It may seem like ages since the San Diego Chargers have had a Pro Bowl caliber offensive guard, but really it’s only been a two short seasons ago since Kris Dielman’s untimely retirement. Since the team lost one of its toughest elements in the trenches in 2011, things have gone downhill for the Bolts’ running game and pass protection alike. The Chargers need to regain that dominance up front if they want to again be an offensive force and selecting Jonathan Cooper in the upcoming NFL Draft would be a great step in that direction.
Even though this year’s class of linemen is considered to be one of the deepest in recent memory, Cooper has separated himself as one of the best of the bunch. While Chance Warmack of Alabama gets much of the love, the North Carolina product in Cooper has the mobility and power that the Bolts will need in their transition to the zone-blocking scheme. Offensive line coach Joe D’Allesandris would love to have a player like Cooper to groom in his system and turn into an Andy Levitre 2.0 in San Diego.
At 6’2” 311lbs., Cooper is the ideal mixture of power and agility at the guard position. His speed and athleticism allow him to pull and get out in space to lead the way in the running game with ease. What scouts have marveled at most about Cooper is his mental approach to the game as he behaves much like a quarterback with pre-snap reads, diagnosing which defenders to block, and seeing the play unfold before the ball is even snapped.
His performance at UNC this past season garnered plenty of attention in terms of accolades as he was named first-team All-American and All-ACC teams. Cooper also received the ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which goes to the best blocker in the conference. Those distinctions all show just how effective he has been and will continue to be at the next level.
Cooper also put his skills on display at the NFL Scouting Combine where he out-shined nearly all of the competition. His 35 reps on the bench press was second among all offensive linemen while his 5.07 seconds time in the 40-yard dash bested Warmack’s time of 5.49 by a landslide. Cooper has the strength to anchor in pass protection and is quick to engage with the defender across from him. His skill set would be a tremendous addition to the Chargers lackluster level of talent on the interior offensive line.
Many are focused on the team addressing their need at tackle in the upcoming draft, but finding a solid guard would go a long way in masking the deficiencies at the tackle spot. If General Manager Tom Telesco is going to hang on to problem child Jared Gaither, why not make the best of the situation and add an instant starter like Cooper to the roster?