Off the Edge
I was eager to dig into the tape on Texas A&M linebacker, Edgerrin Cooper, because he has some great highlights, impressive 2023 stats and he's been shooting up draft boards recently. Earlier this week, Daniel Jeremiah released his first version of his top 50 prospects board and Cooper was the 20th overall player. Also this week, Draftwire (Curt Popejoy) put out a mock where Cooper was the 54th overall pick, close to where the Rams pick in the 2nd round.
Instead of coming away impressed by Cooper, the full games painted a very different story than his splashy highlight reel. Cooper has some very concerning negative traits. When you see my NFL comp for him, it will become clear why I think teams should be wary about drafting him too early.
Cooper has some similarities with Baron Browning from Ohio State, who was the very last pick in the compensatory section of the 3rd round in 2021. As a rookie with the Denver Broncos, Browning had to move over to inside linebacker due to injuries to other players, but for the rest of his career he's been used as an OLB. He has a 12.8% career pressure rate as a pass rusher per SIS and had a total of 9.5 sacks over the last 2 seasons. He had a 74.5 PFF grade in 2023. The negative side is he has a relatively poor 16.8% missed tackle rate. Browning had PFF grades in the 50's his first 2 years, before a breakout 2023 season. Lance Zierlein said that Browning had good athleticism but poor instincts and my evaluation of him was very similar, which is why I felt he'd be better if used as an EDGE rusher instead of as a middle inside linebacker. Browning is better if you give him more of a defined assignment instead of requiring him to read too many keys.
While I don't see Cooper as a 1st round prospect, is he better than Ernest Jones and would Cooper be an excellent candidate to potentially replace Jones down the road if Jones leaves in free agency?
Name: Edgerrin Cooper. Turns 23 years old in November of 2024. 4th year bonus season junior.
School: Texas A&M. Was at Shrine Bowl.
Size: Listed 6'3'' tall, 230 pounds. At Shrine Bowl measured 6'2'' tall, 227 pounds, 33 1/2'' arms, 80 1/8'' wingspan, 9 5/8'' hands. NFLDB 4.52 sec (est 40 time)
When Ernest Jones was drafted I said that he would have been undersized to play MLB in an earlier era of football and likely would have been a WILL linebacker about 20 to 25 years ago. In today's game, the offensive guards are smaller, there are no more blocking TEs and blocking FBs, so true middle linebackers have all but disappeared from the game. Today, you need speed and athleticism on the field, so most ILBs are smaller than in the past. Jones and Cooper are nearly exactly the same size. Jones measured 6'1 1/2'' tall, 230 pounds, 33 3/8'' arms, 80 1/8'' wingspan and 10 3/8'' hands. So, everything I said years ago about Jones also applies to Cooper. He's not big enough to be a true in-the-box thumper LB. He has long arms, but not ideal body mass and he's not tall. Okay for today's game, but if you want a LB with stopping power and who can stack OL blocks at the POA, Cooper is small for the job. See our playoff loss vs the Detroit Lions for examples of where this limitation can become important.
4-star recruit from Louisiana. Was a RB as a youth, then switched over to defense in high school. He's grounded and focused in interviews, a grinder, but he doesn't come across as a vocal leader or display impressive football IQ.
Played mostly special teams in 2020, had 2 tackles. Injured in the first half of a 2023 game, probably a concussion. Limited in a 2022 game due to undisclosed injury.
PFF grades of 60.1, 64.1 and 66.1 in his first 3 seasons.
One of the key changes that happened in 2023 was that very similar to how Ernest Jones was frequently used as a pass rusher for the Rams last season, Cooper saw a huge jump in the percentage of snaps he was used as a pass rusher in 2023. He had 85 pass rush snaps out of 609 total defensive snaps in 2023, rushing on 14% of his snaps played. In 2022 he only rushed on 38 out of 621 snaps, which is 6.1% of the time. His percentage was even higher half-way through 2023, used as a pass rusher on 16% of his snaps at that point in the year. Had 27 QB pressures in 2023 after only having a combined total of 21 in 2021 through 2022.
