Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» Futures: Ronnie Harrison

Though teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick gets more headlines, the other Alabama safety prospect in this year's draft deserves plenty of attention too.

10 May 2013

Word of Muth: Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack

by Ben Muth

Welcome to the second part of Word of Muth's post-draft breakdown of the first six offensive linemen taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. Last week we looked at the top two picks, offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel. This week we’re skipping Lane Johnson (for now), and going straight to the two highest drafted guards I can remember.

One thing I want to point out about both these guys is how hard both played in the games I saw. I know they aren’t undersized white guys, so that effort isn't going to be praised by a lot of reporters, but I thought both played hard enough that it warranted a special mention here. You always want guys to come in to the league knowing the kind of effort it takes to stick.

Jonathan Cooper
North Carolina/Arizona Cardinals

If you own a television and are reading this column, you have probably heard something about Jonathan Cooper’s athleticism in the past few months. He’s not the second coming of Jim Thorpe, but he really is a pretty amazing athlete, particularly for a man of his stature. His signature highlight, the one that was in every draft montage, is a play where he pulls on a screen and is almost stride for stride with Bengals second-round running back Gio Bernard as they run 30 yards downfield. The fluidity with which Cooper runs on the play is so great that no one cares that he doesn’t actually block anyone; it’s just impressive to see a guard move like that.

In reality, straight-line speed isn’t very important for interior linemen. What matters instead is if they can translate that natural athleticism to football effectiveness. For the most part, Cooper does that, particularly in pass protection. In the two games I watched Cooper play (Virginia Tech and Maryland), he was absolutely dominant in the passing game.

Cooper plays with good pad level and knee bend -- he doesn’t shuffle side to side as much as he glides. His set and footwork are smooth, fluid, and pretty much exactly what you want from interior lineman. His punch has a little bit too much load-up to it, but when he lands his hands they’re heavy and he anchors well against the bull rush. He is as strong an interior pass-blocking prospect as I’ve seen in the three years I’ve been looking at this kind of stuff.

On top of that, he pass blocks like the game is moving slower for him. Not only is he rarely out of position on his own blocks, he’s excellent at helping the center or guard when he can in slide protection. He has a knack for coming off of one guy and onto another at just the right time to prevent pressures. And, when he gets a chance, he knocks guys on their asses.

Here’s a play from the Virginia Tech game where UNC is half-sliding to the left. Cooper is arrowed at left guard. He had a defensive tackle line up on his inside shoulder, so he sets outside and makes the tackle declare where he’s rushing: the B-gap or the A-gap.

Once the defensive tackle rushes to the A-gap, Cooper begins to squeeze back into him with an arm and body presence. But as he does that, notice that Cooper’s eyes remain outside in case the offensive tackle needs his help.

Eventually the defensive tackle rushes so far inside Cooper can no longer feel him. Meanwhile, the Virginia Tech defensive end is using the timeless college pass-rush move of putting both hands directly into the offensive tackle's facemask. This technique is the little black dress of the NCAA: it never goes out of style. Cooper sees the offensive tackle could use help and leaves the center to assist the tackle.

Because the defensive end's arms are fully extended above his shoulders, Cooper has a free shot at the rusher’s rib cage and knocks his ass over right into the X of Great Shame. I love this play so much. Cooper shows schematic-knowledge (make the defensive tackle declare where he’s rushing), awareness (knowing when to help), explosiveness (getting from the center to the tackle quickly), nastiness (taking a legal shot a defenseless player’s ribs), and sweet justice (your ribs aren’t so open if your hands aren’t in the guys face mask, 90).

The concern I have with Cooper is that I really didn’t see him move anybody in the run game. He’s great at the second level, blocking guys that try to run around blocks. He can reach nose tackles on plays away and three-techniques on plays behind him, but when it’s time to flat-out move somebody, he didn’t blow me away. I think he’s good enough at everything else that he’ll be at least a solid pro, but if he can’t move anyone, he’ll never really be an All-Pro on the interior.

