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2016 NFL Draft: Potential Panther? Pharoh Cooper

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Today South Carolina held it's annual Pro Day, where draft eligible former Gamecocks workout for NFL scouts. One player sure to have caught scout's eyes was SC's "Mr. Everything" Pharoh Cooper.

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Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Pharoh Cooper, WR/PR, South Carolina

Bio

There seems to be a lot of natural ability to work with  "the most versatile player in the SEC", as Cooper at time carried the Gamecocks’ offense.  In addition to his 138 career receptions, Cooper has also run for 513 yards on just 71 carries, and completed 9 of 16 passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions in his career.

In 2014, Cooper was one of only two players (Amari Cooper) in the SEC to surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark.  Pharoh Cooper finished the season third in the SEC in receptions (69), and second in receiving yards (1,136) adding nine touchdown receptions. He averaged nearly 14 yards every time he touched the football in 2014.

In 2015, Cooper recorded 66 receptions for 973 yards and eight touchdowns. He played well, and it could have been an even bigger season if quarterback play hadn't been such a weakness for South Carolina.

Year Team Games Rush Yds Yds/Rush TDs Rec Yds Yds/Rec TDs
2013 SCar 11 20 202 10.1 1 3 54 18.0 1
2014 SCar 13 27 200 7.4 2 69 1136 16.5 9
2015 SCar 12 24 111 4.6 1 66 973 14.7 8
Career SCar 36 71 513 7.2 4 138 2163 15.7 18

Note: Cooper's yard per catch and yards per rush fell each season

NFL.com's fantasy football writers noted most of the time his catches were no further than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Mark Harmon's Reception Perception notes that Cooper ran 84.3% of his routes from the slot (21.3% was prospect average) and he was behind the LOS when the ball snapped on 94.8% of his plays.

Another concerning mark against Pharoh Cooper’s ability to be more than a splash player at the next level; he finished with the worst SRVC score against man. Cooper has plenty of positive attributes, but even as a full-time slot receiver, he needs to improve as a route runner to earn regular separation. His class average score against zone coverage is a nice signal that he can function in the short areas of the field well enough to find a home as a specialized weapon who wins after the catch. He needs the right team to do it, but Cooper could pile up highlights in that role.

His top game was vs Tennessee (2014) when he had 11 catches for 233 yards and two TDs, while also running and passing for a touchdown.  NOTE: R-rated

Cooper has fallen under the radar a little. First, South Carolina was not bowl eligible in 2015.  Declaring as a junior, Cooper was not eligible to play in post-season all-star games like the Senior Bowl. Finally, Cooper did not run his 40 at the NFL Combine due to a strained quad. In fact, he only did the bench, vertical, and broad jumps.

Combine/Pro Day

Today at South Carolina's pro day, Cooper finally ran his 40 and was timed at 4.61 seconds.  That was about what has been expected of him since last summer. While Cooper is a dynamic football player, he is not an outstanding athlete.

ESPN's Todd McShay wrote:

We gave him a mid-third round grade last summer and I don't think it'll be that far off in terms of where he winds up going.

ProFootballFocus considers him a third round pick too.

He forced a whopping 16 missed tackles on 66 receptions, and while he's not going to step into the NFL doing all the things you want a wide receiver to do, there is a lot of potential there for him to create big plays.

CBS Sports' Dane Brugler is more optimistic, and considers Cooper a superior prospect to Braxton Miller, while comparing him to the Packers' WR Randall Cobb.

Playmaker?

FootballOutsiders recently released it's "Playmaker" projections, ranking Cooper third overall:

Historically, wide receivers with a high number of rushing attempts in college tend to also have low yards per reception numbers, because these receivers are likely to be involved in the short passing game as well. Although high numbers of rushing attempts and high yards per reception numbers correlate to NFL success, few wide receivers have both. Pharoh Cooper bucks this trend. Cooper posted an impressive 15.7 yards per catch, even while rushing the football more than 60 times for the Gamecocks in his final season.

Here is a detailed explanation of FO's Playmaker projections.

2016 Playmaker Score Results

Name College Proj. Round Playmaker Proj. Playmaker Rating
Corey Coleman Baylor 1 820 99.8%
Will Fuller Notre Dame 1-2 514 94.7%
Pharoh Cooper South Carolina 2 493 89.5%
Tyler Boyd Pittsburgh 2 486 89.9%
Laquon Treadwell Ole Miss 1 479 69.5%
Rashard Higgins Colorado State 2-3 476 89.5%
Michael Thomas Ohio State 2 463 80.4%
Josh Doctson TCU 1-2 409 70.8%
Leonte Carroo Rutgers 3 333 74.7%
Sterling Shepard Oklahoma 2-3 328 71.0%

Cooper did a little bit of everything during his time at South Carolina.  Sometimes the problems with doing a little bit of everything, is that you never really get good at one thing. NFL.com Fantasy Football writer Marcus Grant explains:

For all of Cooper's positive attributes, he still lacks some polish as a wide receiver. He has a tendency to round off his underneath routes and often struggles to find space to get open in the middle of the field. These are issues that can be improved, but they are likely to limit his wide receiver snaps early in his career.  The other issue that might hurt is that Cooper struggles to make catches in traffic. Anytime Cooper was forced to battle with a defender to come up with a football, there was a better than even chance that he wasn't going to win the battle. That will be crucial at the next level where it will be harder to gain separation from defenders.

My Thoughts

Cooper has become a polarizing prospect for fans, media, and scouts.  While some see a dynamic playmaker, others see a limited athlete with average size and unpolished technique. There has been little buzz about Cooper, whose season and career ended with a November loss to Clemson.

To me, the Randall Cobb comparison is accurate, as Cooper is arguably the best slot receiver in next month's NFL Draft.  As a third round prospect, Cooper is underrated and should be on a very short list of players to consider with the Panthers' second round pick.