Cooper had a 31.8% pressure rate in 2023. He had a 35% pressure rate over 2021 to 2022. Those are very high success rates as a pass rusher for a LB. Ernest Jones for the Rams had a 25% rate in 2023 per SIS and a career high 27.3% rate as a rookie.
Cooper had an 11.7% missed tackle rate in 2023, 15.3% in 2022 and 14.7% in 2021. His career missed tackle rate is 13.3%. If we use PFR stats, Ernest Jones has a career missed tackle rate of 3.9% in the NFL, nearly 10 percentage points lower than Cooper in college.
Per PFF, Cooper was lined up in the slot 13.5% of the time in 2023 and the rest of the time was either in the box or on the defensive line.
2021 (12 games, 1 start) 58 tackles, 5.5 TFL, half a sack, INT, 2 PD
2022 (11 games, 8 starts) 61 tackles, 8 TFL, 1 FF, 1 INT, 6 PD
2023 (12 starts) 83 tackles, 17 TFL, 8 sacks, 2 FF, 2 PD
Cooper said that the Steelers showed strong interest in him at the Shrine Bowl. My understanding of the draft order is that the Steelers pick in the slot immediately after the Rams in every round. This is important to keep in mind if you want to draft Cooper, because it would be very easy for the Steelers to work out a small trade to move up just 2 spots to take him immediately before the Rams go on the clock, just to be sure that they get their target. For example, if the Steelers wanted to jump up in the 2nd rd, per the draft trade chart it would cost them approximately a 6th round pick.
Daniel Jeremiah 20th overall. Long, rangy, excellent speed and coverage ability. Comfortable in man, speed to carry TEs. Explosive blitzer. Stopping power vs run. Instinctive and explosive, generates splash plays. Some fly-by missed tackles in lateral pursuit. Immediate starter, best football is still ahead of him.
Lance Zierlein 6.28 grade (average starter) [For comparison, this is how LZ has graded certain other LB prospects from recent drafts: Nick Bolton 6.33, Logan Wilson 6.33, Quay Walker 6.27, Baron Browning 6.27, Jack Campbell 6.20, Leo Chenal 6.14.] Devin Lloyd comp. Highly physical, elite top-end speed, burning desire to get to ball, punishing hitter, capable spy, an instant hit on special teams, passionate and intense, more decisive in 2023 than in 2022, dodges blocks, sniffs out screens, adequate cover skills as zone dropper, brings the thunder as forceful striker. Average at diagnosing the run, undisciplined in run fits, unorthodox paths downhill, overshoots mark due to lack of control in pursuit, loses track of ball vs mesh, struggles diagnosing, high pad level vs blocks, undisciplined scraping and plugging run fits, lack of knee bend causes inconsistent open field tackles. Teams will need to balance the inconsistencies with his run-and-hit mentality.
NFLMDD consensus board 56th (2nd rd) 53rd overall projection, 2nd LB just behind Jeremiah Trotter Jr.
PFF 62nd (late 2nd) 1st LB just ahead of Trotter. 90.8 PFF grade 2nd in nation at his position.
NFLDB 58th (late 2nd rd) 3rd LB behind Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell who are both OLBs.
PFN simulator 51st (2nd rd) top LB
Drafttek 61st (late 2nd rd) listed as the top OLB, not as an ILB
Steve Shoup 39th (early 2nd rd)
BuffaloFambase 56th (2nd rd)
Ian Valentino mock draft 41st (2nd rd). Ian called him "a potential superstar".
Shane Hallam mock draft 124th (4th rd)
AJ Schulte mock draft 69th (early 3rd rd)
Luke Easterling mock draft 67th (early 3rd rd)
Draftwire (Curt Popejoy) 50th and 54th in two different recent mock drafts (2nd rd)
Walterfootball (Walt) 52nd (2nd rd) to Rams. Walt said "the Rams are poor vs tight ends" and called Cooper "an explosive LB with huge upside."
