We are now less than a month away from the 2015 NFL Draft, and nearly every expert continues to mock defensive tackles Eddie Goldman (Florida State) and Malcom Brown (Texas) to the Detroit Lions. Is DT still a need for Detroit? Of course. Will they decide to select one in the first round? Who the hell knows. What I do know is that this year's NFL Draft is littered with solid Day 2 DT prospects, and I would strongly recommend that the Lions hold off on selecting one until at least the second round.
One of my favorite Day 2 prospects this year is Washington State DT Xavier Cooper. He's a bit undersized (6-foot-3, 293 pounds) and has some of the shortest arms (31.5 inches) the DT position has ever seen, but his athleticism is eye-opening.
Cooper really helped his stock during the NFL Combine and was among the top three scores on four separate timed events -- 40-yard dash, 10-yard split, 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle. He is currently ranked as the 58th overall prospect on CBS Sports and is projected as a second-round pick.
Decent numbers for Cooper throughout his college career, although his single pass deflection in 36 games may be slightly concerning, and I guess you can correlate this to his T-Rex arms.
One thing becomes apparent when you take a look at the game film on Xavier Cooper: His reaction time is insane. No one in this class has a better knack for timing the snap than Cooper. If you don't believe me, check this out:
Timing the Snap
I actually slowed this GIF down -- double-click to zoom out, then click the "-" button -- and discovered that Cooper jumps the snap at the EXACT SAME TIME the center begins to move the ball. This is pure wizardry and it should not be allowed. I'm pretty sure Roger Goodell is already taking extreme precautions to make sure something like this doesn't happen in an NFL game. Unfortunately for Cooper, after splitting a double team, he was unable to bring down the quarterback for himself. He still managed to force a scramble and minimal gain, however.
Cooper completely abuses the right guard with a rip move and makes contact with Marcus Mariota in less than two seconds (yes, I timed it).
Not only does Cooper get a nice jump on this play, but he shows off his athleticism by bending around the edge and making a play on the QB.
Keep Your Head Up
What I really like about Cooper is that he rarely lowers his head when engaging. This allows him to see the play develop in front of him like in the one you see above. Once he discards the left guard, he quickly diagnoses the screen play and forces the QB to throw the ball into the dirt.
Here is a similar example against Stanford. Cooper engages with the right tackle while recognizing the play-action bootleg. He sticks with the fullback and eliminates him as a target and also prevents the QB from punching it into the end zone himself. This is just a great heads-up play by Cooper.
Cooper doesn't exactly blow this screen up, per se, but he does show off his high motor and relentless effort to recover and make the tackle. Cooper's speed allows him to close gaps quicker than most DTs. Speaking of closing speed, Cooper can really go from 0 to 100 in the blink of an eye. In the play above, he actually gets a poor jump off the snap, but quickly closes the gap and takes a nice angle to the QB. Cooper fails to wrap up on the QB, which was a pretty common occurrence in the tape that I watched. Could this be attributed to his short arm length?
One of Cooper's worst habits is how his pad level tends to rise after his initial penetration. On this play, you'll see his pads get above the RG's, who manages to anchor and completely stonewall Cooper.
Cooper does a decent job of shedding blocks, especially after getting a good jump on the ball. However, he lacks pure power at the point of attack and doesn't appear to have much room on his frame to add a ton of muscle.
How He Fits
Xavier Cooper fits best as a one-gap pass rusher in a 4-3 scheme, but he offers the versatility to play the 5-technique in 3-4 packages as well. The Lions have Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker locked in as their starting DTs but will have plenty of snaps to go around in their rotation. Cooper would see enough time on the field to make an immediate impact as a rookie.
I see Cooper as one of the top talents who will be available on Day 2 of the draft. If he's available in the second round by the time the Lions are on the clock, they should be licking their chops in hopes of snagging one of the best pure pass-rushing DTs in this draft.
2015 NFL Draft profiles: OT T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh), RB Duke Johnson (Miami [FL]), CB Eric Rowe (Utah), DT Michael Bennett (Ohio State), CB Quinten Rollins (Miami [OH]), DT Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma), OT Ereck Flowers (Miami [FL]), DT Malcom Brown (Texas), RB Jay Ajayi (Boise State), DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (UCLA), DT Carl Davis (Iowa), OT D.J. Humphries (Florida), CB Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest)
Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave any suggestions of prospects you would like to be profiled in the comments below.