According to Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, Jonathan Cooper would have been a top-15 pick last year had he decided to leave North Carolina after his junior year.
He decided to stay.
"I told my parents I'd get my degree, and I ended up doing that," Cooper said moments after the Cardinals drafted him with the No. 7 overall pick in the NFL Draft Thursday.
"It worked out for the best as it possibly could," he continued. "I feel like I improved so much my senior season, just technically and physically. So I feel like it really paid dividends. Who knows? I could have possibly been top 15, but I stayed and now I'm number seven."
Cooper was the fourth offensive lineman drafted, and one of six taken in the first 11 picks.
"I'm really excited to have such an offensive line-heavy draft," he said.
He's the first offensive lineman the Cardinals have drafted in the first round since Levi Brown in 2007.
"It was kind of hard," Cooper said while describing the phone call from the Cardinals, "because all my family was crying, so I had to look off into space so I could really concentrate and not start crying. It meant the world to me to have that phone call."
Cooper started 48 games for the Tar Heels at left guard (though head coach Bruce Arians said he could play either guard position).
His senior year, Cooper was a consensus First-Team All-American selection and one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, awarded annually to the best interior lineman.
At 6-2, 311-pounds, Cooper said he's "naturally a pass blocker." He said he spent some time recently in Arizona working out at Athletes' Performance in Tempe.
"I feel like I can get a little more powerful and just really get more movement in my run game, kind of unlock those hips and roll off on guys," he said. "That's what I wanted to improve on."
There is one problem, however: Cooper's new boss is an NC State alum.
"(Keim) made sure he let me know that on the phone call when he was telling me that I was drafted. He said ‘I'm going to pick you in spite of you being a Tar Heel,' so I was grateful."
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