During the Detroit Lions’ “town hall” meeting with season ticket holders, Teryl Austin made a comment about defensive linemen that stuck out. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press quoted Teryl Austin. His comments are below:
“We don’t ever want a guy that has a lot of ability but, well, he doesn’t show it all the time, he doesn’t do it all the time, because what’s going to happen is, if you get him in your system, you’re going to be disappointed because he’s only going to do it some of the time. You want a guy that’s going to go out and compete like crazy and be able to do it to the best of his ability, whatever that is, all the time.”
Basically what Austin is saying is that he wants guys who play like an Ndamukong Suh or a Jared DeVries. He wants a guy who will give his all every snap. This likely illustrates why Nick Fairley was not retained. Fairley was criticized as being lazy and taking plays off. In looking at some of the first round defensive tackles, I found a consistent theme. Many of them had knocks on them of either taking plays off or not giving consistent effort. I decided to look at a player who seems to match what Austin is looking for. Xavier Cooper is a guy that can be had in the second round, has good speed for a defensive tackle, and plays the style of defense that the Lions have played over the past 5 years. Cooper also visited the Lions this offseason on a pre-draft visit.
Who is Xavier Cooper as a player? Well, according to NFL.com, he is a former high school basketball player who can step in immediately as a rotational defensive tackle with the potential to start. With Haloti Ngata already manning one of the tackle spots, this seems exactly like what Teryl Austin wants. A player who can play now, but also has potential long term. CBSSPORTS.com stated that Cooper struggled initially in school, but his work ethic and maturity allowed him to fight through and earn his criminal justice degree. That is exactly the type of player Jim Caldwell wants around.
Some of Cooper’s strengths as a player fit perfectly into Detroit’s gameplan. He has very quick feet. He has good hand movement to fight off blocks and makes it difficult for offensive linemen to get their hands on him. He fires off the ball well and has the ability to transition between rushing the passer and playing the run. He was a versatile player lining up as both a defensive tackle and a defensive end. He has a very good build for a defensive tackle at 6’3 and 293lbs. He also has very good acceleration.
So, what are his weaknesses? He is not going to be a first round pick for a reason, right? Cooper lacks length, strength, power at the point of attack, and plays with poor pad level. Hitting the weight room hard could help to improve his strength and power but his length is a concern. If he gets tied up on a block like Suh used to, he does not show the ability to still make the play on the ball carrier as Suh did due to his shorter arms. Due to lacking athleticism, he also is really only suited for a penetrating 4-3 defense which is exactly what Detroit runs.
Below are Xavier Cooper’s combine numbers to help illustrate both points made above related to his strengths and weaknesses.
|40 Yard Dash
||3 Cone Drill
||20 yard Shuttle
As you can see above, he had a great 40 yard dash time and his 3 cone and shuttle times were great. He shows the speed and quicknesses to destroy opposing offensive lines, but his lack of power and strength likely will limit his effectiveness. If the coaches can get his strength up by utilizing the weight room, he could develop nicely into a force on the defensive line. Scouts though do not seem to be projecting that as a possibility.
Looking at some of the numbers on mockdraftable.com, everything that was said about Xavier Cooper by both NFL.com and CBSsports.com is illustrated by the following numbers. Cooper scored in the 90th percentile in the 20 yard shuttle and in the 92nd percentile in the 3 cone drill. He also scored in the 94th percentile in the 40 yard dash. All of that shows his quickness and speed. By comparison, Cooper was criticized for having a lack of power and explosiveness. He scored in the 78th percentile for the broad jump and in the 42nd percentile for the vertical jump. He also scored in the 60th percentile for the bench press. All of that shows his lack of upper body strength and lack of lower body strength compared to other defensive tackles in his class.
With all of that being said, Teryl Austin loves defensive tackles that give 100% effort on every play and Cooper has never been knocked for effort. He showed that by fighting through his academic struggles and getting his degree. If he can carry that work ethic into the weight room, he will be a good find for the Lions and I think he could be their guy in the second round.