Bleacher Report: Very good speed, effective Tampa 2 LB or spy, stay sin phase in man coverage with good change of direction and fluid hips, effective looper on blitz, quick to read gap runs, slips blocks at 2nd level, sideline-to-sideline range, wrap-up tackler with long arms. Wiry frame, needs more size and strength to hold ground and get off blocks. Late with hands and upright vs blocks. Juked by shifty runners, comes in too hot in pursuit and doesn't break down well. Not going to knock anyone backyard with tackles in short yardage. Poor awareness in zone coverage. 54th overall (3rd rd grade) Jerome Baker comp [Baker was a 3rd rd pick in 2018 by the Dolphins.]
Long arms, uses his hands to stay alive vs 2nd level climbers. Variety of moves, including club rip move to defeat blocks at 2nd level. One time, beating block allowed him to scoop up a fumble and return it for a TD. Agility to hop around trash at his feet.
Super aggressive reading gap runs to get over the top of blocks or attack the pullers at the POA.
Aggressive and fast trigger to attack downhill vs QB draws and as a spy to close if the QB leaves the pocket.
The Tampa Bay Bucs have a LB from Auburn named KJ Britt. I wrote about him in his draft year. His nickname was "Downhill Britt" for his aggressive and physical style of plays. Cooper has exactly the same type of mentality, he'll charge downhill and aggressively fill at the POA, gambling for TFLs on the RB or taking on lead blockers. Attacks right at the POA, constricts the lane and disrupts the run by creating a traffic jam, attacks pull blockers instead of hanging back passively.
Explosive straight-line blitzer, would be very dangerous in a blitz happy scheme. Perfect fit for Dick LeBeau and the Pittsburgh Steeler defenses of the Troy Polamalu era. He's an ideal "Steeler linebacker" in a hybrid blitz role that blurs the line between ILB and OLB.
Forward lean as a blitzer, downhill power to run over the RB in pass protection. If he's mugging the C pre-snap, this isn't just for show, he has the power to pass rush vs the center and must be accounted for in the pass blocking plan.
Super-fast closing burst when he runs downhill at the QB. So fast downhill that Jalen Milroe couldn't escape. Instant acceleration from a standing start, can be standing in one spot and when he triggers very quickly he's at high velocity. Too fast downhill for screen pass OL to cut him off.
Played on defense with 3-man DL front. Used in the slot on long 3rd downs in coverage, wasn't just a pass rusher in passing situations.
Has enough speed to run with TE downfield from a trail position. Flashes some ability to make sudden movements as zone defender.
Gambling mentality that can generate TFLs and splash negative plays to disrupt drives and put the offense off schedule, behind the chains.
A sledgehammer hitter who will lay wood on opponents and sometimes even his own teammates with friendly fire collisions.
Despite being a starter was on the punt coverage unit. Fast running downfield. Recovered a muffed punt. Good special teams potential.
Turned up and passionate on the field, high energy competitor.
Raw, inconsistent player with a variety of flaws, but also has a high ceiling due to his length, power and speed. A swing for the fences and risk striking out type of draft pick.
About a year older than average prospect.
A one-trick pony. He can run very fast straight ahead in a line and destroy anything that is in front of him. That's all he does. On his splash plays, he just does the same thing over and over. He's not good at anything else. He can't move backwards well. He can't flow laterally well. He can't change directions. He's only super athletic in one direction, straight forward. He'll likely run super-fast in the 40 at the Combine. That's what you do in the 40, you run in a straight line as fast as you can. On a football field during an actual game, a linebacker has to move in many different directions, not just in a straight-line. If Cooper gets hyped up at the Combine, don't believe it, that's fool's gold. The linebacker's job isn't to run 40 yards, the LB's job is to keep the RB, QB and WR from running 40 yards.
