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April 25, 2013It was a short night of waiting in the Green Room in New York City's Radio City Music Hall for Jonathan Cooper and his family Thursday night, as the former North Carolina All-American interior lineman was taken with the No. 7 overall selection by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Approximately one hour after the Draft kicked off, Cooper became the highest selection out of UNC since 2002, when Julius Peppers went No. 2 to the Carolina Panthers and Ryan Sims No. 6 to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"It was a pretty tough process. It was tiring, but it was fun. It is a test, they (the NFL franchises) kind of push you and prod you a little bit just to see who you are and what you're made of. I've enjoyed the whole process, and I'm thankful I'm able to do what I've been able to do," Cooper said in an interview with Tar Heel Illustrated prior to Thursday's Draft.
NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock got this one right, as he chose Cooper with the No. 7 spot to Arizona in his final Mock Draft. Several other national analysts pegged Cooper between No. 8 (Buffalo Bills) and No. 11 (San Diego Chargers).
A three-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection at North Carolina, Cooper was a finalist for the Outland Trophy in 2012, and earned the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the outstanding offensive lineman in the ACC.
The first offensive guard taken in the top ten in the NFL Draft since Chris Naeole, selected No. 10 by the New Orleans Saints in 1997, Cooper earned rave reviews from the NFL Draft analysts covering the event live on ESPN.
"He is one of the most athletic offensive guards I've seen in 35 years. He's one of the best players in this draft at any position. A 6-2, 312-pound guard (Cooper has) very strong hands," said ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper.
"He has relatively short arms, but he delivers quite a punch. He won battles time and time again against defensive tackles who combine power and quickness, so I love that aspect. Athletic ability to pull and be 35 yards downfield."
"He did 35 reps (of 225 pounds) at the Combine at 6-2, 312 pounds. Impressive upper body strength. Ran a 5.07 40. Plays a lot quicker than that on the field I believe."
"Jonathan Cooper immediately will expected to be a hole-filler at guard, and can play center at a very high level as well," Kiper continued. "A lot of versatility coming to that Arizona Cardinal offensive line with Jonathan Cooper."
"I feel comfortable being center, right guard, left guard. It is what it is," Cooper told us. "They (NFL coaches) like the versatility, since they only take seven linemen to the games that dress out. If you can play multiple positions, that helps myself out just as much as it helps the team."
"(I've been working on) just trying to continue to finish blocks. Be a physical player. So putting on weight (during the offseason), that was one of the big keys."
"Effortless movement. Great conditioning. 48 starts (during his UNC career)," added former Super Bowl-winning head coach Jon Gruden. "What I like the most about Cooper is he's a finisher. Five years in Chapel Hill. Consistent, quality young man. Arizona needed him. I'm sure they're elated behind those offices out in Phoenix. This kid can really play."
Cooper reminds Gruden of former San Francisco 49ers star offensive lineman Guy McIntyre, who he worked with when he was just getting started in coaching as a protege of then-49ers offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren.
"When I watch him (Cooper), he reminded me of Guy McIntyre, that great (San Francisco) 49er guard that allowed us to trap and get out on screens and work the edges of defenses," Gruden said. "He's a big man. He's got an anchor to handle power inside. Tremendous versatility. I've liked this kid from the beginning of the process."
"Overall it just makes me proud," said UNC head coach Larry Fedora of Cooper. "It makes me proud for Jonathan and his family to know that all the hard work that he's put into it, all his dreams are going to come true. And then obviously it helps us as a football team (having players like Cooper)."
"He was not a heavily-recruited young man---he wasn't a five-star athlete---and he turned himself into a first round Draft choice."
"What an exciting moment for Jonathan and his family," Fedora added in a UNC release after Cooper's selection.
"'Coop is a great ambassador for our program and the University of North Carolina. He is everything you could ask for in a student-athlete. He is a great player and one of the best I've ever coached at offensive guard.
"He provided great leadership and character during his career at UNC and I'm proud of him for earning his degree. Arizona is getting an outstanding player who is an even better person."
Cooper is just the fourth offensive lineman and second guard to be picked in the first round from UNC.
The other first-round offensive linemen from UNC were guard Ken Huff in 1975 (No. 3 overall), tackle Brian Blados in 1984 (No. 28) and tackle Harris Barton in 1987 (No. 22).
As a senior, Cooper became the seventh offensive guard in UNC history to earn first-team All-America honors (George Barclay, 1934; Ron Rusnak, 1972; Ken Huff, 1974; Ron Wooten, 1980; David Dreschler, 1981-82; Pat Crowley, 1989). He became the first guard to be first-team All-America since Crowley in 1989 and he was the first consensus first-team All-America at UNC since Julius Peppers in 2001.
Cooper is UNC's fifth first round selection in the last six years going back to Kentwan Balmer, who was taken by San Francisco in the opening round in 2008. He's the 21st first round NFL Draft selection in school history.