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Scouting Jets cornerback Marcus Cooper

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NFL: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With camp now underway, we’re going to take a look at some more of the Jets’ offseason acquisitions, continuing today with Marcus Cooper.

Cooper is a 29-year old former 7th-round pick out of Rutgers. He has started 28 games in his career, racking up 155 tackles, 35 passes defensed and seven interceptions. However, he played in just six games with seven tackles last season.

Background

Cooper was recruited to Rutgers as a wide receiver but struggled to get on the field in his first two seasons, so he ended up converting to cornerback. He didn’t make a massive impact in that role, with just one interception in three seasons, although he did score a touchdown on a fumble recovery.

Cooper first started to appear on draft radars after an impressive pro day and ended up getting picked right near the end of the seventh round by the 49ers. However, he failed to make their roster out of camp and ended up getting claimed by the Chiefs in final cuts.

With the Chiefs, Cooper ended up playing a major role as a rookie, starting six games due to injury and getting picked on a lot due to his inexperience. However, he competed well, holding quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 52 percent when targeted and intercepting three passes. His 19 passes defensed was good for 6th-most in the NFL.

He remained in a rotational role with the Chiefs for the next two seasons, but his snaps diminished. He started four games in 2014 and only one in 2015, failing to record an interception in either season.

At the end of preseason in 2016, he was traded to the Cardinals and went on to have a career year with 13 starts, 69 tackles and four interceptions.

At the end of his one year in Arizona, Cooper signed a free agent deal with the Bears but was a disappointment for them. He made four starts in 2017, but registered just 18 tackles and three passes defensed. After mostly being a healthy scratch in 2018, he was eventually released and ended the season playing in four games with the Lions.

The Jets signed Cooper last week in the wake of the injuries to Trumaine Johnson and Kyron Brown.

Now let’s take a look at what Cooper brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Cooper has excellent size and length and posted excellent workout numbers in the pre-draft process. He ran a 4.45 at his pro day and also posted excellent explosiveness and strength numbers with a 39.5” vertical, 129” broad jump and 20 bench press reps. His agility numbers were less impressive though.

Usage

Cooper has mostly been employed on the outside, but has been required to play in the slot from time to time. He played almost 200 snaps there in 2016, making three of his four interceptions.

Coverage skills

While Cooper has recorded a lot of pass break-ups, his coverage numbers are not great. Opposing quarterbacks have posted a quarterback rating of 102.7 when targeting him, including 21 touchdowns in regular season action. He’s also been prone to giving up long plays, including a run of four games in his rookie year where he gave up at least one 50-yard play.

He does show good speed to run with his man downfield or on crossing routes and he closes well on the ball.

Cooper gave up one touchdown in coverage in his limited action last year, playing too far off the receiver on this Stefon Diggs touchdown.

Ball skills

With such good numbers for breaking up passes, it’s not surprising to see plenty of examples of Cooper making plays on the ball.

His experience as a receiver helps him here, not just in terms of catching interceptions and having strong hands, but also in how he has a natural ability to go after the ball and get across or in front of his man.

Cooper’s excellent length helps him to knock away high passes, although he can mistime his jump at times. He also uses his length well to disrupt, often keeping his hands working to pry the ball away from a receiver.

Generally, Cooper does a good job of getting his head turned around and locating the ball, although he can be guilty of losing sight of where his man is as he looks to do that.

Physicality

With his length, strength and ability to run with his man and track the ball, Cooper is a prototypical press cover corner and has been employed in that role at times. However, his technique is not always consistent and he can often allow his man to get a clean release.

While Cooper is competitive at going after the ball at the catch point, there are times where receivers can get separation by out-physicalling him within their route.

Penalties haven’t been a big issue for Cooper as he had four in his rookie year and three or less in every year since. All 14 of his defensive penalties in his career have been for defensive holding, illegal contact or pass interference.

Tackling

Cooper isn’t renowned as a big hitter, but employs some of his best coverage attributes - closing speed and his disruptive length - to make contributions as a tackler.

His missed tackle numbers are not too bad. He missed eight tackles in 13 starts in the 2016 season but only has nine other missed tackles in he rest of his career. These tend to be in situations where he’s either diving to make a desperation stop or gambling to try and make a play on the ball.

Cooper’s length gives him extra range in pursuit and he’s run a players down from behind to save a touchdown on a few occasions.

Run defense

Having mostly played outside, Cooper hasn’t been involved in the run defense very much. Even in 2016, where he played extensively in the slot, most of his tackles in the running game were downfield as he was credited with just two stops.

On this play, Cooper lost contain by momentarily neglecting his run defense responsibilities.

Blitzing

Cooper hasn’t recorded a sack or a pressure in NFL or college action and has only generally rushed the passer a few times, if at all, in each season.

Special teams

Cooper has made various contributions on special teams over the years with six special teams tackles to his name. He showed some promise covering kicks early on in his career, but hasn’t played many snaps as a gunner in recent seasons.

Cooper also contributed as a vice on the punt unit and a blocker on kick returns. He’s also had seven penalties, though, six of which were for holding.

Instincts/Intelligence

Cooper’s awareness in coverage is very good. When he keeps his receiver in front of him, he keeps his eyes on the quarterback ready to jump a route or close for a tackle. On this play, he stays with his man despite having to navigate traffic.

On this play, he bites on the run fake and although he only takes one false step in the wrong direction, that’s the difference between a touchdown and being in position to stop the receiver short of the goal line.

Cooper showed a worrying lapse of concentration on this play, on which he should have scored on a blocked field goal return.

He also had a costly mistake early in his career where he was out of bounds when he downed a punt inside the five, leading to a touchback.

Attitude

Cooper is said to have excellent character and a good work ethic. He’s apparently quiet but has extreme confidence in his ability.

He hasn’t had any off-field issues, fines or suspensions and hasn’t been penalized for any personal fouls in his career so far.

Injuries

Most of Cooper’s opportunities have come about because of injuries to other players, as he’s mostly been durable. Most of his games missed over the course of his career have been as a healthy scratch, but he did miss games with an ankle injury in 2014 and back spasms in 2017.

Scheme Fit

With the Jets desperate for cornerback reinforcements, they could plug Cooper in and know that they have someone with NFL experience and an ability to play press coverage. The fact he has also played sometimes in the slot provides additional depth.

He’ll be familiar with a couple of the Jets’ coaches, albeit from the offensive side of the ball. Dowell Loggains was with the Bears when Cooper was in Chicago and Jim Bob Cooter was with the Lions last year.

Conclusions

Watching Cooper’s film, he was a similar prospect to Derrick Jones - another tall former wide receiver - but a lot less raw, so he was able to get on the field sooner. He probably wouldn’t have started as many games as he has without injuries to his teammates though.

This isn’t necessarily a panic move for the Jets. While Cooper has starting experience, he probably isn’t viewed as an adequate replacement for Trumaine Johnson if Johnson were to remain sidelined into the regular season.

It could be more of a reaction to Kyron Brown’s injury that further eats into the Jets’ cornerback depth, along with the preseason struggles of some of the players relied upon to step up and fill those roles.

It’s a solid move for the Jets to bring in someone who has played at this level rather than relying on multiple players who lack that experience. However, Cooper is guaranteed nothing and will have to battle to contend for a chance to contribute on defense.