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NFL Draft

Jonathon Cooper: 2021 NFL Draft Prospect Interview Series

  • The Draft Network
  • March 27, 2021
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It’s tough to find a college football program that’s churning out more NFL talent than Ohio State these days, especially when it comes to defensive prospects. We’ve seen difference-makers like Chase Young and the Bosa brothers don the Scarlet and Gray in recent years.

One of this year’s many draft hopefuls pouring out of Columbus is pass rusher Jonathon Cooper. Cooper heads to the NFL after a highly productive career that saw him account for 15 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. 

Cooper recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his experience at this year’s Senior Bowl, his arsenal of pass-rush moves, and his life-changing experience in Costa Rica.

JM: Your 2019 campaign was cut short due to injury. How big was it for you to return in 2020 and have a healthy and productive season?

JC: You said it. My 2019 season was cut short due to an injury. That was really hard on me. It meant everything for me to be able to come back in 2020. Even with a shortened season and with everything that was going on, games getting canceled, and whatnot, I was able to come back and stay healthy for an entire season. We made it to the National Championship. We fell short of our goal, but this past season meant everything to me, honestly.

JM: You were voted a team captain for the second time in 2020. What was it like to be one of the older leaders on the team now?

JC: I was elected a team captain for the first time in 2019. It was always a goal of mine to play college football at Ohio State and to become one of the captains. I did that in 2019, but it meant more to me in 2020 because I was healthy. I was able to be on the field with my teammates. I got to lead not only off the field like I did in 2019 but on the field as well. It allowed me to lead in a different way, not just verbally but with my play as well. There’s nothing like being out there. I can motivate in a different way when I’m on the field. To have my teammates elect me as a captain for the second time in 2020, it was very humbling. It meant everything to me.

JM: That’s a terrific answer. It’s easy to see why your teammates had so much respect for you. You were part of a service-learning program called “Buckeyes Go International” which saw you spend a week in Costa Rica. That sounds pretty cool. What was that like?

JC: Spending a week in Costa Rica was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. I will definitely do it again. It’s crazy out there. We went on a mission trip and cleaned up beaches and things of that nature. I hung out with the kids and played soccer with them. We helped teach them some English. It was an amazing experience.

It really showed me how much we take for granted here. Things that we think are simple such as clothing and housing, it’s not that simple over there. Most of the kids down there didn’t even have socks or shoes, but they were still so happy. We had a lot of fun with them. I would definitely do it again.

JM: That sounds like a life-changing experience. You participated in this year’s Senior Bowl. How did that week go for you?

JC: The Senior Bowl was amazing. I can’t thank Jim Nagy and his staff enough for putting that together. The fact that they were able to pull it off with the whole COVID-19 situation, it was nothing short of amazing. I definitely think I went out there and showcased my talent to a lot of scouts and teams.

The interview process was also great. I think I really made the most of the entire week. I think I improved my draft stock out there.

JM: I agree with you. Which offensive linemen did you enjoy doing battle with throughout the week?

JC: All of the offensive linemen were pretty good. That’s why they were at the Senior Bowl to begin with. You have to be a good player in order to get an invite. If I had to single somebody out though, I thought the tackle from Cincinnati [James Hudson III] was a good one. He stuck out to me. He was very fast and aggressive with his feet. He’s very physical. He definitely caught my eye.

JM: What was your formal interview process like?

JC: Every player there met with all 32 teams for 15 minutes each. It was in-between and after practice. I met with 16 teams on  Tuesday and the other 16 teams on Thursday. I got to meet with every team for 15-minute increments. The teams did a great job maximizing their 15 minutes. They really got to see who I am as a person. I feel like I left a really good impression on them.

JM: Did any of your team meetings stick out in particular as really positive meetings?

JC: I had a really good meeting with the Patriots, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Raiders, Eagles, and 49ers. I feel like I had a great vibe with those six teams. I feel like I had a pretty good connection with all 32 teams. I would be blessed to be drafted by any team, honestly. Some of those interviews, the six that I listed, stuck out to me just a little bit more than the rest. That doesn’t mean that the other meetings didn’t go well. I thought every meeting was a good one. They were all very special to me.

JM: That’s great. I want to move on to talk about the defense you played in at Ohio State. What did the coaching staff ask of you?

JC: I played either weakside or strongside defensive end. I had the freedom to decide on which side I wanted to play on a snap-by-snap basis. Sometimes I played an outside linebacker position where I had to drop back into zone or just rush off the edge. I did a lot of that against Northwestern, for example. We had some positions where we had to take the running back man-to-man on a slant route. That really sums it up.

I obviously rushed the passer a ton. We had some packages where I had to slide over to the 3-technique and rush from there. We could get to the passer on any down. We put a huge emphasis on stopping the run as well.

JM: What was it like playing for coaches like Ryan Day and Kerry Coombs?

JC: Coach Ryan Day is an amazing coach. He’s an amazing person. You can tell that he genuinely cares about his players. Coach Kerry Coombs is the same way. Everybody knows he gets really amped up on the sidelines (laughs). He’s a very energetic coach. He really cares about his players. He’s always the same way at practice. All of our defensive players always enjoyed our one-on-one conversations with him. 

I was blessed to play under both of their directions. Those are two terrific coaches right there. I’m definitely going to take the lessons they taught me with me to the next level.

JM: That’s great. How would you describe your pass-rush arsenal?

JC: I feel like I’m a very good pass rusher. My favorite move is probably when I convert speed to power. I’m really quick off the ball. I try to push the offensive lineman upfield before going right through his chest. I’m trying to push you right back into the quarterback. 

I can also rush off the edge and bend down underneath the offensive tackle. I have a pretty good arsenal of counter moves on the inside as well. I feel like coach [Larry] Johnson has done a great job teaching me how to use my hands. My hand usage has come a long way under his tutelage.

JM: Your ability to convert speed to power is very evident on tape. Is there one NFL quarterback that you’d love to sack?

JC: I grew up watching so many of these quarterbacks on TV. I would probably have to say Aaron Rodgers. He’s just a legend. He’s one of the GOATs. I think I was still in grade school when he came into the league (laughs). He’s been playing at such a high level for such a long time. Sacking him would be amazing. That would be the icing on the cake.

JM: That’s a great choice. If you could pick the brain of any current pass rusher, who would you choose and why?

JC: I‘d probably have to go with DeMarcus Lawrence or Khalil Mack. I feel like they both do an amazing job when it comes to getting after the quarterback. Mack, his long-arm move and where he likes to place it, I would love to learn more about that. He gets off the ball so fast and he plays so low to the ground. I wonder how he does that while staying at top speed (laughs).

Lawrence is very good with his hands. His counter moves on the inside are terrific. Both of those guys are excellent pass rushers. They’re both on top of their games right now.

JM: Those are two excellent choices. What can you tell me about Justin Fields the man, the quarterback, and the leader?

JC: Justin Fields is an amazing person. He works extremely hard. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever been around. He really grew into his role as a leader in 2020. He’s a natural-born leader. He’s a great person. I think he’s going to be extremely successful in the NFL. Whichever team picks him, they’re getting a great quarterback and person.

JM: I’ve really appreciated your time tonight, Jonathon. This has been terrific. In closing, what kind of impact is Jonathon Cooper going to make at the next level?

JC: Jonathon Cooper is going to be a great player at the next level. I feel like people haven’t fully realized my potential yet. I can add a ton of value to a team. I was hurt in 2019 and 2020 was a shortened season due to the pandemic. I think I’m going to be extremely successful. Wherever I go, whichever team takes a chance on me, they’re going to get the best from me.

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