Sunday's matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs is billed primarily as the return of Alex Smith. Donnie Avery's sports hernia injury could move A.J. Jenkins into the starting lineup, so that is another one we have touched on. And yet, one of the most intriguing remains a bit under the radar. The "return" of Marcus Cooper.
I use return in the loosest of terms because Cooper was hardly here. The 49ers selected him in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He made his way through the offseason workout program and training camp, before getting cut at the end of camp along with UDFA cornerback Darryl Morris. Cooper was claimed by the Chiefs, while Morris cleared through waivers. Morris spent a few weeks on the 49ers practice squad, and then spent the rest of the season as a big special teams contributor.
Cooper on the other hand, quickly moved into the Chiefs starting lineup last season. He got off to a solid start, but struggled in matchups with some of the bigger name quarterbacks. I suppose it should not be surprising that a guy like Peyton Manning might make a rookie look foolish.
Through the first four games of the 2014 season, opposing quarterbacks have been picking on Cooper. He has given up 310 receiving yards in coverage, which is the most in the NFL. Additionally, PFF has graded him him out at -5.2 thus far, having allowed four touchdowns and a 148.1 passer rating when targeted.
I spoke with Joel Thorman from Arrowhead Pride to get his thoughts on Cooper's start to the season:
He's been picked on a lot. The Chiefs defense as a whole has played better in the last couple of weeks but Cooper has had his ups and downs along the way. Physically he is what the Chiefs like as a long guy but he will and has gotten burned. The Chiefs are asking a lot of him by playing tight man coverage on the line of scrimmage and there's not always safety help so I can see how he would struggle. For example, the Broncos hit a deep bomb on the first play of the game with Cooper in coverage but that was because the Chiefs called a bad defense and Peyton Manning recognized that. So it's not all his fault but absolutely he has struggled.
Cooper missed opening week, and it now looks like he might be banged up for Sunday's game. Cooper was added to the Chiefs injury report on Thursday with a knee issue. He was "limited" so it's not the end of the world for him, but it's still worth noting. Arrowhead Pride wrote that Ron Parker would normally slide over if Cooper could not go, but Parker is already working in place of an injured Eric Berry, who is a question mark to play on Sunday.
My guess is Cooper plays, but considering his injury and his struggles, it will be interesting to see how much Colin Kaepernick and Greg Roman try to target him in the passing game. This is our first chance to see him in person against the 49ers since his departure. If he has a big game or a poor game, I'm sure there will be plenty of in-game and post-game chatter about the man with the brief 49ers career.