Jonathan Cooper, Offensive Guard, 6’3/305lbs – Projected 1st round, second rated offensive guard prospect.
Whilst the North Carolina Tar Heels may not have a lot to play for in terms of ACC titles and Bowl berths, there are many members of their team who do. Amongst these is starting left guard Jonathan Cooper.
Cooper, a redshirt senior, has been the starter at guard for his entire career, missing just three games (in his redshirt freshman year) through injury. He’s also seen snaps at center, showing some potential versatility at the next level. He was named Second Team All-ACC in 2010 and 2011 and projects to be an All-American in 2012. He is also one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy with Barrett Jones of Alabama and Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M. He considered entering the 2012 draft, but decided against it due to needing shoulder surgery.
The Tar Heels’ offensive line has been one of their main strengths this year, combining dynamic run blocking with sturdy pass blocking, and this has mostly been down to Cooper and the man to his left, 2014 draft prospect James Hurst. It is no surprise, therefore, that the UNC star man Giovani Bernard is leading the ACC in rushing and is seen as one of the top running back prospects for either 2013 or 2014.
ATHLETICISM: Cooper is an explosive and agile athlete with feet that belie his position. He is an ideal pulling guard, with his quick feet and ability to get into the secondary. In pass protection, he man handles his opponent more often than not, as part of a line which has allowed just ten sacks all year (14th in the nation). Whilst this may not be the case straight away at the next level, he projects well in zone-blocking schemes and can be an impact-maker right away.
SIZE: At 6’3, Cooper is a good size and weight for the position, and will potentially bulk up as he matures and enters the next level. Not a concern for his NFL prospects at all.
STRENGTHS: Cooper’s strengths are best described by his head coach, Larry Fedora: “Well, he’s a 300-plus pounder that can really run, has great feet. I mean, he has phenomenal feet,” Fedora said. “He’s got feet as good as tight ends out there. So he can stay on blocks, he can pull, he can move. He’s very intelligent. He can pass block with the best of them. There is really not anything he can’t do up front.” From this review and from the career he has had so far at North Carolina, he will be a fantastic weapon for o-line coaches trying to improve their run game, as his speed and footwork allows him to get to the second level as he has done all this year on run plays for Giovani Bernard.
WEAKNESSES: One complaint some have against Cooper is that he is ‘too nice’ to be in the trenches. He has brushed that off and been more aggressive in finishing blocks through the whistle this year. Another possible argument against Cooper is that he hasn’t played against much talent at the defensive tackle position in recent years, especially compared to his Tuscaloosa counterpart, Alabama guard Chance Warmack. The only real NFL calibre competition he’s faced this year is ironically his teammate Sylvester Williams, a potential first round pick, in practice. Cooper has been an incredibly consistent lineman in the ACC however, so it’s difficult to believe that the NFL will be too much of a step for him to conquer come 2013.
CONCLUSION: Jonathan Cooper should become a mainstay on an NFL team’s offensive line for years to come. An impressive four year college career behind him, he can make an impact from the first game of his rookie year in the NFL. Outside of his physical abilities, his coaches at North Carolina play up his character as much as his footwork or athletic ability, which leads me to believe he’ll adapt to the lifestyle of the NFL quickly. His offensive line coach at North Carolina said of him “I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to coach a guy as special as he is… That’s a little disappointing for me. I only got to coach him for one year. Hopefully I’ve got a lot of years left to coach, but he’s special. The thing about him is, he doesn’t know it.”
PREDICTION: Depending on team need, Cooper could fall as early as 20 and as late as 30 in my estimation. A team like Chicago would love to take him around 25th-30th, but he may well be taken a few spots before that by Indianapolis or another team looking to bolster their line. He will almost certainly be either the first or second offensive guard taken, and it will be a battle with Chance Warmack as to who takes that honour. Good performances to close out the year, a good showing at the Senior Bowl and a good combine will undoubtedly cement him as one of the better prospects at his position in 2013.