2021 NFL Draft: Jonathon Cooper, Baron Browning try out new positions at Ohio State pro day
In interviews with NFL teams over the past couple of months, Jonathon Cooper has discovered he might be well-suited for another position in the league.
Though he lined up as a defensive end throughout his five seasons at Ohio State, the Gahanna native holds the physical traits of an outside linebacker. Most teams have told Cooper they envision him playing strong-side linebacker, particularly in a 3-4 defense.
So during the Buckeyes’ annual pro day on Tuesday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Cooper went through linebacker drills with 2020 teammates including Tuf Borland, Baron Browning, Justin Hilliard and Pete Werner.
“I wanted to make sure that I showed the scouts and everybody that I can play linebacker and that I feel really comfortable in space and that I’m ready for the next level,” Cooper said.
Once Cooper began pre-draft training after the Buckeyes’ season ended in January, he focused on his versatility.
He wanted to show off multiple skills in workouts, particularly dropping into pass coverage. Playing exclusively on the edge of the defensive line, he had limited opportunities to roam beyond the line of scrimmage.
“I haven't really put too much of that on film,” Cooper said. “Obviously, some areas on game tape I'm dropping back to cover the back or even dropping back some. But that I can do it consistently throughout the whole entire game, I want to make sure the scouts know I can do that, and that I'm ready for it at the next level.”
Werner, who was the Buckeyes’ strong-side linebacker before moving to the weak side last season, thought Cooper was impressive in switching positions.
“Jonathon is one of those guys where you can throw (him) in any situation, and he'll ball out, he'll adjust quickly,” Werner said. “Just seeing him do drills, I thought he did very well. He didn't really practice it, but he went out and had a great day. So wherever he is put, I think teams will see great play by him.”
Along with working out with the linebackers in position drills, Cooper ran an unofficial time of 4.69 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Only three defensive linemen in this year’s draft class have clocked faster 40 times at their pro-day workouts.
Cooper was not the only Ohio State draft prospect to try out a new position for teams; Browning also took part in some defensive lineman drills. He said teams have suggested a handful of potential positions.
Some propose he might be a middle linebacker or an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, serving as an edge rusher.
Others believe he could play defensive end, as he offers enough size at a touch above 6 feet 2 and 245 pounds. Browning expressed openness to learning a new position on the defensive line.
“I haven’t done it, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it,” Browning said. “There's nothing I can't do. I would enjoy the new challenge.”
OSU coach Ryan Day thought both players’ versatility served as attributes for teams to consider and it could allow them to move up on draft boards. It was a point he heard from team representatives attending pro day.
“In talking to a lot of those guys, that's what excites them, is the ability to do multiple things,” Day said. “When they have to substitute personnel, then they'll have a little bit more of a tell on what kind of scheme or what type of fronts or coverage structure they're in.
“But when someone can do multiple things, that allows them to play in different fronts, different coverages, the ability to blitz. I think when you look at Coop, and when you look at Baron, the ability to cover, the ability to rush off the edge, the ability to play off the ball, are all going to be things that bring value.”