After a slow start to the season, Jonathon Cooper performed his best game of the year against the Baltimore Ravens last week.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that Cooper is even in the NFL right now. He’s had to overcome massive obstacles with his health that almost obstructed his ability to play football.

Despite starting the season near the bottom of the depth chart for the second year in a row, trades and injuries have catapulted him into a starting position. With five games remaining, the Denver Broncos chances of finishing strong will be heavily contingent on Cooper.

Overcoming Early Adversity

Cooper grew up in Gahanna, Ohio. 

His mother, Jessica Moorman, had him when she was only 18. She had set up a meeting with his would-be adopted parents. However, two days before that date, she went into labor and decided to raise him as a single mother.    

Cooper was born two months premature. This left him needing feeding tubes, and he couldn’t leave the hospital for two months post-birth because he had a caved-in chest. 

He attended Lincoln High School and played basketball and football.

During his freshmen year, Cooper collapsed on the court during a basketball game. He was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a heart condition that causes the heart to beat abnormally fast for periods of time. 

Instead of wearing a pacemaker, Cooper chose to have two cardiac ablations. At the time, his doctors believed they had corrected his heart problem.

Despite this, Cooper thrived on the football field when he was older. He was named Ohio’s Defensive Player of the Year in high school while being selected to the All-USA Ohio football team as a senior. 247Sports ranked him as a four-star prospect going into college.

He was flooded with offers from schools like the University of Illinois, the University of Kentucky, Notre Dame, and Michigan State. Cooper ultimately decided to attend Ohio State, the college he had grown up 13 miles from and had always dreamed of attending. 

As a Buckeye, Cooper shared the field with future first-round NFL picks Nick Bosa and Chase Young, which limited his playing time. In 45 game appearances, he recorded 75 tackles and ten sacks.

Cooper was also a two-time captain in college and was awarded the “Block-O” jersey. That honor is bestowed on the player who displays character and selfless, player-driven leadership qualities.

Heart-Breaking Obstacles

Coming out of college, Cooper was originally projected to be a third to fifth-round pick.

Two weeks before the 2021 NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles requested Cooper have one more electrocardiogram test to prove there wouldn’t be any issues with his heart.

A couple of days before the draft, his final ultrasound showed a rare form of Atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat usually only found in people above 60. 

As the news spread to NFL teams, Cooper’s draft stock plummeted. Suddenly he had gone from a potential Day 2 pick to potentially not even being taken. 

On Day 3 of the 2021 NFL draft, with just 20 picks left, Cooper received the call letting him know that Denver Broncos had selected him as the 239th pick.

Three days after being drafted, he underwent three eight-hour ablations. If those ablations had failed, he would have had to get implanted with a pacemaker, which probably would have ended his NFL career before it even started.

Due to the surgery, Cooper was forced to miss both rookie minicamp and OTAs. Cooper had some impressive performances in the preseason in his return and was even declared “Denver’s biggest steal of the draft.” 

Cooper started the 2021 season behind Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, and Malik Reed on the depth chart. As injuries began to pile on, he eventually got his first start in Week 8 against the Washington Football Team. 

After Miller was traded to the Los Angeles Rams the following week, Cooper continued to see his playing time increase. In Week 9, he recorded his first NFL sack and ended the game with two. 

He finished his rookie season with 2.5 sacks, 38 combined tackles, seven QB hits, and one fumble recovery.

History Repeating Itself

Going into his sophomore season, Cooper again found himself towards the bottom of the depth chart behind newly signed Randy Gregory.

Almost identical to the previous year, Chubb was traded to the Miami Dolphins, and injuries decimated the positional unit. 

Cooper got his first start of the year in Week 8 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has remained a starter since. 

Last week against the Baltimore Ravens, he got his first sack of the season and had two QB hits. His pressure on Tyler Huntley led to a Justin Simmons interception.

After a slow season start, Cooper has five games left to prove he can remain consistent. On Sunday, he’ll have his toughest test against the Kansas City Chiefs. Any chances of the Broncos winning will be heavily reliant on Cooper being able to get to Patrick Mahomes.

The Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) will visit Denver (3-9) on Sunday at 2:05 pm MST.