Jonathan Cooper enjoyed a storied prep career as a gridder and wrestler (as a senior, he was voted his high school conference's player of the year, and was a dominant force on the mat). Thanks to this skill set (improved balance, hand usage and understanding of leverage from wrestling helps him in the trenches). Once matriculated to Chapel Hill, after a redshirt freshman season, Cooper proceeded to start 47 games for the Tar Heels, earning second-team All-ACC honors as both a sophomore and junior and, after electing to eschew the 2011 draft and return for his senior year, first-team All-American and All-ACC laurels in 2012 (in addition, he received the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the ACC's top offensive linemen and was one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy).
The extremely athletic Cooper has an impressive skillset, which will allow him to succeed in a number of different schemes. Wanna see him in action? Thanks to the blokes at Draft Breakdown, we have some good tape of Cooper in action against ACC rivals Maryland and Virginia Tech. As you can see, he has outstanding movement skills and is superb in space, leading on sweeps and making contact in the second level. In addition, he is outstanding as a pass protector, sliding his feet and staying in front of his opponent. Cooper is a superb technician; he graded out at 90 percent on the season. That said, Cooper is no weakling; he boasts good functional strength; in his senior season, he was asked to bulk up and play a more power-oriented game, which he did well, registering double digit knockdown blocks in nine of 12 games last season.
What does our panel of draftniks think of the Tarheel product? Let's take a looksee, shall we?
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 2nd-rated OG; 10th overall
Pass Protection: Excellent athleticism and technically sound in this area. Gets into sets quickly and consistently is able to square up pass rushers. Doesn't having a jarring initial punch but possesses adequate power in the upper body. Light on his feet. Shows easy lateral movement skills to shuffle and mirror to stay in front of rushers. Very effective hand fighter. Gets good hand placement and reloads quickly after punch. Light in the rear end and can be initial rocked back by power moves. However, show ability to sink hips and dig feet into ground to recover and regain leverage. Rarely seen off balanced in this area.
Run Blocking: A technician in this area. Not a road grader and ideal fit is for a zone blocking scheme at the next level. Displays a very quick step and takes proper initial angles to consistent establish position. More than agile enough to execute reach and scoop blocks. Inline powerbase is adequate though and will have his hands full getting movement on more massive interior defenders. Pad level can rise upon contact at times. However, shows active feet upon contact and does a great job of maneuvering to lock on with blocks. Elite agility on the move when asked to pull or climb to the second level. Shows very good body control on the move to adjust and cover up targets at the second and third level.
Awareness: Very good awareness in pass pro. Keeps head on a swivel. Helps as long as possible before peeling off to pick up twist, stunt, or delayed blitz. Can look a bit lost on second-level as a run blocker at times. Has experience at both OC and OG, much li
Toughness: Can continue to improve overall strength particularly in the lower half. Toughness is not an issue. Shows good fight at the point of attack. Looks to finish when given the opportunity. Flashes a mean streak. Will look to help out fellow offensive linemen and ear-hole rushers when no one shows in his area.
Intangibles: Son of Velma and Michael Cooper. Three-year starter that won team's Spirit of Service Award (Community Service Award) in 2011. Capable of lining up at center.
CBSSports.com (Rob Rang): 2nd-rated OG; 14th overall
Strengths: Cooper is a smooth, coordinated athlete with fluid footwork and outstanding balance, blocking well on the move and constantly getting to the second level. He is an extremely effortless mover with explosive quickness in tight quarters, and is just as effective moving to his left or right. While slighter shorter than scouts would prefer, Cooper has long arms and plays with a wide base, anchoring effectively. Standout high school wrestler who understands leverage and blocking angles. Flashes some nastiness and responds well to physical challenges. Has the quickness, balance and football intelligence to handle converting to center, should his future NFL employer need help at this position. His athleticism makes him ideally suited to a zone-blocking scheme. Durable. Four-year starter.
Weaknesses: Cooper lacks overpowering strength and can be pushed into the pocket by bigger, stronger defensive tackles when he allows his pad level to rise. Was prone to an occasional slipped block and/or needless penalty earlier in his career, though he showed much more consistency as a senior. Underwent shoulder surgery before his senior season, which will have to be checked out by team doctors.
Compares to: Rodney Hudson, OC, Kansas City Chiefs -- Possessing the rare combination of balance, agility and durability that helped Hudson earn the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as a left guard back in 2010, Cooper ranks as one of 2013's safest prospects and a future Pro Bowl contender at whichever of the three interior line positions his future NFL team most needs help.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 2nd-rated OG; 4th overall
Positives: Very natural movement skills, hip flexibility and knee-bend. Superb in pulling and locating. Runs the field and can stay on his feet, striking third-level deep safeties. Keeps his feet in traffic and arrives in a bad mood. Excellent finisher. Exceptional functional strength - hip snap, shock and explosion. Effective six-inch punch and hand placement in pass protection. Outstanding upper-body strength - his 35 reps on the bench press at the Combine were tied for second among all O-linemen. Good stamina - operated in a pass-heavy, no-huddle spread offense. Outstanding character.
Negatives: Average arm length. Played at a svelte 290 pounds as a senior, which is light by NFL standards. A bit out of control blocking in space and can be overaggressive. Not nuanced with center checks. Durability needs to be evaluated (left shoulder). Questionable physical toughness - can be affected by pain.
Summary: Cooper draws Hall of Fame comparisons to greats such as Randall McDaniel and Dermontti Dawson. Could turn out to be an even better center than guard if he trimmed weight. A fun-to-watch, immediate impact starter and perennial Pro Bowl talent who could be dynamite in a zone-blocking scheme. A can't miss pick.
Ourlads (Dan Shonka): 2nd-rated OG; 15th overall
Four-year starter. Was voted the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the ACC's best offensive lineman. A former high school wrestler, he has excellent body control and balance recovery. He graded out 20th of 49 offensive linemen at the Combine. The 19 above him had all better be drafted because Cooper is one of the smoothest linemen we have studied on tape over the past several years. Will be a major asset to a zone blocking team at guard or center. An explosive knee bender who can roll his hips and shock a defensive lineman in the run game. Impressive skill set in pass protection with the ability to quick set, change direction, and redirect with natural body control. Stays square with the ability to shadow the rusher. Athletic and in balance when pulling. As most linemen, he could use more core strength. Has been flagged for concentration and aggressiveness penalties at times. Team doctors will need to sign off on shoulder surgery but his 35 bench press reps should put teams at ease. A three-position player with the talent to start in his first year.
As we can see, our panel is in fairly close agreement on Cooper; all rate him as the number two guard in this draft class, and slot him in the first half of the first round, between fourth and fifteenth. They'll get no argument from me; I'll place him in the first round on my 2013 "little board" without hesitation.
As has been much discussed this draft season, NFL teams are historically loathe to spend high first-round picks on guards, and so it stands to reason that he'll be on the board when the Cowboys turn comes. On the other hand, Cooper's impressive combination of strength and athleticism warrants an exception. It appears that our draft day ritual will involve a lot of praying that one or both of the top guards (Chance Warmack being the other) drop to where the Cowboys sit, at pick #18. I think Cooper is actually the better fit for the offense that Jason Garrett wants to run. So, if he proves to be the pick, I'll join Tarheel Paul in a wild celebration. You know, drinking deep, throwing Duke basketball jerseys into the bonfire, that sort of thing.
Next up: Oregon OT/ OG Kyle Long