Chance Warmack
Alabama/Tennessee Titans

The Warmack/Cooper duo has a lot in common with the Eric Fisher/Luke Joeckel duo. Warmack and Joeckel were both seen as the clear-cut top guys at their positions during the season and immediately following it, but as the draft process went along a few people started arguing for Cooper and Fisher, and by the time the draft came around the non-SEC guys were almost unanimously seen as the top guys at their position. While I agreed with Fisher over Joeckel, I think I’d prefer Warmack over Cooper.

I think both Cooper and Warmack will be good, but ultimately it comes down to what I would want from my guards, and there’s nothing I like more than a guard who can physically move someone to create to hole for the running back. I think most people are aware that Chance Warmack made his name as a drive blocker in college, but I actually think Warmack was a very effective puller as well. A better one than Cooper, in fact.

My biggest pet peeve with people who "grade" offensive linemen for the draft is that they put far too much emphasis on how a guy looks when he’s pulling and not enough on what he does when he gets there. People end up judging a 325-pound guy’s running form and not whether or not he created space for a back to run through. Cooper was seen as an elite puller because he looked so fluid moving. He was a good one, particularly tracking linebackers over the top, but he could get stood up in the hole by a linebacker that was really ready to thump and plug the hole. That doesn’t happen to Chance Warmack.

Alabama is running a single-back power here. Power is probably the second-most popular running play in the NFL, behind only the inside zone. When you talk about guards pulling in the NFL, 75 percent of the time you’re talking about this play. The goal is to create a hole by having the tight end hold his ground on the defensive end, and for the double team to kick the hell out of the defensive tackle. The backside guard (Warmack) pulls and leads the back through the hole.

As the play develops, you can see the hole created by the double team is just big enough for Warmack to get through. The linebacker that Warmack is leading up to seems to have contain, and the defensive end seems to have the C-gap. Warmack decides to work through the defensive end to get to the linebacker and widen the hole for T.J. Yeldon. Notice that the right guard is about a yard away from the hash above.

The right guard is still a yard away from the hash mark, but look at how much bigger the hole is. That’s because Warmack has shoved the defensive end another yard outside. He kind of rumbles when he pulls on power, but all that matters is that when he gets there he’s able to sink his hips and drive his feet through contact. That’s what opens the hole, and that’s all I care about when guys pull. Warmack does it well.

The last picture is great because it shows you how little space a really well-blocked play actually creates. This is all you’re looking for as an offensive line. You’ve executed just about perfectly up front and still all you’ve given your running back is a yard-and-a-half hole to run through. Tennessee’s safety does a nice job of filling here and should make a tackle for a five-yard gain, but doesn’t because T.J. Yeldon is good at football. Making a guy miss in a phone booth is what separates the good running backs from the 300 serviceable ones. Yeldon looks to be a good one, but that conversation will have to wait a couple of years.

That does it for this week. Come back next week for third and final part of the Word of Muth draft extravaganza. If you liked what you read, be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 10 May 2013

45 comments, Last at 15 May 2013, 5:47pm by Karl Cuba


by RickD :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 1:48pm

Great job as always.

by theslothook :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 2:01pm

This is philosophical question - but is it too high to select a guard, even one's that have the makings to be all pros or near all pros?

I mean, obviously we see prioritization. Even legendary special team players won't sniff the first round, unless you're the raiders. How important is an all pro guard versus a slightly above average receiver / defensive linemen / cornerback? And not too mention, how much more of a payoff do we receive from an all pro guard versus just an average one?

All these would make me curious enough to question investing a really high pick.

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 2:09pm

If you could know for sure that you'd get the special teams production he supplied to the Bills, how high would you take Steve Tasker?

by theslothook :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 3:38pm

What you asked changes the question sort of but is still fascinating...if you were guaranteed(ie no risk) that the player would be great, how high would you take him?

Of course you aren't guaranteed that and that's what needs to be factored into the discussion of how high these players should be taken.

