Cardinals' Cooper ready for expectations
The comparisons started almost immediately after the Arizona Cardinals selected Jonathan Cooper with the seventh overall pick of the NFL draft.
Big, strong, smart and athletic, it was said Cooper has a skill set like Larry Allen, Randall McDaniel, Alan Faneca - two Hall of Famers and one who has a good shot at getting in the first year he's eligible.
That's some lofty company for a player who has yet to play a down in the NFL.
''Honestly, it makes me a little nervous,'' Cooper said during his introductory news conference Friday at the Cardinals training facility. ''It's high expectations and kind of a little bit of pressure, but I also put a lot of pressure on myself and it makes me want to get to work immediately. It's now time for me to earn that, to show that I deserve that high praise.''
The Cardinals believe he has the tools to do just that.
Arizona's biggest need in this year's draft was on the offensive line and when tackles were taken with three of the first four picks, the Cardinals zeroed in on what they - and many others - believed to be the best interior lineman in the draft.
An athletic 6-foot-2, 311 pounds, Cooper has the strength and frame to hold off rushers in the passing game, yet is nimble enough to get out on to the corners as a pulling guard in the running game.
Allen, McDaniel and Faneca were all big, versatile linemen who moved well and the Cardinals see Cooper as a similar type of player.
''We feel like he'll be a tremendous asset to our football team on the interior offensive line,'' Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. ''He's a guy with positional versatility, can play either guard, can play center. He's got great quickness, tremendous athleticism, he can pull, he can lead, he can play on the perimeter and he's got the kind of point strength to anchor the line and have tremendous success.''
Cooper had plenty of success at North Carolina.
He played 48 games in four seasons, a school record, and was one of the best linemen in the country his senior season, voted a consensus All-American and an Outland Trophy finalist.
Coming off a dismal season on offense, the Cardinals needed help on the offensive line and were thrilled when Cooper was still available at No. 7.
''This was the best player in this draft that no one was talking about,'' Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.
Linemen were what everyone was talking about after the first day of the draft.
The top seven picks were all linemen - four on offense - and the first round included 18, with just one quarterback and no running backs getting their names called.
It was an unprecedented year of beef in the NFL draft and Cooper was proud to be a part of it.
''I'm proud to be offensive linemen in the 2013 draft class,'' Cooper said. ''I feel like we really represented this class and showed we are important to teams and we play a pivotal role in teams' success. Not just the tackle guys who are seen as most important to protect the quarterback's blindside, but us interior linemen. We're just as important. They always say you don't need a guard until you need one and that's when you can't find one. I'm very pleased to be a part of this class.''
Now it's time to start working on the next class, the one with the likes of Allen, McDaniel and Faneca.