Why Jonathan Cooper Is the 1 Player the Dallas Cowboys Must Grab in the Draft

Peter MatarazzoContributor IMarch 19, 2013

Feb 21, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; North Carolina offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper speaks at a press conference during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL draft is quickly approaching and the Dallas Cowboys need to make every pick count. Currently they are the holders of the 18th pick in the first round and collectively they possess six draft picks. 

The inability of the Cowboys, as we stand today, to fill any holes in free agency really raises the bar in terms of how successful they need this draft to be. If Jerry Jones has visions of drafting any injured players bound for redshirt years, projects or reaches, then he better get used to empty seats.

The time has come for the Cowboys to turn the corner and successfully build on some of their most recent drafts in the hopes of adding more building blocks. In order to properly set the tone for the 2013 NFL Draft, the Cowboys truly need to identify a prospect that will make this a signature draft.

With so many needs to fill and a deep draft at many positions, what is the best course of action for Dallas to take? Offensive line? Defensive line? Safety? Linebacker?

Well, if you scour the major websites and mock drafts, the overwhelming opinion is to beef up the offensive line. In my estimation, this consensus is correct. The Cowboys need to adhere to their board, they need to take the best player available and they need to be aware of falling talent.

But the player they must grab in this draft, if available, is Jonathan Cooper.

Cooper brings a rare combination of strength and athletic ability to the offensive line. He enjoyed such a standout career at North Carolina that they are planning on retiring his jersey. He started in 48 games for the Tar Heels and finished 2012 as a first-team All-American.

When you watched the Cowboys play last season it was easy to see at times the interior of the offensive line get pushed around. This forced the kind of pressure that Tony Romo doesn't handle well. As the season progressed, so did the offensive line, but there was simply too much inconsistency.

When you watch Cooper, the first thing that jumps out at you is his ability in pass protection. At 6'3" and 311 pounds, he is not the most physically imposing prospect, but his thickness, bend and foot quickness really set him apart. His ability to lead as a pulling guard allows you to envision DeMarco Murray right behind him eating up chunks of yardage.

In watching his game footage you consistently see him do an excellent job mirroring by getting great arm extension and play after play he gets to the second level and takes on linebackers. The Cowboys have a chance to get a rare prospect and not to take away anything from Chance Warmack, but I like Cooper's game a bit better.

His versatility in being able to play center will not only create a competitive atmosphere, but Cooper would be a starter right away, regardless of who is in front of him. I wouldn't view the selection of Cooper as a safe pick, but rather one where value meets need. We're talking about a starter for the next decade at a critical position for a franchise who lost sight on how to build an offensive line.

The more I watch Cooper and his ability to be mobile, identify and make adjustments for oncoming defenders, explode out of his stance and lock up, the more this player becomes a must and not just a need. 

The ability to help protect Tony Romo, the ability to help this offense by elevating the running game and the ability to set the tempo from start to finish all boils down the effectiveness of the offensive line. For a franchise coming off of consecutive 8-8 seasons, it's time to win the war up front.

Jerry Jones could get all the flash and playmakers he wants, but building a foundation on sand is not a recipe for success. Building a foundation based around the proper building blocks is the right formula and it will involve players such as Cooper.

By selecting Cooper, the Cowboys will have set the tone for the rest of their draft by grabbing a top offensive lineman with immense talent and versatility. If he is available with the 18th pick, the Cowboys should be running to the podium on draft night.

If he is available and the Cowboys pass on his talents, it could mean another 8-8 season. What will Jones and Company do then?