North Carolina offensive guard Jonathan Cooper might well be one of the 2013 NFL Draft's most highly-graded players. His position might drop him into the middle of the first round, but the team that selects him is getting an NFL-ready lineman.
Cooper is a four-year starter for the Tar Heels. After an initial redshirt, he started ten times as a freshman and never left the Tar Heel lineup after that. He was a consensus All-American as a senior and a three-time All-ACC selection. At 6'3 and 295 pounds, Cooper can add 10-15 pounds if needed, but his footwork and leverage more than make up for any weight concerns.
Cooper is undoubtedly an elite prospect after being named a consensus first team All-America by Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press, ESPN and others.
Jonathan Cooper vs. Virginia Tech (via DraftBreakdown.com)
Pros: As good an all-around lineman as you can find in this class, Cooper excels in pass protection and has the size, agility and technique to take on defensive tackles and linebackers in the running game. Aside from three missed games in 2009 and off-season shoulder surgery in 2012, he has been extremely durable and plays through minor injuries. Cooper excelled at picking up blitzing linebackers and stunting linemen. He is known as a hard worker.
Cons: It's difficult to find something negative about Cooper. He's not yet at the size of a typical NFL offensive guard, and there is some mild concern that additional size could reduce his quickness and burst, but he's otherwise a prototype guard. The biggest con might be that he can't play tackle, which would likely push him into the top 10 of the draft.
Cooper is widely considered the second-best offensive guard in this class, behind Alabama's Chance Warmack. The most recent SB Nation Big Board has Cooper ranked 14th overall. The most recent mock draft at Mocking the Draft has Cooper going to the St. Louis Rams with the 16th selection. Cooper could also be taken by Chicago (#20) or New England (#29).
Here's what experts are saying in the twitterverse:
OG2. Jonathan Cooper, UNC - Guards that can pull like Cooper can don't last long on draft day. He'll be a first rounder. #BurnsBoard— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) January 24, 2013
Interior OL (OG/C): 1.) Chance Warmack, 2.) Jonathan Cooper, 3.) Larry Warford, 4.) Justin Pugh, 5.) Barrett Jones #LownesTop5— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) January 26, 2013
If you want to follow Cooper on twitter, check out his handle @TheUnderdog_64