Tight hips. Average lateral mirror in space vs runners, gets juked for yards after contact and missed tackles. A sitting duck in space vs sharp cuts. No recovery COD if he's beaten, just panicked and tackled the TE on a 4th down play, creating potential automatic 1st down penalty. Spontaneously lost his balance and fell down in space when the QB made a very subtle hesitation move, don't know if this even counted as a missed tackle on the stats, because LB fell down before he could even attempt a tackle.
Not tall. Not only does he have poor eye disciplined to read the action, sometimes I'm not sure he can even see over the top of the OL and through congestion, losing sight of the football.
Undersized. Battles hard, but struggles vs double teams and bigger opponents, such as big blocking TEs and massive pulling OTs.
The single biggest flaw that scares me about Cooper is his inability to diagnose. He doesn't have eye discipline and balance to scan between 2 different things at the same time. If he's looking at the pulling OL, he's not looking at the RB. If he's staring at the QB, he's not aware to the TE coming into his area of the zone. His brain can only track one thing at a time, losing awareness to the rest of the field. This is a really horrible trait for an NFL linebacker. Outside zone run with split zone action by the TE, the LB bites super hard when he sees the TE go across the formation, way out of position against the zone run. The Rams run split zone over and over and over, so if the LB keeps going the wrong way, Kyren Williams would repeatedly gash Cooper's team for monster rushing yardage. It doesn't matter how fast you run the 40 at the Combine if you're moving in the wrong direction.
It is 3rd&25, the offense fakes a jet sweep, then sets up a TE screen to the other side of the formation. LB bites hard on the eye candy and is out of position to defend the screen.
LB is in zone coverage in the middle. TE initially pass blocks, then releases late, LB is very slow to visually recognize and loses leverage on the route, so if QB had targeted the TE it would have been a very easy 1st down completion. LB "plays through a straw", struggles to notice things in his peripheral vision and doesn't turn his head to scan between different spots, he just locks eyes on one thing and stares at it, much like a QB staring down a WR and losing track of the movement of the defenders in coverage.
I don't think he even sees the RB on some runs, he just charges into the gap where he thinks the run is going, even if RB is already heading in a different direction. Short 3rd down, RB goes outside around the RT, LB gambles and goes towards the left side, hopelessly out of position, going completely the wrong way.
It is 3rd&10, as soon as the QB gets the snap you can tell by his drop and turning his shoulders to pass that it is likely a quick WR screen, but LB gets distracted by the RB, not even looking at the QB and goes towards the right, away from the screen pass to the left. LB is hopelessly out of position and only tremendous hustle by a different Aggie tackles the WR one yard short of the first down marker. Notice, this isn't even a fake or misdirection, all the RB is doing is a basic release from the backfield, but it doesn't seem to occur to the LB that he can simply move his eyes back and forth between the RB and the QB so that he can see what is developing.
He's a "jump on the very first thing he sees" LB. Gap run, LB commits to attacking the pullers so early that he's out of position when the RB bounces the run wide, effectively all he did was run himself into a blocked position, doing the work for the OL for them. I like LBs who are aggressive and physical but you still have to play with awareness and football IQ. A player with instincts would know that depending on how the run is developing, it is better to use your hands and stack the puller, help contain the edge so that the RB can't get outside instead of just putting your head down and immediately charge directly into them. Cooper is not an instinctive player. He doesn't have good judgment to know on the fly what he should be doing and what he shouldn't be doing. He's a bull in a china shop, just trying to smash everything he sees. That doesn't work at the NFL level. Many plays are very tricky and the opponent is intentionally trying to disguise things or get a particular defender to step the wrong way. If I were an OC and saw Cooper on tape, a big part of the gameplan that week would be based around exploiting him and attacking him by getting him to move out of position and blow his assignment. He can be attacked in a similar way you would pick on a cornerback who runs too slow or who always bites on double moves. We'd have an entire package of plays in a category on the play-sheet called "Edge Cooper beaters".
