The number one priority for the San Diego Chargers heading into this Thursday’s NFL Draft is to fix their offensive line. With the three elite offensive tackles expected to go in the top 10, the Chargers may have to settle with drafting one of the two elite offensive guards.
However, are they really “settling” for a guard? Guard is just as big a need as tackle for the Bolts, yet tackles have higher so-called “positional value.” Although guards don’t tend to be drafted in the top half of the first round, Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack both have rare talent to justify going that high. Both would help San Diego’s offensive line tremendously, but Cooper appears to be the better fit.
Cooper is a natural fit for San Diego’s new zone-blocking scheme. He has a rare blend of speed, strength and mobility for a man his size. His speed and short-area quickness allows him to pull and get to the second level with ease while run-blocking. He also has quick feet, good use of hands and a strong lower body to anchor against the bull rush, making him an elite pass protector. A four-year starter at North Carolina, Cooper has the experience and durability that should help him make the transition to the bigger, faster NFL.
The only knock on Cooper is that at 6-foot-2, 311 pounds, he’s a little shorter than NFL teams prefer. He also only has average bulk and strength, but that can easily be added once he hits an NFL weight room.
Cooper would be an immediate starter and upgrade at guard for the Bolts. The starters from last year, Louis Vasquez and Tyronne Green, are gone, while the only guards at the roster are either inexperienced or career backups. Chad Rinehart and Johnnie Troutman might be the favorites to start right now, but both could easily be upgraded.
An elite pass protector like Cooper would immensely help in keeping a cleaner pocket for Philip Rivers, who hasn’t been able to step up into his throws due to the oncoming pressure the past few seasons. Cooper’s presence would help prevent penetration up the middle, allowing Rivers to step up and dodge edge-rushers who beat our pitiful offensive tackles. Rivers has shown in the past the ability to make some unbelievable throws with bodies all around him. But he needs his offensive line to at least give him a chance.
Cooper’s pure athleticism, sound technique and high football IQ, as well as San Diego’s desperate need at the position, makes him well worth the 11th overall pick.