Personally - I ask you Karl. Let's say, for the sake of argument, the 49ers have the following pending free agents and you can ONLY sign 3 of them. WHich of the three, based solely on what you know now, would you pay?

Kaep, Aldon Smith, Mike Iupatti, Culliver, Crabtree? I think you invariably end up with the choice between a good receiver in crabtree vs an all pro type in iupati. At the end of the day, which would you keep? I personally would go with crabtree and it wouldn't be too hard of a decision.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 4:36pm

Kaep, Smith, and Iupatti

But Crabtree? Guys like him, well, grow on trees.

by zenbitz :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 5:00pm

not only that but WRs are more plug-n-play than guards. Iupati is part of a unit you don't want to break up.

So this is not the same question of "if crabtree and Iupati leave as FAs, bu their secret 3 year-younger clones show up in the draft, which do you pick with your 1st rounder".

by theslothook :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 5:20pm

Im not sure I agree with this at all. Maybe most wide receivers are plug and play - but its hard to find really good number 1 receivers. Naturally - if you land yourself an awesome elite qb then you can probably be fine without having a good number 1, but otherwise they are tough. And I would argue far more impactful than a guard.

Btw - signing iupati doesn't guarantee that your whole o line stays in tact. I would argue, replace boone and goodwin with snider and rachal and the suddenly formiddable o line of the 49ers falls to average or even below.

by Scott C :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 7:08pm

Crabtree is not a "really good number 1 receiver".

I'd take 'clone of Jerry Rice' over 'clone of Orlando Pace'. if I had the #1 pick and a guarantee. But most years no player of their caliber or potential is obviously available. "Pro bowl but not legendary potential" OT versus "pro bowl but not legendary potential WR" is a lot closer -- primarily because the bust-rate for WRs is higher.

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 7:25pm

My take on the approaching niner free agents is to resign Kaep and Smith because you just have to, they should form the cornerstone of your team for a long time. I'd then go for Iupati, he's a rare talent that can transform the game from guard.

Boone is signed for quite a while and Goodwin will be replaced next year anyway, his $5 million cap hit will be required to keep Smith and Kaep.

I think after them it's probably too far ahead to anticipate. We just don't know who out of the likes of AJ Jenkins, Patton, Lemonier, Kilore, Carradine etc will be ready to step in.

by Yaguar :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 11:58pm

The problem is that you never have a guaranteed Steve Tasker.

A lot of times, people spend a high pick on a non-premium position, because they think "well, this guy is an exceptional can't-miss prospect at the lesser position, so it's worth it."

Sometimes that's true. But in practice, the "can't-miss" guys at any position frequently end up being very good. Here are the top picks at various non-premium positions in recent years.

TE: Vernon Davis (6), Kellen Winslow (6), Rickey Dudley (9), Kyle Brady (9)
K: Sebastian Janikowski (17), Mike Nugent (47), Jason Hanson (56)
P: Todd Sauerbrun (56), Harold Alexander (67), Bryan Anger (70), Chris Gardocki (78), Ed Bunn (80), B.J. Sander (87)
C: Steve Everitt (14) Damien Woody (17) Maurkice Pouncey (18)
G: Chris Naeole (10) Eugene Chung (13) Ruben Brown (14)
S: Sean Taylor (5), Eric Berry (5), LaRon Landry (6), Michael Huff (7), Roy Williams (8), Donte Whitner (8)
FB: Jarrod Bunch (27), William Floyd (28), Carwell Gardner (42), Rob Konrad (43), Marc Edwards (55), Jon Ritchie (63), Jeff Cothran (66), William Henderson (66), Jacob Hester (69)

These are the sorts of "can't miss" prospects people are spending their picks on. Obviously, we have poor picks at premium positions too. I'm not saying these picks were definitely bad, in the aggregate, and I'm not saying that you should always go for premium positions.

