Pharoh Cooper was second in the SEC in receiving yards in 2014 and fourth in 2015, so why isn’t he a bigger name?
Pharoh Cooper headlines the first entry in a series of articles I’ll be doing as part of my NFL Draft coverage here on Who Dat Dish. This series is intended not to just get you up to speed with underrated prospects, but to help make the case for why they are a good fit for what the New Orleans Saints are looking for. Let’s get started:
Prospect: Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
One of the top wideouts to come out of the Southeastern Conference in recent years, Pharoh Cooper was a dynamic weapon for an offense that lacked chemistry and surrounding talent for most of his time there. Quarterback play was spotty at best. Four different quarterbacks threw 29 or more passes in 2014 and 2015, but none of them completed more than 61.5 percent of those attempts. In spite of that, Pharoh Cooper was second in the SEC in receiving yards in 2014. He led the conference in receiving yardage in 2015 until South Carolina’s bowl ineligibility allowed three other receivers to outpace him.
Measurements: 5-foot-11, 208 pounds, 21-years-old
Pharoh Cooper is built well for a smaller receiver. He has one of the best density ratings in this class relative to his height, and outweighs similar lighter wideouts Corey Coleman (Baylor), Will Fuller (Notre Dame), Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma), Kolby Listenbee (TCU), and K.J. Maye (Minnesota). Of that group, Pharoh Cooper had the highest share of his team’s receptions and yards, while placing second in share of touchdowns. Only Fuller had a higher share of his offense’s touchdowns. Pharoh Cooper is also the youngest of the group.
Key stat: Averaged 7.4 touches-per-game and 13 yards-per-catch in two years as a full-time starter.
South Carolina deployed Pharoh Cooper as a receiver out of the slot, boundary, and backfield in a number of formations. He has experience running out of stacked sets, going in motion pre-snap, and working complimentary route concepts. Cooper also threw a few passes himself in his time at South Carolina. He has a versatile skill set that a talented play designer like New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton would covet.
How he fits in New Orleans: Rotating wide receiver
Cooper already does many of the things that the Saints like to run on offense. He’s used to moving all over the field to set up mismatches and draw favorable coverage assignments. He is a great hands catcher with tremendous concentration ability. He seems to have strong situational awareness and is a quick thinker, routinely setting up defenders to miss tackles by putting them at awkward angles once the ball is in his hands.
Though he is built very differently from the statuesque 6-foot-4 Marques Colston, Pharoh Cooper can fill his physically-demanding role as a possession receiver between the hashes while adding some playmaking ability as a run-after-catch threat.
The Saints’ desire for a high-character locker room has been widely-publicized and Pharoh Cooper fits that profile. His family has a deep military history, as you can see in this great piece by the Post and Courier’s Dave Caraviello. Cooper is well known for his self-discipline and commitment to teamwork, which would likely fit well in New Orleans’ young locker room (24 of the Saints’ 57 players signed through 2016 are in their first or second year in the NFL).
Like Landry, Pharoh Cooper struggles to make the first man miss. That seems to contradict what I just said about his ability to force missed tackles, but stay with me. Once he is already moving, Cooper can use a number of stutter-steps and cuts to make defenders take themselves out of the play, but when starting from a dead stop (like on a screen play), he is dead in the water.
As respected talent evaluator Matt Waldman has noted, Pharoh Cooper needs to be more aggressive “in the first five yards.” That means eating up the cushion between him and opposing cornerbacks more quickly, and settling on a plan of attack before the ball is in his hands rather than on the fly when the play is already in motion.
Cooper and Landry also both struggle to burn defensive backs with long speed, which is fine because that isn’t their style. They win in different ways by contesting tough catches and outmuscling their competition. Cooper may have better hands than Landry, and should also help form a steady nucleus in a young wide receiver room.
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