The Materialization of Marcus Cooper

Coop

With the 252nd pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers select Marcus Cooper, cornerback, Rutgers. 

Six months ago, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper was headed for California’s bay area to play professional football. Cooper narrowly escaped the title “Mr. Irrelevant” when he was selected with the 46th pick in the 7th round (just two spots ahead of Justice Cunningham). His stay with the Niners was brief. Cooper was a casualty of San Francisco’s final cutdown on August 31.

The four-year man out of Rutgers began his collegiate career as a wide receiver. He made the switch to cornerback in 2010. Cooper’s final years with the Scarlet Knights were solid, but he didn’t grab the attention of scouts until Rutgers’ annual pro day. There he posted two sub-4.5 40 times (4.43 and 4.47), a vertical leap of 39 inches, and a broad jump of 10 feet, 9 inches. Despite an impressive performance, he still wasn’t able to avoid being the antepenultimate pick in April’s draft.

Marcus Cooper was on the NFL’s unemployment line for just one day before general manager John Dorsey claimed him off waivers. Expectations to start the season were low. Few waiver clams pan out in the NFL and the Chiefs’ secondary already appeared to be set. Cooper got an early look with Dave Toub’s special teams coverage unit, but he squandered his first big-play opportunity.

In the Week 2 game against the Dallas Cowboys, “Coop” had an error in judgment when he downed a fourth quarter punt deep in Cowboys’ territory. While covering the punt, Cooper went out of bounds. That mental mistake lead to an “illegal touching” penalty. A kicking team player that goes out of bounds during a return may not be the first player to touch or “down” the football. Since the punt was downed inside Dallas’ 5-yard line, it was ruled a touchback. The ball was brought out to the 20-yard line and Dallas capitalized on the error trimming the Chiefs’ lead to 1 point (on a Dan Bailey 53-yard field goal).

Cooper would have to wait two weeks to redeem himself. Veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers sustained a knee injury and was inactive for the Week 4 game with the New York Giants. The injury forced Dunta Robinson into the starting lineup, but early in the second quarter, he was burned by Giants wideout Victor Cruz for a 69-yard touchdown. Realizing Robinson would continue to be a liability in press coverage, head coach Andy Reid turned to the Rutgers rookie for help. Marcus Cooper responded with an impressive 57-snap performance that received a +1.8 grade from Pro Football Focus.

The following week in the game against Tennessee, Cooper received his second straight positive grade from PFF. His fourth quarter interception of Ryan Fitzpatrick helped the Chiefs hang on to win. He was targeted 8 times in the game, but only surrendered 21 yards on 2 receptions. He would again have his number called this past Sunday in the game against the Oakland Raiders. Flowers’ lingering knee issue kept him out of the game and gave Cooper his second start of the season.

Cooper had another solid game on Sunday that earned a +3.1 grade from PFF. He did make one mistake though, allowing Denarius Moore a free release on a quick slant that he took 39 yards into the end zone. He was surprisingly sanguine about the play in a postgame interview:

I’m glad I got beat, you know? It’s always a learning experience for me. You have to experience some type of adversity to get better, to put your best foot forward. That’s just something I want to go back and study and see how I can improve my game from that standpoint.

Cooper accepted the challenge and exacted his revenge on Moore in the fourth quarter. On a 2nd & 5 play with four minutes left in the game, “Coop” stepped in front of a Terrelle Pryor pass on a quick slant similar to the one from the touchdown play earlier in the game. A short memory is one of the most important intangibles for a cornerback to have in the NFL. Through the first six games of the season, he’s proven he has the ability to put negative plays behind him.

Having been a wide receiver in college seems to be aiding Cooper in the pros. He’s consistently gotten across the face of the wide receivers he’s been matched up with. Gaining inside position was previously one of his job responsibilities. It’s become his priority now that he’s in a new role in the NFL. He’s defensed 10 passes through 6 games. To put that into perspective, his predecessor Stanford Routt had just 4 in 7 games for the Chiefs last season (granted Romeo Crennel’s scheme called for more zone coverage).

We all knew that identifying quality depth would be key in righting the ship in Kansas City. John Dorsey took that as a personal challenge and has gifted this roster with a few players who might be starting if not for Pro Bowl-caliber incumbents in front of them. It’s possible that Marcus Cooper is the best of the seven players Dorsey claimed on September 1. His emergence gives the Chiefs options on the outside and allows Brandon Flowers time to heal. If “Coop” can sustain this level of play, he might figure prominently into the defensive rookie of the year conversation at the end of the season. He’s been that good thus far.

How pleased are you with Marcus Cooper’s contribution to this Chiefs defense? Are you concerned he’ll come back to earth at some point, or are you convinced that he’s the real deal? Use the comment section below to speak your mind. As always, we appreciate your readership and support.

Until next time, Addicts!

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