Alabama guard Chance Warmack is regarded by many as the top interior linemen in the 2013 draft class. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock even went as far to say that he might very well be the best football player in this draft.
If Warmack is indeed number the number one interior lineman on several of the draft boards, then North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper easily holds the number two ranking.
The Pittsburgh Steelers hold the 17th overall pick in the April draft, and as I pointed out recently, there is a good chance that Warmack, and Cooper for that matter, will more than likely still be on the board come their selection. Is there a possibility that the Steelers would select Cooper over Warmack if given the choice of the two, should they wind addressing the position with the selection? I believe so.
The Steelers hiring of Jack Bicknell Jr. as their new offensive line coach signifies more zone blocking will be used in 2013. Bicknell said in an interview after his hiring that he was looking for offensive linemen that could bend and move. He also said that the guards need to be more stout, wide, have some mass to them, and have toughness.
General manager Kevin Colbert took it even farther during his talk with the media at the NFL combine when asked if he could possibly draft a third offensive lineman in the last four years in the first round. Colbert stated that if they were to go that direction in the first round that the player has to have position flexibility in case they have to play other positions.
While Warmack is accustomed to running both the inside and outside zone, he is not as good on his feet as Cooper is. Don\'t get me wrong, Warmack is a fine player, who moves well, but Cooper likely best fits what the Steelers will likely be trying to accomplish with the offense next season.
We don\'t know yet if the Steelers met with Warmack at the combine this past week, but we do know that they met with Cooper, who is regarded by many as being a high character kid that plays with a mean streak. No offense to Warmack, but Cooper seems to be the smarter of the two when you listen to both of them speak to the media. That\'s just an observation, not a firm indictment.
Position flexibility? Cooper played right and left guard, and even some center, during his college career. During the combine teams even requested that he run some of the offensive linemen drills from the center position so that they could see how he moved from over the football.
"I aim to kind of try to be as versatile of a player as I can," Cooper said during his talk with combine media. "So whether it\'s left guard, right guard, to center, I want to be able to do that at a professional level. Shotgun snap, under center, all of it---I\'m just trying to improve as a player."
Cooper measured in at 6-2 1/2, 312 pounds this past week and the extra weight that he added leading up to the combine didn\'t hurt him one bit as he ran, jumped and lifted well. How well? Gil Brandt of NFL.com posted a set of combine target numbers by position prior to the combine and Cooper achieved 5 of the 6 for the guard position. The lone target number that he failed to meet was the vertical jump, where he was 3 inches short of the 30 inch target mark. Shame on him.
While combine numbers certainly aren\'t everything, they are fun to play with just the same. Cooper posted an explosive index score of 71, which is the sum of his bench press reps, vertical jump distance, and broad jump distance. That index number has long been talked about by SiriusXM NFL Radio host Pat Kirwan, who was once a scout for the Phoenix Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the director of player administration for the New York Jets. Kirwan says an explosive index score of 70 more always gets his attention.
For comparison purposes, David DeCastro, the Steelers first round selection last April, posted a combine explosive index score of 71.7. Cooper had a faster 40 yard and 10 yard time than DeCastro posted last February, and also did more reps on the bench than the Stanford product. In a nutshell, Cooper stacks up to DeCastro and the game tape is proof of it.
As far as Warmack and his explosive index score goes, we will have to wait until the Alabama pro day to get it as he chose not to lift or vertical jump on Saturday. He also has yet to run the short shuttle and 3-cone drill. Not that it makes him a better a prospect, but Cooper did everything at that combine.
It will be close battle between these two top guards down the stretch, but I firmly believe that a few teams, depending of course on the offensive scheme that they run, might end up with Cooper ranked just a bit higher than Warmack when the dust settles in April. I am by no means guaranteeing that Cooper will wind up being the Steelers selection, but if they do decide to pick a guard in the first round, Cooper\'s name needs to be considered as a possible option.