LB sees OL pulling and begins to move laterally, which is good, that's what he should be thinking. After the RB gets the handoff, however, the LB should see that the RB is angled the opposite direction. LB doesn't notice this His focus is exclusively on the OL pull blockers. Instead of stopping and going towards the RB, the LB attacks forward towards the pullers, but he's going towards the wrong hole, way out of position vs the POA. Duo run, looks like LB doesn't see RB since he misses him in hole and doesn't make solid hit, he just attacked blindly downhill into the hole he assumed RB would be hitting.
Read option, the LB sees TE come across the formation and immediately attacks the TE. This is way too early, so LB is beaten badly when the RB jump cuts to the outside. There is a place for aggression, but you cannot lose leverage on the ball, the LB needs to have a sense of the timing so that the RB is more committed to the hole, then you trigger and bury him for the TFL. If you trigger too early the RB will see you and just run in a different direction.
Never stacks 2nd level blocks, always tries to go around them and this can get him out of position and cause him to lose leverage on the football. Went under 2nd level block when he should have bubbled over the top of it, ended up at too shallow of an angle to effectively close on the RB.
He doesn't scrape down the LOS properly. He's only fast to the sideline if he turns his shoulders and runs with his shoulders perpendicular to the LOS.
Ugly pedal, clunky and very slow, doesn't quickly gain depth after play action fakes. Poor transition from pedal. Unable to gain enough depth in pedal after play action fakes.
Doesn't position himself properly or react well in zone pass coverage. Lacks awareness in zone to gain depth to squeeze seam routes behind him. Against WR speed out, didn't slide outside to shrink passing window. He's in the slot in zone and the TE runs a very short speed out, when LB feels this he needs to drop diagonally from the LOS, knowing that the S will widen to take the TE, but LB steps directly backwards, he sees the QB is staring down the WR and finally realizes that he needs to get wider, but slides laterally parallel with the LOS. What should be obvious if you just draw a triangle is the distance is shorter if you go in a direct line vs if you along the other sides of the triangle. The result is the QB's pass barely goes past the LB's hand. If LB had made a better drop from the LOS, that pass potentially would have been an INT. Details, pay attention to small details in your fundamental technique. Those small tiny steps are more important than your 40 time. Not good at jamming WRs in the slot. Failed to squeeze the passing window vs slot WR speed out on medium 3rd down, giving up an easy 1st down on critical 4th qtr drive, covering grass and not a player, no other threat in his area of the zone, poor understanding to identify the threat and move within his area of the zone to be closer to the WR.
While he was used as a spy in college, he made plays vs the QB when he was running directly towards them in a straight-line. I don't know if he can be an effective spy at the NFL level, because all the QB has to do is juke sideways and Cooper is liable to miss the tackle. So, if you think this guy is going to tackle athletic QBs 1 vs 1 in open space, good luck with that plan.
Not attentive to his angle entering tackle attempts. If he's 1 of 3 defenders all converging on a WR, he's liable to let the WR break contain and beat all 3 defenders by approaching at too shallow an angle, allowing the WR to suddenly turn the LB into a blocker who is in the way of the other 2 defenders. Entry into attempt vs RB off, not centered on tackle and has to spin the RB around to bring him to the ground.
Even though he lays some huge hits on RBs when attacking downhill, he doesn't have stopping power when he's not attacking forward. His pad level is too high, robbing him of play strength on his tackle.
I normally don't care whether a defender gets solo tackles or assists, but watching Cooper's games, he got a bunch of very soft "help" tackles just cleaning up at the end. He only had 39 solo tackles in 2023, which is 47% of the total. Jeremiah Trotter Jr. made solo stops on 61.4% of his tackles in 2023 and 56.2% in 2022.
He likes putting huge hits on runners, so sometimes he doesn't try to wrap up he just goes for wild shoulder charges.
