16. Jonathan Cooper, G, UNC
St. Louis executed one of the game’s best turnarounds last year, going 7-8-1 to contend for the NFC West title just one year after going 2-14.
The Rams were able to improve dramatically and compete under new coach Jeff Fisher in large part because they drafted well after pulling off the landmark trade with the Redskins that netted them three extra first-round picks and another second-rounder in exchange for the No. 2 overall pick (RG3), and another trade with Dallas that steepened their selection stock.
St. Louis upgraded its defense, taking defensive tackle Michael Brockers in the first round, followed by playmaking cornerback Janoris Jenkins with one of their three second-round picks and using a third-rounder on big, physical corner Trumaine Johnson. All three were major contributors for the Rams last year and Jenkins, who had four interceptions and four defensive TDs, looks like an impact players for years to come.
This year, the Rams lost wide receiver Danny Amendola and running back Steven Jackson in free agency, but they had already drafted replacements last year in second-round wideout Brian Quick and second-round halfback Isaiah Pead. This draft, look for St. Louis to bolster its offensive line, and if Jonathan Cooper is there at No. 16, the Rams won’t think twice about drafting him.
St. Louis already enhanced its left tackle spot by splurging on the top free-agent tackle on the market in Jake Long. Assuming that incumbent left tackle Roger Saffold can get over his disappointment about moving to the right side, the Rams are set on the edges. They really need some beef on the inside, though, and Cooper is the perfect fit.
The 6-foot-2, 308-pound former North Carolina star is considered the second-best guard in the draft and some scouts and draft analysts think he’s every bit as physical and talented as Alabama’s Chance Warmack, who we have going to the Raiders at third overall. He’s a great run blocker and was the pillar of an offense that paved the way for North Carolina to average nearly 195 rushing yards per game. With great quickness and agility, Cooper is a weapon when he pulls and gets into the second level. His pass blocking is already considered NFL-caliber.
Cooper is exactly what the Rams need as quarterback Sam Bradford has some new weapons to get comfortable with in the passing game and as Pead gets ready to occupy a larger role in the running game in Jackson’s absence.
Getting him at 16th overall would be somewhat of a steal for the Rams, who also have the 22nd pick, where they can probably land wideouts Tavon Austin or Keenan Allen or get one of the better safeties, such as Kenny Vaccaro or Jonathan Cyprien. There isn’t another guard with Cooper’s talent at this point in the draft, so it makes sense for them to get him first.