This year UNC boasted three draftable OL with Jonathan Cooper, James Hurst and Brennan Williams. Over the course of the year Cooper has emerged as a legitimate top 20 player with his rare blend of size and speed. With an uncanny awareness and the ability to make a defender pay in the 2nd level, Cooper has the eye of Zone Blocking teams who need to upgrade the interior of their OL’s.
Size: Cooper stands at 6’3 295, which is an ideal size for an interior ZBS player. He could stand to add weight to his frame, but traditionally offensive linemen in zone schemes sit around the 300 to 315 range. At 295 it really isn’t that big of a deal because of his athleticism that makes up for his lack of bulk. While this isn’t directly related to his size, I fully expect Cooper to run one of the top 40 times for an OL. When focusing in on him on film, Cooper is always the fastest OL for UNC and is always in the 2nd level looking for someone to hit and help spring his RB to the next level. Arm length for Cooper doesn’t seem to be an issue, although it will be interesting to see what the final measurements are. Overall, Cooper packs the ideal Zone scheme frame, and you’ll see those teams look to rank him high on their draft boards.
Technique: While Cooper lacks the size, he makes up for it with his technique. Cooper plays with a very solid base and makes sure to keep the leverage against his opponent. Cooper though doesn’t play with much punch to his game. What is meant there is that he’s more of a guy who hits a 2nd level defender, but doesn’t finish him off. Multiple times on my film study of him, I saw Cooper wall off the defender, but not finish him. It’s not an issue as he helps make the holes open up for his teammates, but some teams will want to see more tenacity out of him as a player. He does a good job staying low against his defenders as well.
Run Blocking: Run Blocking is Cooper’s strength, but mainly from his ability to get to the 2nd level and also his ability to wall off defenders. Without a doubt the best part of Cooper’s game is his ability to pull and reach the 2nd level as a lead blocker. With his athletic ability, Cooper is usually the first OL in the 2nd level and when he’s pulling, watch out because he’s looking for that next defender to keep away from his teammate. What is most effective with Cooper pulling is his technique. It starts with a solid first step to either the right or left depending on the play call and staying low through the Line of Scrimmage (LOS). Once he crosses the LOS he gets up a little higher but not enough that it cause him to lose his leverage advantage against defenders. Once he get to that 2nd level, he finds the nearest defender in front and will either wall him off the RB/WR or look to drive them out of the play more. With Cooper he looks very natural when pulling, where as you watch many other offensive linemen and it looks more uncomfortable than anything else. When it comes to traditional running plays called behind him, Cooper tends to use a wall off technique. One play that UNC loves to run is the a 23 dive to Bernard. This play call runs right behind Cooper and allows him to create the open hole. In the Virginia Tech game that play call was used on a short 4th and one. Cooper was able to down block on the tackle and James Hurst the LT was able to get a block on the outside defender and what ensued was a gaping hole for Bernard to run through for a TD. Throughout many games I’ve watched of UNC, they love to run this play behind Cooper because they can count on him to get the block. What you see with Cooper is what you’ll get in terms of run blocking, he’ll always be solid and make the block, but he’ll never be that nasty intimidating type who constantly puts defenders on the ground.
Pass Blocking: This is something that Cooper does well at, but needs to improve on and it’s mostly technique improvements needed. When watching Cooper vs. Maryland, he struggled at times with the DT rotation that Maryland employs. Many times in that game he was driven back 1-2 yards in the pocket. While it didn’t end up making Renner uncomfortable, it’ll be different in the NFL when teams are going to scheme against Cooper and trying to exploit his lack of ideal size. When pass blocking, Cooper does keep his arms and hands on the inside of his opponent, and as a result you rarely hear of Cooper holding opponents. He doesn’t really overextend, and with his size he is able to stay in front of a blitzer instead of scrambling to redirect him. However, Cooper does need to work on his upper body strength when it comes to his pass blocking ability. Too many times on film I saw a player who lacks the upper body strength needed in the NFL. Cooper has the talent and natural ability to be a dominant OG in the NFL, but right now his pass blocking is lacking compared to his run blocking.
Overall: So what exactly is Cooper in the NFL? Well simply put, he’s a Zone-Blocking G. It’s not a slight towards him, as a ZBS team will use his strengths better than a man scheme. Cooper fits very well into a zone scheme because of his athleticism and ability to get to the 2nd level. He will need to improve his overall strength, but that can happen over time after he has access to NFL strength coaches. Right now I have a pretty firm top 20 grade on Cooper and only have Chance Warmack ahead of him in terms of Guards. Cooper may end up going earlier if a team around the 12-15 range that employs a zone scheme looks to ignore the fact he’s an OG and instead look at his overall impact he can have for an offense.