With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#7: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
We continue this year's series with North Carolina offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, who has been battling Alabama's Chance Warmack for the title of best interior lineman in this draft class. After redshirting in 2008, Cooper was named to the Sporting News All-ACC Freshman team in 2009 after he started 10 games at left guard, earned a 73 pecent grade from his coaches, and led the team with 40 knockdown blocks. Though his grades would rise throughout his collegiate career (83 to 86 to 93 percent over the next three seasons), one thing stayed the same -- Cooper always led his line in knockdowns, which outlines the most underrated aspect of his play.
Cooper is a very physical blocker, and the only reason that fact gets second billing is because he's so very athletic. At 6-foot-2 and playing anywhere from 290 to 310 pounds, Cooper comes into the NFL as athletically gifted as any guard currently playing in the pros. It's why he's gaining momentum among the analysts are studying him, and it's also why some seem to believe that he might be able to switch to center at the next level.
"I’d say I’m a combination of power and athleticism," he said at the scouting combine. "I can, especially with the addition of weight, I can run power. You can look at it from my first three years of film where we’re a pro-style offense where power was our staple play. And then this year it really showed my athletic ability, getting out in space. We ran a bunch of screens and a lot of things where I was on the second and third level getting on linebackers and defensive backs and such."
The tape proves every one of Cooper's points -- whoever selects him in the upcoming draft could very well have themselves a franchise anchor from Day 1.
Pros: Amazingly quick, agile athlete for his size. Sets up in his pass pro like a tackle -- comes up from excellent leverage, establishes a side base, gets a good kick-step going, and stones defenders with an outstanding hand-strike. Pulls with impressive speed and agility from left guard all the way around to seal the right edge, and has the ability to read, stop, and block along the way. Also pulls with great speed and agility from left guard outside left tackle and into space upfield. Tremendous lateral agility and power allows him to excel in slide and zone slide protection. Gets upfield to linebacker depth in a hurry, but with leverage and power, to beat defenders downfield.
As a pure gap blocker, works into a low, wide base with great leverage and a very nasty attitude. Keeps his hands moving and forces defenders to re-set and re-direct over and over. Has the upper-body strength to push linemen back and out to the side from two-point and three-point stance. Latches on inside his defender's pads and wrestles with strength, persistence, and passion. Able to deliver knockdown blocks consistently and really seems to enjoy physical dominance -- has the right kind of aggressive attitude and almost plays like a defensive tackle at times when firing out on the run. Strong enough to open gaps in red zone situations. Has the awareness to hold one defender at bay while controlling another a gap away, and hands off from one to another -- could be completely dominant in a zone scheme. Durable player who gives his all, play after play, in a high-volume, no-huddle offense.
Cons: Inaccurate with cut blocks, especially in space -- tends to lunge instead of targeting and will whiff as a result. Played at under 300 pounds at times and may struggle to maintain weight if he's in a high-volume offense similar to the one he was in before. Gets rocked back at times if he comes off the snap too high, but adjusts and re-sets on the fly. Underwent shoulder surgery before the 2012 season to relieve chronic inflammation.
Conclusion: Cooper could do a lot of things in the NFL, but I hope he isn't asked to put on too much weight to run power all the time, and I think he'd be wasted to a degree by moving to center -- his combination of athleticism and pure power is rare and makes him a very interesting player from a schematic sense. When the New Orleans Saints selected Jahri Evans in the fourth round out of Bloomsburg, they wound up with the most agile and effective downfield guard in the game, as well as a man who simply likes to dominate the linemen he faces. Evans has been a deserving Pro Bowler each of the last four years, and Cooper seems ready, willing, and able to have a similar impact. This is a player with a rare and highly valuable skill set, and I wouldn't be surprised if, when all is said and done, Cooper isn't the jewel of the 2013 NFL draft.