Can Broncos’ rookie edge rusher Jonathon Cooper secure the starting job for years to come?

Nov 7, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) is sacked by Denver Broncos linebacker Jonathon Cooper (53) during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathon Cooper has had an up-and-down stint with the Broncos through his rookie season, so far.

Flashing massively in the preseason, not performing to fans’ expectations early in the regular season, and then finally coming back around as of late, his very inconsistent play has left many fans questioning just how good he can be.

Going back to before this season began, Cooper wasn’t the most highly thought of prospect coming out of the University of Ohio State. Overshadowed by other big-time prospects in Columbus and battling through nagging injuries, his evaluation just wasn’t as clear as others in the draft.

Many draft evaluators watched his film and came away uninspired, referencing a lack of an elite physical trait he could lean on at the next level. This was a big concern as the edge position is largely drafted off of tools and to not see any dominance in that category would naturally tank his draft stock.

The one area almost every scout could agree he excelled in when watching his film was just how much passion and fire he played with every down. Simply put, Cooper’s motor ran extremely hot.

This is one of the few qualities that almost always transfer from the college game to the NFL game and so far, it has done exactly that. Cooper has been relentless in every showing of this year. In just last game against the Chargers, Cooper’s extra effort was on full display on a play where Herbert rolled out the opposite direction of Cooper. Instead of giving up on the play, like the offensive lineman who was supposed to be blocking him, he chased down a scrambling Herbert, forcing a third down. Plays like that may not show that much of an impact on the stat sheet but have paid off massively in Denver’s efforts of winning games.

As far as pass rush goes, that’s where Cooper thrives. Despite lacking an elite physical tool, Cooper has an exceptional first step that is frequently followed by a head fake and outside chop that he uses to get to the quarterback. This is not only his favorite move but his most successful one. The best example of this came against the Cowboys as he gets the tackle off balance and uses active hands to eventually get a sack on the play.

In the run, Cooper is a work in progress. Through his short career, we have seen a plethora of not just physical limitations but mental, as is expected by a rookie. While this is still prevalent, it was even more so at the beginning of the season and the growth is great to see.

Before answering if he is a superstar in the making, it is important to emphasize that he is a seventh-round rookie. At the pick he was chosen at, simply making the roster bodes well for the Broncos. Seventh-round picks are so rarely made into productive players that even finding a role player makes it a good selection.

If we are seeing his floor now, the Broncos have already hit on the selection. Cooper is playing significant snaps and making an impact in them. Having this level of play on such a cheap contract would serve as ideal depth for years to come.

At this point, with how inconsistent his play has been, it’s tough to nail down just how good he’ll be. He has limitations that will hinder him from being one of the league’s best edge rushers but whether he is a starting-caliber player will come down the road. He has plenty to improve on until the Broncos should feel confident that he is a core piece of the team but the already drastic improvements from his first regular-season game leave the arrow pointing in the right direction.

This off-season the Broncos should act as edge is still a need, whether it be paying a player in free agency or using an early-round selection to secure the future of the position. At the end of the day, edge is a premium position and the luxury of being able to bring consistent pressure by only bringing four is so valuable that it would not be wise to bet on such an uncertainty.

Specifically, when taking an early look at this upcoming draft class, the edge position looks to be loaded with talent. Not only with quality players at the top of the draft but with plenty of depth throughout. For a more detailed look at this draft class, we have that covered on the What’s On Draft podcast.

With addressing the edge position this offseason, the Broncos would not only receive plenty of insurance at the position but could have a stable of good edge players to rotate throughout the season. In a best-case scenario, the Broncos would have a pass rush that resembles the one that won them a Super Bowl in 2015.

Either way, Cooper is a player no fan or analyst should be upset about. Filling in for injuries and being forced into a much more prominent role after the departure of Broncos’ legend Von Miller, Cooper has outperformed everybody’s expectations and should at minimum be a contributor for years to come.

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