What is his position? He's too short to be an EDGE rusher. He makes too many mental mistakes to be a MLB. He's too small to be a SAM. He's too stiff to be a prototypical WILL. He's an odd miss of physical and athletic traits that don't cleanly fit into any particular position. He might have position versatility to play a number of different roles in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 defense, but would he be great at any single position?
Low floor prospect with substantial bust potential.
Doesn't have personality that fits a typical defensive captain who will wear the green dot, line up the other players and make defensive calls and audibles on the field. Might be better suited playing next to such a LB as a running mate, not the central LB that is the pillar of the rest of the unit.
Draft Grade and Pro Comp
3rd round grade. (Jarrad Davis, 21st overall selection 1st round 2017, Detroit Lions, Florida)
I wanted Davis to enter the 2016 draft, but he stayed in school. I thought he was going to be a great NFL linebacker. He got injured his final year in college and I slightly cooled on him as a prospect, but still thought that he'd be a good player. Davis was a big hitter who could lay huge hits on opponents. He was 6'1 3/8'' tall, 238 pounds, 33 1/2'' arms, and ran 4.62 seconds in the 40. Just like Cooper, he had some great highlights.
Davis started 3 seasons for the Lions. In 2018 he had 100 tackles, 10 TFLs and 6 sacks. He had 96 tackles as a rookie. Despite starting many games and getting many tackles, Davis was a big draft bust. His PFF grades in his first 3 seasons were 52.8, 51.0 and 38.6. He developed a reputation for missing tackles and making mistakes with his gap assignments. Per PFR, Davis had a 12.2% missed tackle rate his first 3 NFL seasons. SIS credited him with a 28.4% rate of broken or missed tackles in 2019, the worst rate in the NFL for any LB with at least 50 tackles. Among defenders who played at least 500 snaps, the only LB who had a worse rate was Clay Matthews of the Rams at 28.8%.
To put in perspective Davis's disappointing level of production, consider that Christian Rozeboom had a 49.0 PFF grade in 2023 and Troy Reeder had 91 tackles and a 46.7 PFF grade in 2021. If we averaged Davis's first 3 regular season grades, it comes out to 47.5. In other words, you could say that Jarrad Davis was approximately on the same level as 2021 Troy Reeder for the Rams.
Remember, we're talking a 1st round pick. Davis was drafted 9 slots ahead of TJ Watt. He was drafted 11 slots ahead of Ryan Ramczyk who went on to become one of the best RTs in the NFL. Alex Anzalone was a very good LB for the Lions in 2023. For years, Detroit fans loved to hate Anzalone, but he had a solid year with a 70.4 overall season grade, 33rd best at his position. Anzalone was a 3rd round pick in the same draft as Davis. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a backup and good special teams player, was a 4th rd pick by Detroit and has played nearly his entire career for the Lions (he left one season then came back.) All these years later, the 1st round LB is long gone, yet the 4th round backup guy who has mostly been a ST ace is still hanging around. He made the 2024 Pro Bowl as the best special teams player in the NFC.
Edgerrin Cooper needs a ton of work. His athletic traits are intriguing. He has long arms, explosive burst and is a heavy hitter, with the potential to become a 3 down LB. The mental awareness side of it is concerning and could result in him being a "he giveth and he taketh away defender" who gets a bunch of sacks and TFLs but also is directly responsible for big plays or critical plays by the opponent by not being reliable in his assignment, positioning and gap responsibility.
I view Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Tommy Eichenberg as being smart, technical and disciplined players, but who have speed limitations and don't have elite physical tools. There are almost the exact opposite of Cooper, with a higher floor but not as high a ceiling. If you want to be conservative and play it safe, draft one of those other LBs. If you want to shoot for the moon, then draft the same way that Edgerrin Cooper plays linebacker, put your head down, identify a target and run full tilt towards it as fast as you can, gambling that everything works out in the end.