7th Overall Selection by the Arizona Cardinals
Overview: The 2013 off-season has brought a world of change to the Arizona Cardinals, who fired general manager Rod Graves and head coach Ken Whisenhunt after missing the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive season. Owner Bill Bidwell stayed in house for Graves replacement, promoting Vice President of player personel Steve Keim who joined the organization in 1999 as a regional scout. Keim and Bidwell quickly began their head coaching search and the two went on to name Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians as the 9th head coach since the team moved to Arizona. Keim and Arians wasted no time in making the troubled offensive line a point of emphasis after an injury ravaged 2012 season saw the entire offense crippled by lackluster line play. The team used it’s #7 overall pick on North Carolina offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, the first top ten pick used on a guard since 1997 when the New Orleans Saints took Chris Naole out of Colorado. Jonathan Cooper has proto-type guard size at 6’2 and 311 lbs., but his rare athleticism for the position is what sets him apart as a prospect. Cooper will join a group that will also welcome back left tackle Levi Brown who was lost for the 2012 season last August with a torn triceps. The Cardinals will need Cooper and Brown to play at a high level this season in order to protect the newly acquired quarterback Carson Palmer, who arrived after the Cardinals shipped their 2013 6th round pick along with a conditional 2014 selection to the Oakland Raiders. The immobile Palmer will need to be kept clean and upright in the pocket if the Cardinals have any hope of fully utilizing wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and 2012 first rounder Michael Floyd in the passing game. Rashard Mendenhall was signed to help bring stability to the backfield and is a proven commodity in Arians power running vertical offense from their days together with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jonathan Cooper can play any of the three interior offensive line positions, but will open camp as the Cardinals starting left guard.
Position Battles: The Cardinals starting offensive line appears to be set. Levi Brown at left tackle, Cooper at left guard, and Lyle Sendlein will return from late season MCL surgery to start at center for the 6th straight season. Daryn Colledge will play right guard after spending the past two seasons on the left side, and 2012 4th rounder Bobby Massie will play right tackle. It remains to be seen what the Cardinals will do with Cooper if Sendlein were to get hurt again, Cooper could very well be the top option to swing inside and play center. 2012 5th round pick Senio Kelemete will compete for top back up duties with 2013 4th rounder Earl Watford, Mike Gibson and Chilo Rachal, a former 2nd round pick of the San Francisco 49ers who was signed after spending the 2012 season with the Chicago Bears. The key to this unit’s success will be Brown at left tackle, who will need as much support as possible from Cooper at left guard if they are going to protect Carson Palmer’s blindside.
Notable Match-Ups: The NFC West is a struggling offensive line’s worst nightmare. The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and up and coming St. Louis Rams have three of the most disruptive front 7′s in all of football and make up nearly half of the Cardinals yearly schedule. Cooper will likely be matched up against 49ers defensive end Justin Smith while locking horns with the All Pro inside linebacker duo of Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman at the 2nd level. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and 2012 first round defensive tackle Michael Brockers will be Cooper’s main assignment in his match-ups with Seattle and St. Louis. Outside of the division contests, Cooper will face off against Detroit Lions defensive tackle tandem of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Emerging force Gerald McCoy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as the vicious front 7 of the Houston Texans. The week 5 game against the Carolina Panthers will feature some of the top young interior line talent in the NFC while pitting Cooper against fellow 2013 draft picks, 1st rounder Star Lotulelei at nose tackle and 2nd round 3 technique Kawann Short.
2014 and Beyond
The Arizona Cardinals drafted Jonathan Cooper earlier than most analysts and draftniks projected. Cooper will be counted on to produce at a high level at left guard for the foreseeable future as Bruce Arians and Steve Keim build the team in their image. The entire starting offensive line in Arizona is under contract through the 2015 season and will be counted on to grow together as a unit. Cooper and Daryn Colledge immediately become one of the most athletic guard tandems in the NFL and will allow Arians to get aggressive and take his shots downfield. Bruce Arians preaches balance from his offense and using the running game to set up his downfield passing attack. A complete player like Cooper, capable of creating space in the running game with the athleticism to thrive in pass pro looks to be a match made in heaven.