jones clone. That worked out okay. Cooper bested Jones' records in every receiving category, including yards, receptions and touchdowns over a singe season and a career.
Cooper even got Jones in the NFL draft. Jones was selected No. 6 in the 2011 NFL draft. The Raiders took Cooper No. 4 in 2015.
Jones has had an excellent NFL career, with an All-Pro selection and three Pro Bowls in four full seasons. He led the NFL in receiving yards last year.
Cooper’s career started well, with 72 catches for 1,070 yards as a rookie last year.
Sunday’s meeting shouldn’t be considered rare. Jones was an active alumni, returning to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to encourage and give advice that Cooper, for one, considered valuable.
"I’ve know him personally since I’ve been at Alabama since he comes back often, and we talk from time to time,” Cooper said.
Both players will be key in this Week 2 matchup. The Falcons hope to silence Cooper, with reports out of Atlanta suggesting top cornerback Desmond Trufant will shadow him on Sunday. The Falcons could have an advantage after dealing with Jones each day in practice.
“I think it starts really just by the way he is as a competitor,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said in a conference call. “(Cooper) can stick his foot in the ground and change direction like a small guy for being a bigger guy, and that is kind of like where we have a guy in Julio Jones – there’s a connection with both going to Alabama -- but when a big guy can change direction, that’s a dangerous dude.
"Often times you may see big guys that can go fly, they can take the top off, but when you have the ability to stick your foot in the ground and change directions along with that big catching radius, that to me is where a guy can really become dangerous. We’ve got our hands full for sure.”
Jones has the Raiders’ respect as well.
“He’s big. He’s fast. He’s strong,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s good with the ball in his hands. He’s become a much better route runner. I think when he first came in, he was a little raw in that regard, but man, he’s become a really good route runner as well. I think he’s a heck of a football player.”