I linked up with Sam McDowell of Garnet and Black Attack, the SB Nation community for fans of the South Carolina Gamecocks, to get some info on the Los Angeles Rams fourth-round WR pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, South Carolina WR Pharoh Cooper.
Pharoh Cooper came to Columbia as a blond-balanced multi-position athlete assigned to the secondary. He leaves as an accolade-laden wide receiver. What are the clear differences between 2013 Pharoh Cooper and 2016 Pharoh Cooper? What did he improve on and grow into?
When Pharoh Cooper arrived in Columbia, he was a bit of an unknown. Despite his athleticism, as a freshman Pharoh still had to learn the Steve Spurrier playbook. As the season progressed he began to see more time as a wildcat QB and in the slot for short routes and screens. By Pharoh's junior season, he was playing all four wide out positions, would like up as a H-back, running back and wildcat QB. While he was a sort of "jack-of-all-trades" type of player, he had developed into a true #1 option at wide receiver.
Much like the Rams' first pick, #1 overall selection Cal QB Jared Goff, there's a question as to what could've been if he returned. Jason Kirk recently wrote that we shouldn't disparage college football players for leaving early to to get paid for playing football. I'd agree...but I'm not a Gamecocks or Golden Bears fan. How badly do you wish Pharoh had stayed for another year? How badly does new South Carolina Head Coach Will Muschamp wish he had stayed to transition the offense?
From a purely fan point of view, I 100% wish Pharoh had returned to the Gamecocks for his senior season. He was everything for the offense during a dismal 3-9 season. Despite there being no other legitimate threats in our receiving corps, Cooper still managed to catch 66 balls for 973 yards and 8 touchdowns (note: South Carolina QB's only managed 16 passing touchdowns last year; this is from 3 different players combined). So yea, I absolutely wanted Pharoh to stick around. He would have given Will Muschamp and Kurt Roper a legit threat in our new-fangled spread offense and would have provided senior leadership. I certainly don't blame him for leaving though. He accomplished, statistically at least, everything that he could have here.
Cooper played with Connor Shaw, Dylan Thompson and Perry Orth. Is there any reason to think he'll struggle to connect with a QB at the level of Jared Goff? Does Cooper's experience as the most important target perhaps set him back at the NFL level where he'll be expected to be more of a cog in the wheel instead of the #1 option?
While neither Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson were NFL draft picks, they are both in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, respectively. Conno Shaw's senior year, Pharoh's freshman year, was Cooper's least productive season from a receiving standpoint. He really exploded onto the scene catching balls from Dylan Thompson his sophomore year and continued his onslaught on SEC defenses last year playing mainly with Perry Orth. Jared Goff will clearly be, from a talent standpoint, the most gifted QB Cooper will have played with. Pharoh certainly has a knack for getting open so, whether he's the #1 option or the #5 option, I certainly don't foresee any huge problems. Pharoh may struggle for a while simply because he will be a rookie in the NFL, but I do think he'll be a productive player for you guys.
What about Pharoh Cooper the person? The Rams recently signed former Auburn WR Duke "D'haquille" Williams. We drafted WKU TE Tyler Higbee despite an ongoing legal matter regarding an altercation earlier this year. We brought in Janoris Jenkins through a second-round draft pick and helped him get through his first four NFL years without any major off-field issues. So uh..."character" isn't exactly the highest priority for this franchise. That being said, is there any reason for concern with Pharoh?
Pharoh never once got into any kind of trouble. If y'all are looking for a high character player, Pharoh is your man.
Big picture question. Yall haven't exactly been a huge feeder school for the Rams. The only three Gamecocks to be drafted by the Rams were Cooper, G Rokevious Watkins (5th round, 2012) and TE Brian Nemeth (11th round, 1976). With Muschamp coming in, it's going to take him some time to build the recruiting base (Brandon McIlwain and JaMarcus King, aside). Even a team like Auburn, who has "struggled" the last two seasons has sent the NFL plenty of talent including to the Rams. What do you guys need to do to improve the pipeline and what should Rams fans be on the lookout for?
While the Rams haven't selected much talent out of South Carolina in recent years, I don't think it is because of a lack of talent coming out of Columbia. Perhaps the players getting drafted simply did not play a position of need for the Rams. Obviously, the talent out of the Gamecock program has waned in recent years, and that is mainly due to a lack of recruiting and misses in the evaluation process by Steve Spurrier and his former staff. I think Will Muschamp has taken vital steps to rebuilding our recruiting pipelines and, in effect, our pipeline into the NFL. Hopefully in a few years you will see guys like Brandon McIlwain, JaMarcus King, Jake Bentley, Chris Lammons, Skai Moore etc. start to come out of our program and make a big impact on the NFL.
Thanks to Sam for taking the time to answer these.