I'm just saying that of the people we identify as generational talents at age 21, only half (or fewer) actually end up on top of their profession.

by BigWoody (not verified) :: Sat, 05/11/2013 - 12:18am

OK, but you missed Earl Thomas(14) at safety and if you're going to go back as far as Jason Hanson then you missed Steve Hutchinson(20 something) at guard.

by BigWoody (not verified) :: Sat, 05/11/2013 - 12:26am

Oops! Hutch was picked at #17 in 2001.

by Yaguar :: Sat, 05/11/2013 - 12:36am

I went farther back for kickers and punters and fullbacks than for guards, because guard is a more valuable position and you see plenty of them (justifiably) picked in the first round.

I promise I made no effort to cherrypick to make the players look better or worse than they are. If I included Steve Hutchinson (17), I would have to include Aaron Taylor and Shawn Andrews as well. If I went back to Earl Thomas (14), I'd have to include Stanley Richard (9) and Patrick Bates (12). There are good players and bad players for any reasonable cutoff.

If I knew Earl Thomas would be Earl Thomas, I'd happily take him 3rd overall, or even 1st overall. But you can't tell that from college film alone. People said the same kind things about Patrick Bates as they did about Earl Thomas.

by theslothook :: Sat, 05/11/2013 - 1:34am

Fortunately - I do have a draft index to answer such larger points that you are making. In general - yes, comparatively - lesser positions taken high have a higher expected value than premier positions taken at the same spots. In a way, this is to be expected since you would almost never select lesser valued positions if the players were equally rated.

However, this doesn't get at the fundamental question of how valuable is a guard in isolation versus lesser valued receiver/defensive end/ qb etc. That's where subjectivity comes in and I personally, all things being equal, would rather have a Michael Crabtree than mike iupati(where I forced to choose between the 2), even though iupati is an all pro caliber guard and crabtree is a probowl caliber receiver.

by Karl Cuba :: Sat, 05/11/2013 - 6:52am

I was proposing the hypothetical of the surefire Tasker in order to try to establish the relative value of elite special teams play. Not only was he the best special teamer I've seen, I don't think it's close.

If you want to eliminate the uncertainty that exists in the reality of the draft then the same proposition could be put in terms of how much cap room would you divert to another Tasker.

by Jerry :: Sat, 05/11/2013 - 5:24pm

The answer to your question is that special teams stars are usually good enough to crack the offensive or defensive starting lineup, and they're then taken off special teams. James Harrison is a name that leaps to mind, and I'm sure we can all think of other examples from our favorite teams. Teams would rather have good special teams players than bad, but the fact it's usually a stepping stone tells you what value organizations put on pure special teamers.

by JonFrum :: Sun, 05/12/2013 - 2:33pm

Matthew Slater doesn't get much of a sniff on offense with the Patriots, and that's a good thing. Before him, Larry Izzo was a special teams captain and leading tackler for many years. As a linebacker, he was an injury backup, and never started a game in 13 years.

Young players who are trying to become starters frequently have to play on special teams to make the team, but the best special teams players are often full time on special teams, frequently playing on three or four units.

by Jerry :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 5:04am

I would like to propose a theory. Once a team becomes a serious Super Bowl contender, it can use a couple of roster spots for "pure" special teams players (like Izzo, who would only see the defensive lineup in an emergency or a blowout). A team that's building would probably prefer to put young players on their special teams and see how they develop.

In Pittsburgh, once the lineup was pretty much set, they'd bring in free agents like Chidi Iwouma and Keyaron Fox to play on special teams with no real expectation that either would contribute beyond that. Of course, Tasker was part of the Bills' AFC dynasty. If one of these guys makes a play that's the difference between 10-6 and 11-5, that's worthwhile. If it means 8-8 instead of 7-9, it's more valuable to try and develop another linebacker.

by Karl Cuba :: Sun, 05/12/2013 - 4:49pm

Which is precisely why I referred to Tasker, seven time all-pro, seven pro bowls but only 51 career catches for 779 yards.

