By the time the Arizona Cardinals announced the pick of North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper, there was little doubt that he had overtaken Alabama's Chance Warmack as the number one guard prospect in this draft class.
What does Cooper possess that Warmack doesn't?
Glad you asked.
When Cooper moves in space, he does so with the grace of a ballerina, but with the ability to drop the hammer and hit an opponent like a Mack truck. I know that's a lot of hyperbole, so let's take a look at what I mean.
The first play in the video shows Cooper pulling through the guard/tackle gap on the strong side of the line.
We can see him get back cleanly in his pull and then accelerate through the hole to meet and stand up the linebacker, allowing the running back a clear path in his running lane.
When you talk about footwork for a guard, you are talking about similar attributes that you want for cornerbacks -- you want a guy that can change direction on a dime without losing his balance.
When pulling, getting out in front to lead, or getting out in front of screens, Cooper is a unique talent, and that ability is something that had to draw Cardinals GM Steve Keim, head coach Bruce Arians and company to him.
When talking about feet in the passing game, there are numerous ways to describe what you are looking for in an interior blocker, but I think this end zone camera view shows what you want in a guard.
What we see here is Cooper reaching on a player shaded on the outside shoulder of the center, and he gets into him squarely. That shows an amazing initial quickness to win. But what's more impressive is that he keeps his feet moving and when the defensive tackle that's shaded on the opposite guard loops around in the defensive line stunt, Cooper is able to pass off his initial man to the center and get into the other defender.
His ability to not only to not only move in space but win with power at the point of attack makes him what you would call the total package as a guard prospect.
You watch him on this simple smash play double team the defensive tackle and drive him off the ball, then move to the oncoming linebacker allowing the running back an untouched lane to the end zone.
You watch him on a power play through the left side and he reaches the middle linebacker on the second level and drives him away so he can't make a play.
Probably the most consistent aspect that shows up on the Jonathan Cooper film over and over again (aside from terrible quarterback play) is that when he wins in the passing game, he wins at the line of scrimmage or a yard or two back.
One of the biggest issues I've had with the Cardinals is the lack of push they get in pass protection, allowing the interior of the defense to push them back immediately off the snap of the ball and not allowing the quarterback to move up in the pocket.
Cooper will put a stop to that, and honestly he does this much better than any other guard in the draft, so this had to be a huge point of emphasis for Keim and Arians.
Watch the two plays at the 2:05 mark, and notice that Cooper's man barely crosses the line of scrimmage in pass sets -- again, ignore the terrible quarterback.
What this will do in the Arians offense is allow Carson Palmer to get into his drop and work through his progressions while climbing up in the pocket. He won't have to make sudden moves or changes, but will be able to subtly creep up the ladder and stand tall.
This will in turn take pressure off the tackles, as it will allow them to begin to push pass rushers past Palmer, as opposed to pushing them into Palmer.
What Cooper brings to the table is really a special mix of athleticism and strength.
He is able to provide a power base in pass protection that will allow a true pocket to form around the quarterback. In the run game, the blend of power and speed makes him more like a fullback at the guard position, as he can lead block on nearly any outside run as a pulling guard.
The biggest success in this pick though is that it shows Keim is not afraid to go against the grain.
Too often, and something I have preached about not getting your hopes up for, teams pass on interior offensive linemen because they don't provide "value". The problem is the value doesn't lie within a tangible stat, so the totality of their impact is based on the play of others.
Well we saw the impact that was had on this team when the offensive line was poor -- zero running game, an often injured quarterback and then wildly ineffective quarterback play -- all as a result of the line being unable to provide time for those "value" players to make "value" plays.
The impact Cooper has won't show up on the stat sheet next to his name, but it will allow Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer and Rashard Mendenhall to have impact stats next to theirs.