Dolphins fans in 2013 can basically be divided up into two groups: those who believe drafting an offensive lineman early has all the redeeming characteristics of, say, a nuclear winter; and those who believe that great offenses, even in this day and age, require great protection up front.
If you're a disciple of the former school of thought, do yourself a favor and stop reading this article right now. For you, the next few paragraphs will only lead to tears, and I can't have that on my conscience.
Now, for those of you who do enjoy the idea of selecting an elite-caliber offensive lineman in the first round, allow me to introduce you to North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper, a wrecking-ball guard prospect who is tailor-made for the Dolphins' brand of athletic, smart zone-blocking. Here's what we can gather from even a short viewing of the above video:
- Few guards can anchor against a power-rushing interior lineman as well as Cooper. He quickly snaps into his set, rarely gives ground, and his top-shelf lateral agility makes him a tough defeat for quicker interior rushers (particularly 3-techs).
- Cooper has good arm length (33") and outstanding upper-body strength (35 reps on the bench press) for the position, but his overall athleticism and punch are what set him apart from other guard prospects. Cooper has heavy hands, and routinely rocks back his assignment at the line of scrimmage. And note his ability to get out and run with ballcarriers in the open field. Kind of reminds you of Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, no?
- Cooper's technique is Grade A stuff, as well. He's a natural knee bender, and his footwork is quick and refined. The former Tar Heel's an excellent guard prospect in terms of run-blocking, and he's even better as a pass protector. He also boasts one of the better cut-block maneuvers in the country, and displays a noticeable degree of nastiness when finishing off his assignments.
- Speaking of run-blocking, Cooper is an absolute terror when he moves vertically to the second level of defense, and can zero in on moving targets with ease.
Does Cooper possess enough skill and upside to warrant a selection at No. 12 overall? I'd say so. In fact, there's a chance he isn't even on the board when Miami goes on the clock on draft night. Cooper is a better guard prospect than 2012 first-round selection David DeCastro, and he isn't far behind the No. 1 prospect in this year's class: Alabama's Chance Warmack (I have Cooper rated higher than Warmack on big board, but whatever). However, such reasoning isn't going to be much comfort to the anti-OL contingent if Cooper hoists a Dolphins uniform next month.
So why the selection of another offensive lineman in the first round? Because that's what you do when you have a young, franchise-caliber quarterback under center, a ferocious one-cut back, and a receiver corps that was recently gassed up via free agency. Many--not all, but many--of the Dolphins' offensive weapons are now in place, so if the team chooses to move forward with a powerhouse guard prospect like Cooper, trust that it's yet another move intended to make Ryan Tannehill as comfortable as possible during what will be a very, very important sophomore campaign for the Dolphins' signal caller.