It's a theoretical query but seemingly one that no one else is interested in.

by Jerry :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 4:49am

My point is that teams make that decision all the time. Once Hines Ward became a part of the Steelers' WR rotation, they took him off special teams. Tasker is the standard for guys who make a career out of special teams, but if the Bills liked him as a receiver, he wouldn't be remembered for kick coverage.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 1:23pm

Which is a different decision, as I have already reiterated.

There are other examples of players who are excellent special teamers such as Blake Costanzo or Kasim Osgood. As guys who genuinely contribute to special teams what is their value?

by dryheat :: Tue, 05/14/2013 - 9:32am

It depends on the value you think a historically great special teamer provides over a merely very good one, which are myriad. My opinion is that it's fairly negligible. As good as a special teamer is, he's only on the field for 6-15 plays a game. Yes, I realize one special teams play can sway a game, and one game can sway a team's fortunes, but in order to give a nod to the ST player, we'd have to assume that 1) It is he that is going to make the game-altering play, and 2) The Very Good player you have instead would not make said play. Seems like a low-reward strategy to me. Would those Bills teams be any less good if they had Larry Whigham or Reyna Thompson on their Special Teams units instead of Tasker?

by Dean :: Sun, 05/12/2013 - 4:11pm

Kinda hard to fault Sean Taylor - or even the Redskins for that matter. He looked like exactly what you want out of a "cant miss" pick right up until the government took away his guns and he wound up dead.

by Jimmy :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 11:31am

Or you could say, 'Until the government stopped making any real attempt to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and he wound up dead; because any way you try to shake this one he still got shot, by a gun, which wouldn't have happened if every nutter in America couldn't get hold of guns easier than store credit.' It would be just as stupid, arrogant and ignorant - just like your comment is. It would also be entirely inappropriate to post on this site - just like your comment is. Take it elsewhere.

by Bnonymous (not verified) :: Tue, 05/14/2013 - 6:49am

Looks like someone got their knickers in a wad! Truth hurts mate?

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 05/15/2013 - 5:34pm

No, it's because inflammatory political comments are not appropriate for the site. There are plenty of other sites where you can start a flame war if you want.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 05/15/2013 - 5:47pm


by nath :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 5:08pm

"How important is an all pro guard versus a slightly above average receiver / defensive linemen / cornerback?"

Versus slightly above average? I'd say significantly.

An all-pro guard is not as valuable as an all-pro left tackle, edge rusher, wide receiver, or cornerback, but there really weren't any of those available in this draft, and the best candidates for being there some day were all drafted in the first six picks.

by Scott C :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 8:17pm

You could argue that since the cap hit of an all pro guard is lower than an all pro tackle, that they might be about equally valuable to a team long term (net value in help for the team - cap hit).

The way an o-line works, a pro bowl guard + average starting tackle can be just as effective as vice-versa in many cases. Pass protection and run blocking are frequently cooperative efforts.

by dryheat :: Tue, 05/14/2013 - 9:37am

Yeah, the "slightly above average" designation makes this a silly question. You take the all-pro every time. I'm not sure the GM exists that would draft TJ Houshmanzadeh over Steve Hutchinson, or Butch Johnson over John Hannah.

Now, if you want to keep it to a comparison of Very Good Wide Receiver vs. the All-Pro Guard, it would be a better conversation.

by theslothook :: Tue, 05/14/2013 - 8:11pm

I guess I meant very good receiver vs all pro guard. But what is a very good receiver? CJ seems to be in a class of his own. Andrew is elite. But very good is what? Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Aj Green? I would hands down take any of those receivers over an all pro guard.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Wed, 05/15/2013 - 12:38am

I'll take Hutchinson or Faneca over Bryant or Jones. WR is somewhat overvalued and OG is somewhat undervalued in my opinion. Your guards matter on just about every play, whether it's protecting the pocket, opening running lanes, or lead blocking they're doing something. About the only time they aren't is on a designed pass so quick that no rush could practically interfere. WR touch the ball a half dozen times a game. They can take plays off and still be successful. I know their routes matter even when they aren't getting the ball, but realistically it does matter how well they performed on those plays above a certain, very low, bar. WR blocking also matters, but less than OG blocking does. I think the positions are really about equal in value.

