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Cardinals Take Jonathan Cooper First

Keim doesn't shy from using high pick on a guard in his first draft as general manager


New Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper shows off his new colors during the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall Thursday night.

The talk was constant in the weeks leading up to the draft, whether a team should take a guard in the top 10.

Jonathan Cooper knew it, and tried to block it out.

"You hear so much speculation and I've really tried not to get my hopes up," the North Carolina product said. "I do feel we do deserve to go that high. We've put in the work and I feel it's shown on the field. The tackles and the guards. I'm excited to have an offensive line-heavy draft."

The Cardinals obviously agreed, making Cooper the seventh overall selection Thursday night in the first round of the NFL draft and the earliest guard to be selected since Ken Huff  (who also happened to be from North Carolina) was taken third by the Colts in 1975.

With the top three offensive tackles going among the first four picks, that left only an interior man if the Cards wanted to upgrade their line – and General Manager Steve Keim looked thrilled to break the mold.

"The question was posed to me at the (Scouting) combine whether seven was too early to take a guard," Keim said. "We have

our answer.

"When you have conviction a player is a Pro Bowl-caliber player, the choice is easy."

Coach Bruce Arians said it was a "pretty good bet" Cooper will be starting, but he wouldn't say where. Cooper can play both sides, leaving some mystery of whether he will supplant right guard Adam Snyder or left guard Daryn Colledge.

Those are details that will play out over the next couple months as the Cardinals move through organized team activities and minicamps. But there is little question Cooper's combination of athleticism and power drew the Cardinals' attention. Keim said he had seen Cooper play last season, and assumed he'd come out then and still be a top 15 selection.

Cooper said he thought about coming out after a coaching change at North Carolina, but decided against it. Instead, the Tar Heels switched to an up-tempo offense that forced Cooper to lose weight from 315 pounds to 285. He did it successfully, and while it was a grind, Cooper said, the ability to effectively control his weight impressed the Cardinals.

"I told my parents I'd get my degree and I ended up doing that," said Cooper, who at 6-foot-2 weighs about 312 now and will play at that weight in the NFL. "It worked out for the best. I feel like I improved so much, technically and physically. Who knows? I could have possibly been top 15, but I stayed and now I'm number seven."

Keim said there was some talk of trading, but that the Cards had picked their top five players that they wanted to stay put at seven for, and Cooper was one of those players. He is a better pass blocker than a fellow high-regarded guard, Chance Warmack (who went 10th to Tennessee), and fits well into what Arians wants to do.

"When he's out in space he looks like a fullback running around with his change of direction, but he hits you so hard," Arians said.

The Cardinals' top five likely included tackles Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson, all of whom were long gone by the time the Cards picked. The position remains an area the Cards will continue to at least consider addressing as the draft moves on.

Keim always acknowledged the Cards were intrigued by the tackles. But "you can easily argue that offensive guard was just as important as offensive tackle for us," he said.

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