It’s not the first time an NFL team spent a top 10 pick on an interior offensive lineman. Heck, it’s not even the first time the Cardinals have since 2000. But the moment is rare that a team stoops to the top-ten guard grab, and rarer that one is believed worthy.
Meet Jonathan Cooper. The North Carolina product went seventh in the draft, and not even the most critical of NFL analysts batted an eye. Is he really worth it? Time to put him on the scales, as part four of ‘Cardinals: New Faces’ series.
|ATHLETICISM – We normally associate linemen with power, explosion and technique. But athleticism is the first thing scouts mention when discussing the “Amazing Jonathan.” Said one NFL scout of Cooper, “one of the most athletic guards ever scouted.” Cooper works well to the left, well to the right, well at the point of attack, well in the second level of defense, and even the third level. That’s right, don’t be surprised to see Cooper bashing away at defensive tackles, linebackers, and safeties on a single play.||SIZE – As big as he is, and as large and as cool as those dreadlocks falling from his helmet make him appear, Cooper is actually undersized. He’s currently listed at 310 pounds, but he played last year at 290, suggesting he has a difficult time maintaining weight during the grind of a season. Furthermore, Cooper is only 6-foot-2 and his arms are short for a lineman.|
|STEADY GROWTH – Jonathan Cooper has improved steadily every season he’s played the game. He was a high school star, who grew enough to start as a freshman at North Carolina. Then, he never lost his starting job, improving steadily over 47 collegiate starts to earn All-ACC status in 2010 and 2011, and All-American status in 2012. He then began the draft process as the second-ranked guard on the board and ended up being the first chosen. Now, he launches an NFL career where his performance during his first camp has been described as “daily improvement.” Cooper’s steady growth tells you two things: he works hard and his ceiling is made of thin glass.||RUN FORREST – Cooper is considered a better run blocker than pass protector. And considering that the entire league has gotten pass happy, Cooper will be limited to doing what he does best for 30-40 percent of the game. Honestly, this is hardly a concern. The Cardinals haven’t had a running game since Eisenhower was president. It will be nice to have an earth mover on the line.|
|WHAT HE HAS BETWEEN THE EARS – Over and over, we’ve heard the NFL’s Wonderlic Test is overrated and should mostly be ignored. But when a O-lineman scores a 34 on a cognitive ability test, considering the average test score is a 20, you tend to take notice. Furthermore, Cooper enters the league with a “high character” mention on his scouting report, having somehow escaped North Carolina’s football program with no baggage. That’s like finding out a member of Motley Crue finished his career without trying drugs.||STRENGTH – Cooper benched 225 pounds an impressive 35 times at the combine, but I continue to read from nit-picky analysts that the guard is not particularly strong. Frankly, I don’t see this being a problem, but between the size concern and the strength knock, one might have to wonder how Cooper will hold up over a longer 16-game schedule against elite competition.|
|R-E-S-P-E-C-T – “The only guy on the line who’s a lock to start is Cooper,” said incumbent starting center Lyle Sendlein. Cooper has blown his new teammates away, commanding respect for his game from day one. “He’s special,” added Sendlein. “Definitely worthy of his draft position.”||MAKING CHICKEN SALAD – The fact that Cooper is being described as the Cardinals’ best offensive lineman already is a credit to the rookie’s ability, but also a reminder of how bad this line has been. Cooper could make an immediate impact, but he can’t create this turnaround alone. Hopefully, Cooper can lean on the veterans for some support rather than it being the other way around.|