As you should know by now, our attention has now shifted to the 2016 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have interest in.
Look at wide receiver Pharoh Cooper today.
#11, Pharoh Cooper — WR/South Carolina/5’11”, 203 Lbs/Junior
-Compact, strong frame
-Able to play through contact to make catches
-Great body control in the air to make tough catches
-Excellent balance for position
-Great feel for how to find soft spot in zone coverage
Smart, versatile player who can line up anywhere offensively
-Runs hard after catch
-Small catch radius due to frame
-Tight hips limits explosion in and out of breaks
-Limited route tree at South Carolina
-Marginal lower body explosion and athleticism
-Struggles to get clean releases off the line due to choppy steps
-Grew up in a disciplined family of Marines; won’t be a character concern
-Played all the skill positions and returned punts and kicks while at South Carolina
-Named First Team All-SEC in 2014 and 2015
-Ran a 4.63 40 at the NFL Combine
-Recorded a vertical of just 31 inches
-Will be a 21-year-old rookie
For starters, Pharoh Cooper might have been the toughest evaluation I’ve had to do to this point due to the absolutely horrendous QB play that he experienced during his time at South Carolina.
As a receiver it was so hard to get a great read on Cooper because of the awful passes he had to deal with. That being said, Cooper was able to move around quite a bit on the Gamecocks’ offense, showcasing his versatility in a big way.
Along with hauling in 138 receptions for 2,163 yards and 18 touchdowns, Cooper also ran the ball 71 times for 514 yards and four scores, running mostly out of the Wildcat formation or on jet sweeps.
The Gamecocks even allowed Cooper to throw the ball on some tricks plays, which he did with great success, throwing for four scores and no turnovers on 16 career attempts.
Despite being in a subpar offensive system with little talent around him, especially at QB, Cooper proceeded to put up nine 100-yard receiving games over the last two seasons.
Leading up to the draft, Cooper is receiving a ton of comparisons to Green Bay’s Randall Cobb for his versatility as an offensive weapon, as well as a returner.
While I don’t see Cobb right now, I think in the right scheme with the appropriate QB play, Cooper could develop into that.
As a receiver, Cooper does a nice job of challenging the seam quickly off the line. While the 40 time isn’t great, he plays much faster than the time, allowing him to work open and show his numbers.
On this route against Miami, he’s able to get vertical quickly and work into the zone, opening a throwing window for his QB, who finds him just as contact is coming.
During his time at South Carolina, Cooper made a habit of making the tough catches through contact, which will bode well for him at the next level.
Along with his ability to play through contact, Cooper has tremendous body control, allowing him to contort to make tough catches in traffic. He’s not a great leaper and won’t win many one-on-one jump balls, but on this play Cooper is able to climb over the Miami defender to make the tough play over his back.
His route on the play isn’t fooling anyone, but his ability to track the football and make a play on the ball in the air over the defenders back is pretty impressive.
For those wondering, that’s Deon Bush, who is one of the top safety prospects in this class.
One thing that really separates Cooper’s game is his strong knack for success against zone coverage.
He’s pretty much a possession receiver who moves the chains consistently and serves as a safety outlet for his QB.
On this route against Kentucky. Cooper breaks off of his intended route to settle into the zone, allowing his QB to find him for the first down. He has a great awareness for where the chains are and doesn’t always look to hit the home run. He is much more focused on keeping drives going than going all out for the big play, risking a potential turnover.
That being said, he’s not afraid to take a shot either.
On another simple route designed to sit into the zone, Cooper gets to the sticks and shows his QB his numbers. The Kentucky defenders close quickly and rough up Cooper, but he’s a fighter with the ball in his hands and won’t go down easily.
He might not be a burner in the open field, but he’ll drop his pads down and try to run through you.
Once again, you can’t measure heart. Cooper has a ton of it.
Speaking of “in the open field.”
This is a simple delayed screen coming back towards the middle of the field designed to get Cooper the ball in space, utilizing his shiftiness after the catch.
As you can see, Cooper has great vision and knows how to set up blocks to his advantage.
He might not look like he’s moving fast, but his efficient in space and is rather slippery for defenders looking to haul him down.
His elusiveness also comes into play as a punt returner, thanks to his vision and decisiveness.
As a punt returner, Cooper is sound with the football, rarely making mistakes. He knows when to come up and catch short punts, and he knows when to back off and let it bounce.
When he does catch the ball, he’s a one-cut type of returner that sets up blocks well and looks to get as many yards as possible.
You can see in the clip above that he’s not a dynamic returner due to limited speed, but he’s a hard runner and looks to set his offense up in the best spot possible.
It’s rare that you see such a decisive returner that will put his foot in the ground and go, rather than dancing around looking to make a ton of guys miss before breaking off a long return.
Where Cooper will leave his mark at the next level is as a solid return threat in both punts and kickoffs, as well as a possession receiver in a No. 3 or No. 4 role. He’ll never be a dynamic receiving option that teams will have to scheme to stop, but he should be able to average 45-50 receptions a season while moving the chains more often than not.
Games Watched: vs. Miami (’14), at Missouri (’15), vs. Kentucky (’15)