Jonathon Cooper has given Broncos Country reasons to celebrate in a season where those have been far and in between. Just six games into the season, Cooper has already reached a career-best sack total with four. His fumble recovery and touchdown against the Chicago Bears led to the Denver Broncos’ only win of the season. As the team officially enters a rebuilding era, fans can be optimistic about what they have with the outside linebacker, who is plenty familiar with what it means to face adversity. 

The Ohio Superstar

Cooper was born in Westerville, OH, two days before his mother, then still a senior in high school, was set to meet his prospective adoptive parents. However, after his birth, she had a change of heart and chose to embrace motherhood.

Cooper arrived nine weeks premature, measuring only 19 inches in length and weighing a mere 4 pounds. He was required to remain in the hospital for two months post-birth due to the necessity of feeding tubes caused by his caved-in chest.

Being an incredibly active youngster, his mother signed him up for football when he was six. He continued to pursue the sport, eventually rising to prominence at Lincoln High School. Cooper was USA Today’s Ohio Defensive Player of the Year and secured a spot on the All-USA Ohio football team.

Though a talented athlete, Cooper faced a significant challenge when he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome as a freshman after he collapsed during a basketball game. He underwent two cardiac ablation procedures aiming to restore a regular heart rhythm. At the time, Cooper and his doctors were optimistic that these interventions had permanently resolved the problem.

He was labeled a five-star prospect by 247Sports and was flooded with offers. Committing to Ohio State was a no-brainer for Cooper. He grew up just 13 miles from the school and had always dreamed of becoming a Buckeye. 

Cooper initially had limited playing time as he shared the field with future NFL Pro Bowlers Nick Bosa and Chase Young. He was named a starter as a junior, but suffered a season-ending ankle injury just four games into his senior season. 

Cooper opted to redshirt and returned for a fifth year, starting in all eight games of the shortened 2020 season. He finished his collegiate career totaling 10 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, and 75 tackles in 45 games (25 starts). 

During his tenure as a Buckeye, Cooper was a two-time captain. He was also awarded the coveted “Block O” jersey, a distinction reserved for the player who best represents the legacy of former Buckeye Bill Willis and exhibits selfless, player-driven leadership qualities. 

An Irregular Revelation

As Cooper geared up for the 2021 NFL Draft, an unfortunate twist of fate unfolded.

Merely two weeks before the draft, the Philadelphia Eagles requested an additional electrocardiogram test (EKG) for Cooper. Despite belief that his irregular heartbeat issue had been resolved during high school, a surprising revelation emerged just days before the draft. Doctors found a rare form of atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat typically associated with individuals over the age of 60, on his final ultrasound. This unexpected discovery caused his stock to plummet as every NFL team became aware of his new heart condition.

He was originally projected to go somewhere between the third and fifth rounds. Cooper was ultimately selected by the Denver Broncos in the seventh round as the 239th overall pick.

Just three days after being drafted, he underwent three exhaustive eight-hour ablation procedures. The stakes were high – had these ablations proved unsuccessful, Cooper would have faced the possibility of requiring a pacemaker, which could have prematurely ended his budding NFL career. 

Cooper was forced to miss both rookie minicamp and OTAs. He was not cleared to return to the field until Aug. 3. Despite this, Cooper had some impressive performances in the preseason, with many declaring him the steal of the draft.  

At the start of the season, Cooper was behind Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, and Malik Reed on the depth chart. However, as injuries began to pile on, he eventually got his first start in Week 8. Miller, who had been a mentor to Cooper, was traded away the following day, leaving huge shoes to fill. 

By the end of the 2022 season, both Reed and Chubb had departed the organization. Denver tried to fill their shoes by signing Randy Gregory and Frank Clark. Both additions proved costly failures for the team, as it became obvious this year that Cooper and Nik Bonitto were outplaying them and at a much cheaper cost. 

Cooper has already achieved a career-high in sacks this year and is on pace to obliterate his tackles record. With their current pace, it’s totally plausible that he and Bonitto will finish the year as the NFL’s highest-sack duo. While the team’s forecast continues to look bleak for the foreseeable future, Cooper gives plenty of reasons for celebration.