Name: Xavier Cooper
School: Washington State University
Size: 6'3, 295 lbs
Expected Round: 2nd
Strengths: Gets skinny when asked to penetrate into the backfield. Pivots body and uses his strength to control the point and to compensate for arm length. Extremely active hands in both shedding blockers and getting in passing lanes. Versatile enough to play 1-, 3-, 5-, and 7-tech (at his best at the 3/5). Pushes the pocket to keep contain on mobile quarterbacks, won team's "strongest man" award. Great first step to get into the backfield and redirect running backs. Plays to the whistle and is always in relentless pursuit until the play is over; plays every snap. Stays on his feet and is rarely taken to the ground. Intelligent and aware, especially when RBs leak out of the backfield. Three year starter.
Weaknesses: Lacks the length of some other prospects and can whiff on some tackles in the hole where longer arms would help. Spin move isn't quick enough and can cause him to fall under the OL's control and sometimes does it versus the run that costs gap integrity. Lateral quickness when stunting or shedding can be improved. Can overextend at the waist when bulling his blocker, making it difficult to pull back and change direction.
What is their role? Cooper has day 1 starter physicality, but would need some polish before Bill Belichick would be comfortable starting him. He can flex seamlessly from the 4-3 to the 3-4 front and can line-up with Dominique Easley or Sealver Siliga, depending on what the down calls for.
Will it change from year 1 to year 2? The role might not change, but the utilization and comfort would both likely increase.
How many downs can he play? Every down. He wasn't used in a rotation in college and can play wire to wire, against the pass and run, and likely on field goal blocking units.
Which current player will he beat out? Chris Jones and Joe Vellano combined for 43 snaps in the playoffs, while other defensive linemen like Vince Wilfork (134 snaps), Sealver Siliga (121), and Alan Branch (71) were more heavily utilized. Cooper would beat out both Jones and Vellano.
What's his ST value? His arm length won't be ideal on field goal units, but his ability to push the pocket would allow for a player like Jamie Collins to have a clear lane into the backfield.
Does he have positional versatility? He lined up at every single defensive line role in the 4-3 and 3-4 fronts. He's perfect for the Belichick defense.
Why the Patriots? The Patriots need to replace Wilfork in the defense, but they also need to improve their ability to disrupt the backfield. Siliga and Branch are more likely to replace Wilfork as space eaters, but Cooper is a perfect fit to be a disruptive presence. His versatility is a bonus and he'll add a skill set that the Patriots don't currently have on the roster.
Why not the Patriots? How high will he be drafted? The only reason he would be off New England's radar would be if he falls in that sweet spot in the early 2nd where the Patriots don't have a pick. Perhaps the front office has their eyes on a separate prospect and are wiling to take them in the first.
Verdict: Here's a list of defensive linemen that weigh 290+ lbs, while running a sub-4.9 40 yard dash and a sub 7.25 3 cone:
2006 Mario Williams
2010 Tyson Alualu
2011 J.J. Watt, Nick Fairley
2012 Mike Martin, Fletcher Cox
Xavier Cooper is another. That's pretty good company, with five of these players going in the top 13 of their draft (Mike Martin went in the 3rd and had an outstanding rookie season before the Titans ruined everything good with their team, per usual).
Cooper can play every spot on the defensive line and he's an NFL-ready body out of the gate- a Belichick-type prospect if there ever was one. He reminds of a Cameron Heyward or a Fletcher Cox, both players who needed a season or two in the NFL before exploding as one of the top at their position.
His current status around the league is as a Day 2 prospect and the only thing that should be keeping him out of the first round is his arm length (31.5"), which compares similarly to the Ravens' Timmy Jernigan (31.625"). The only defensive lineman with shorter arms at the combine was Stanford NT Dave Parry- but Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio had a private meeting with Parry, so that arm length probably isn't a deal-breaker.
Cooper considers his "quickness, athleticism and [his] motor" as his best traits, but considers his "willingness to learn" his most important.
"I'm very coachable," Cooper told Pats Pulpit in an interview. "Regardless of scheme, I'll work hard to earn a spot on the team, no matter what the [defensive] front is."
He says that his position coach, Joe Salave'a, taught him to be as violent possible with his hands. As for areas for improvement, he wants to improve his hand fighting, as well as his "pad level, tackling and [football] IQ."
Cooper had to overcome a lot to get to where he is today. He was diagnosed with a learning disability in high school and was unable to find many offers to play at the college level. He commit himself to taking additional classes to improve his standing for college and plans on returning to Washington State after his rookie year to get his degree in Criminal Justice. This helps drive him on a daily basis, but also shapes how he approaches his life off of the field.
"I love to give back to the youth," Cooper said. "To be successful, you most importantly need to believe in yourself. I want continue to stress to the youth that believing in yourself is key to making your dreams come true."
The team that gets Cooper will be getting a great player on and off of the field. He's experienced, he's versatile, he's quick, and he's strong. A good coach will be able to use him on an every snap basis and limit the impact of his length- especially a team with extremely high quality linebacker play.
Cooper would ultimately be a fantastic fit in New England.