When Arizona included guard Jonathan Cooper in their trade for pass rusher Chandler Jones last week, the seventh player selected in the 2013 NFL Draft seemed like an afterthought throw-in overshadowed by the Cardinals' second-round pick heading to New England.
After hearing from coach Bruce Arians at the NFL owners meeting Wednesday, though, it's clear that the Cardinals firmly believe Cooper will eventually develop into a solid starter after serious injuries ruined his first three years in the NFL.
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"He's still the athlete that we drafted," Arians said, via the Patriots' official website. "He was in a spread zone scheme (in college). And it was so much to learn as a young offensive lineman in the NFL. Putting the weight back on was one. Strength issues. Then the bad luck of one leg injury after another, but I still think he's going to be one heck of a player."
Rather than painting Cooper as a draft bust, Arians praised his makeup and described him as "tough as nails." He also cited the presence of respected Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who can help Cooper tap his potential.
Before the injury, NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell raved about Cooper as the most athletic guard he had seen since he began studying college tape carefully a decade ago. NFL Media analyst Brian Billick labeled the North Carolina star "as clean of a player as I've seen in this draft."
Arizona general manager Steve Keim finally started seeing Cooper's lateral quickness, speed and range return toward the end of the 2014 season.
If Arians' assessment is correct that Cooper is far from damaged goods, the interior of the Patriots' offensive line offers quality depth with second-year guards Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason in addition to centers Bryan Stork and David Andrews.
For as much as Cooper's athleticism has been praised, coach Bill Belichick touted Mason as one of the most athletic offensive linemen he has seen in five decades as an NFL coach.
While conventional wisdom suggests the Patriots' offensive line could be their downfall this season, the talent is on hand to emerge as one of the league's strongest units if everything breaks right.