COLUMBUS — Jonathon Cooper surprised everyone at his Ohio State Pro Day.
The former Ohio State defensive end casually went through linebacker drills, showing NFL scouts and coaches he can be a versatile player at the next level. After a prolific career as an edge rusher for the Buckeyes, he’s ready to adapt if necessary.
Throughout the draft process, nearly every team that’s reached out to Cooper sees a future for him as an outside linebacker. Along with his 28 bench press reps, he recorded times of 4.75 and 4.69 seconds in the 40-yard dash, comparable times to linebackers in this year’s draft.
“Obviously, I’ve been playing defensive end throughout my whole entire college career,” he said. “But with all the teams I’ve basically been talking to, they kind of see me as a outside linebacker, SAM-type position, which is my body type. I just wanted to make sure I show the scouts and everybody that I can play linebacker, and that I feel really comfortable in space. That I’m ready for the next level.
“I see myself playing SAM or outside linebacker, especially in the 3-4 defense.”
While Cooper’s had to be flexible about his position at the next level this year, his draft stock was under the radar a year ago. After dealing with a nagging high-ankle sprain throughout, he opted to take a medical redshirt and play his final game against Michigan. The decision meant he watch the College Football Playoff semifinals from the sidelines.
But his decision to return not only aided his draft stock, it provided Ohio State a go-to leader in unprecedented times. Cooper was named the first recipient of the Block O jersey, a newly established tradition given to a person with high character. In only eight games in 2021, he recorded 3.5 tackles for loss and five quarterback hits.
His impressive play carried over into the Senior Bowl, turning heads of NFL scouts at the pre-draft event. He finished with a 1.5 tackles for loss in the game.
“I haven’t really shown too much of that on film,” Cooper said. “I mean, obviously, some areas on in-game tape I’m jumping back, covering the back or even dropping back some, but just (showing) that I can do it consistently throughout the whole entire game. I want to make sure that the scouts know that I can do that. That I’m ready for it at the next level.”
His position coach, Larry Johnson, and arguably the best defensive line coach in the country, knows what the defensive end can bring. Cooper’s work ethic in the weight room and off the field paid off on the field, and Johnson knows that same mentality will carry over at the next level.
“His work ethic is off the chart,” Johnson said. “He’s a guy that comes to work everyday since the day he showed up in the building. He deserves everything he gets. He deserves a chance, and I think he’ll have a chance to play in the NFL, there’s no doubt about it. Locker-room guy, great leadership guy — he can play for 15 years because he’s going to do it the right way.”
The sting from the loss to Alabama in the national championship game isn’t completely gone for the Columbus native. Playing for Ohio State was his childhood dream, and returning for a final season secured a chance to play at the next level.
Cooper’s leadership will be missed inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, but his decision to return for a final season will pay off in the form of a higher draft pick later this month.
“Honestly, I don’t take my foot off the pedal at all,” he said. “Obviously, this first chapter is done but for the next month or two, I’m going to be working out here with Coach Mick. Getting stronger, faster, get back into more of a football mode and be the best that I can be. Still keep getting better every single day just because pro days over doesn’t mean I stopped.”