UNC guard Jonathan Cooper is the consensus No. 2 guard in the country behind Alabama’s Chance Warmack. A lot of times “groupthink”—a bunch of analysts converging on the opinion of one or two popular experts—infiltrates the NFL Draft, however. Based solely on game film, I believe Cooper to be superior to Warmack, although the two are admittedly different types of guards.
Cooper is hands down the best pulling guard I’ve ever studied. He’s listed at 6’3’’, 310 pounds, although there’s a good chance he weighs closer to his college playing weight of 300 or so. Cooper uses his “lean” frame to move with ease to the second level of defenses. He’s as agile as any interior lineman I’ve seen, dashing across the field and having the athleticism to move with linebackers. When Cooper is on the move, he’s at his best.
Because of his “finesse” skill set, Cooper excels on plays like counters and screens when he can get in space. He struggles when he’s asked to anchor against big, strong defensive linemen. He can still hold up at the point-of-attack because he’s so athletic and generally able to play with outstanding leverage, but he struggles with bull rushes from powerful defenders.
In pass protection, Cooper displays good technique. He’s moves fluidly and can shadow defenders with ease. He needs to develop more power in his punch, which could allow him to better ward off stronger rushers. Sometimes he gets driven back into the backfield.
Overall, Cooper is a really outstanding prospect. He’s an explosive player who could stand to add some strength, but that’s really his only weakness at this point. He’s probably going to light up the track in Indianapolis.
NFL Comparison: Jon Asamoah
Chiefs guard Jon Asamoah has quickly turned into one of the better guards in the NFL. Like Cooper, he’s athletic without elite strength, but he plays very intelligently.
Cooper should be a first-round pick, although it’s unlikely he’ll go in the top 15 selections. It’s not that he doesn’t deserve it, because he’ll probably be the top guard on my board and I think guards are generally underrated. However, most NFL teams don’t value interior linemen too much, so there’s even a slight chance that Cooper could fall into the early part of the second round.
Fit in Dallas
I love Cooper’s skill set and I think he’s exactly what the Cowboys need, but I’m just unsure if he’s a player they’ll specifically target. Traditionally, Jason Garrett and the ‘Boys have favored big, strong interior linemen. Remember, the Cowboys almost always run inside in short-yardage situations and only rarely throw screens (24 all year) or run counters (six all year), so they don’t ask their linemen to move around too much. Perhaps they’ll seek a different sort of interior lineman—as they should—with the switch to Bill Callahan calling plays.
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Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.