by MJK :: Sun, 05/12/2013 - 10:57pm

In general, I would take an all-pro guard over a slightly above average reciever in a heartbeat. Probably over the DL and the CB as well, although that's closer. But the thing about an all-pro guy who is one of your starting 22 (not special teams) is that you can design schemes to take advantage of him. An all pro-guard maybe means that you can release your TE or RB into pass patterns that much more often, or have him (or the other guard) pull more often on running plays... Or be assured of getting two defenders on him on third and short, making life easier for the other four linemen. Whereas a "slightly above average" player at another position is merely a good starter. The only possible exception I can think of is QB...if I knew for a fact that I was getting an above average QB, and needed a QB, I might take him over an all-pro guard.

Of course, I may be a bit biased by the team I root for. I'm a Patriots fan, and I would argue that for a team like the Patriots (good pocket passer who is better at dodging outside rushers than inside rushers, and who loves to step up in the pocket, solid RB's who aren't flashy but good at finding and hitting holes for positive yards rather than dancing outside to try for the big play, and athletic TE's who you'd far rather were running pass routes than staying back to protect), guard is arguably one of the most important positions on the offense, probably even more important than tackle. On the other hand, if your QB is Michael Vick or your RB is Chris Johnson, you probably don't care about your guards so much.

by theslothook :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 12:54am

In fairness....you're not looking at the guard play in isolation. Yes the pats have a great interior o line, but I didn't guarantee you a center and another guard at the same time. And in fact, as the jets have shown, an all pro center can be completely undone by voids on the rest of the line. Again, it really depends. I suspect, if I asked you would you rather the pats had Iupati or Crabtree, which would you choose?

by Scott C :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 2:50am

I don't know about the pats, but as a Charger fan I'd much rather hanve Lupati than Crabtree and it isn't even close.

Rivers can and has thrown to recievers who were previously bagging groceries if he has a good O-line with a slightly below average running game (2010).

As someone else said, guys as good as crabtree are available everywhere (The chargers have two with higher DVOA). Guys like Lupati are rare and fundamentally change what you can do with an offense.

by theslothook :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 3:41pm

Iupati was on the 49ers last year when their offense was run of the mill. The difference was that year they had snyder starting at the other guard spot and anthony davis was still bad. Its only after those 2 areas were shored up that we are starting to expound how great having Iupati is. In fact, if you are to believe pff, evan mathis was the highest rated guard this year and no one even cares because the rest of philly's o line was a train wreck.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 3:46pm

Iupati has improved too, he's still inconsistent but he was more so in his second year. It's hard to separate the players from each other.

And pffff to PFF.

by theslothook :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 3:48pm

One could argue the big jump in the 49er offense also came from a greater improvement in crabtree.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 4:39pm

I agree, however, Crsbtree really came on at the end of the year after Kaepernick took over. The run game was tremendous all year.

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 2:08pm

I just love that look at Warmack in the picture where he's under the big yellow arrow. Just look at how low his pads are, he's lower than everyone else fighting along the line, a thing of big, ugly beauty.

by wr (not verified) :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 3:38pm

Loved the relish with which you affixed the X of Great Shame.

by Scott C :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 7:13pm

Why no discussion of Warmack's skill in pass protection? You talk about both for Cooper.

by wr (not verified) :: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 10:50pm

It's not like Ben went into any detail about Cooper's run blocking. And since he rated Womak as superior, this at
least implies that he felt Womak's pass protection was adequate.

by Scott C :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 2:54am

That is just it -- is the pass protection adequate, good, great, excellent? He ranked Cooper's run blocking mediocre, perhaps Warmack's pass protection is mediocre too? There is a clear bias for run blocking as what he is 'looking for' in a guard.

by Uncle Rico (not verified) :: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 8:45am

Ben, by way of context how would you stack Warmack and Cooper with DeCastro and Zeitler?