Jonathan Cooper | Guard | North Carolina | 6'3'', 310 pounds
Traditionally speaking, guards don't have a tremendous amount of positional value. In the last decade, the highest drafted guard was Mike Iupati at No. 17 to the San Francisco 49ers. Starters can be found later in the draft, so teams are hesitant to invest early selections in the position.
Teams may want to reexamine that strategy with Jonathan Cooper in 2013. The North Carolina joins Alabama senior Chance Warmack to give this draft a pair of guards worthy of first round picks. If not for Warmack's excellent, Cooper may be getting the attention as the best guard prospect to come around in years.
He's the type of player that will come off the board in the mid-to-late first round and have an instant impact in the NFL.
Cooper is one of the smoothest athletes I've seen at the guard position. He has excellent technique when pulling. His footwork is clean and he maneuvers across the line of scrimmage efficiently. Cooper is highly regarded for his athleticism, and it doesn't take long to notice it when watching him. He moves very well and shows outstanding body control in the open field. He has no trouble getting to the second level of the defense and engaging his blocks.
Cooper also shows impressive balance both in his stance and in his movement. He doesn't end up on the ground very often at all. He's also a very experienced player with more than 35 starts under his belt for the Tar Heels. That experience helps him quickly pick up multiple blocking assignments as needed on any given day. He plays the game with tremendous leverage, which makes him dominant at times in the running game.
While Cooper has been a force in the ground game, he's not quite as dominant in pass protection. He won't overpower anyone with his strength, and thus, he ends having trouble with some massive bull rushers. Cooper has been developing more of a mean streak this season and will need to carry that over into his NFL career. He definitely gets by more on his technique and athleticism than his strength. If he can improve on his footwork a bit in pass protection, however, his anchor will improve. As it stands, he is still much closer to Warmack than most people think.
Cooper is the type of athlete that teams will covet early on in the draft. Despite his lack of positional value, Cooper should make an impact from day one and deserves to be drafted in the first round. He moves so well for the position and is technically sound as well as football savvy. Teams can't ask for a much more out of an interior lineman.Cooper was a consensus All-American and Outland Trophy finalist this season for a reason.
Pro Comparison: Alan Faneca, Retired
Cooper's pulling ability is impressive enough to be considered in the same breath as the once great Alan Faneca. If Cooper is going to successful in the NFL, he will get by on his athleticism, technique and awareness, traits that made Faneca a monster for years.
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