Broncos rusher Jonathan Cooper is due for a breakout season
If you watched the Denver Broncos in 2021, you would know linebacker Jonathan Cooper caught plenty of buzz in his rookie season.
After being drafted in the final round of the 2021 draft, Jonathan Cooper was seen by many as a potential roster cut during training camp. However, former head coach Vic Fangio took a shot on him going into week one of the season.
That shot paid off.
While his impact came in a rotational role, Cooper still finished the 2021 season with 38 total tackles, two and a half sacks, and one fumble recovery.
Cooper was able to step in the most when former Bronco Von Miller was traded to Los Angeles. After the deal, the pass rush was left to Bradley Chubb, Malik Reed, Dre’Mont Jones, and Cooper. The seventh-round pick stepped up when he was needed and proved he has a lot more potential than many scouts thought.
However, going into this season, the Broncos are under a new regime with head coach Nathaniel Hackett. Along with the addition of standout rusher Randy Gregory, this means Jonathan Cooper has to prove his value all over again.
The case for Jonathan Cooper to make the depth chart
To begin things, Jonathan Cooper started this offseason on the wrong note. He had finger surgery back in late May, forcing him to miss all of OTA’s. This gave the chances to other rushers and forced Cooper back on the depth charts.
The depth chart itself is stacked against Cooper. In the past offseason, the Broncos made a handful of moves to bolster the linebacker position. Along with Gregory, they also drafted rookie Nik Bonnito with their first selection in the 2022 draft.
To add, they have 2nd-year prospect Baron Browning that filled in nicely at ILB. He looks to fill a more “pass rush” hole in the Broncos’ defense this season.
In combination with the rest of the returners and his injury, this currently puts Jonathan Cooper at fourth string on the depth chart. At that standing, there is a potential he is cut.
However, the Broncos have yet to play any of their preseason games yet. With the third and fourth stringers set to take the majority of the snaps, this gives Jonathan Cooper plenty of opportunities to draw attention to his game. He’s done it before, and he can do it again.
There is realistically one person Cooper has to hurdle in order to make the roster. Rookie Jonathan Kongbo is listed as third string on the chart. If Cooper is able to prove in games that he is better than the rookie, Hackett and defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero are sure to take a chance on him.
If he makes the roster, now what?
The biggest takeaway from Cooper’s style of play is his attack. On the snap, Cooper loves to stay low and violent, giving him that “bullish” mentality Nathaniel Hackett loves.
It’s part of the reason he was able to draw his two and a half sacks last year. He also drew a couple of sacks and a forced fumble during the last preseason, allowing him to earn that roster spot.
Cooper is also a two-way linebacker. Not only can he force the rush, but he can also drop back into coverage and cover hooks if needed. His speed and footwork allow him to stay with the receiver and make the proper play.
The Broncos’ pass rush is going to need plenty of these types of builds. Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory are not known for dropping back, meaning different types of plays are going to require guys like Cooper to step in and fill the job.
Lastly, these starting pass rushers for the Broncos are known to get hurt. With this in mind, you need reliable forces that can step in and fill in the needed roles. Cooper did it flawlessly last season, and he can surely do it again.
As a whole, Jonathan Cooper could be one of the Broncos’ biggest role players heading into 2022. If he can prove himself in the preseason, there is no doubt he finds his way onto the field in week one to start making plays again.