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School: South Carolina
Position: Wide Receiver
What Caught My Eye
I could say the first time I noticed South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper was the first game of the season against Texas A&M, but I’d be lying. That day my focus was dead set on his teammate Shaq Roland, who I had found rather interesting based on his production in the previous season. That day Cooper ended with only three catches, but all were very impressive and a sign of things to come. His role has grown throughout the season, but his November 1st game against Tennessee was the bell that rang to get my attention. 11 receptions for 233 yards, three rushes for 23 yards and one pass for 30 yards. Throw in four touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing, one passing) and you have yourself a career day.
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This is where things get intriguing. If you’ve read any of the research I’ve been doing on Rushing Receivers, you’ll understand why I’m so impressed. Cooper has been the definition of an all-around player this season, not only dominating in the receiving aspect of the game, but running the ball as well.
Pharoh Cooper – 2014 statistics;
Yards Per Catch: 15.4
Rushing Attempts: 15
Yards Per Attempt: 8.6
Yards Per Touch: 13.9
Total Touchdowns: 9
With three games left in the season, Cooper is on pace for;
Receiving Yards: 1048
Rushing Attempts 20
Rushing Yards: 172
Total Touchdowns: 12
While that wouldn’t qualify for the original list of rushing receivers, it blows everyone who’s currently in college football out of the water. His average of 13.9 yards per touch is one of the higher rates I’ve seen.
The special part about all of this is Cooper’s original role as a freshman was at running back – that year he had 23 total touches, with 20 of them being rushes. Cooper was lethal as a runner last year, averaging just over 10 yards per carry. Enough can’t be said about making a positional switch in one season. It’s rare for a player to make a positional change and show instant returns, never mind become the focal point of the offense.
Plays That Stand Out
This is an advanced play. Not only does it take technique and good receiving ability to go up and meet the ball at it’s highest point, but holding onto the ball as he gets hit by the safety is just as impressive. The other factor is the mental side of the game. He knew going up for that ball he was going to get hit, and that clearly didn’t affect his decision-making. These are the types of plays that he will have to make consistently if he wants to fit into a slot receiver role in the NFL. Another subtly important part of this play is how he never brings the ball into his body, even when he gets hit. This shows how strong his hands are and how confident he is in making that catch. The ball is stable throughout the process.
Another very important quality for an NFL receiver is being able to beat tight coverage on the sideline. Cooper is totally in control of his body the entire way, which makes it easier to turn his head and track the ball. Once the ball gets close you’ll see Cooper popping his hands up at the very last moment, just in time for the ball to get there. Finally, he secures the ball and makes sure to get both feet in bounds for the touchdown. He makes it look easy, but it isn’t.
The first two plays displayed technique, ball skills and instincts; this shows off his natural athleticism. It’s subtle, but watch how quickly Cooper gets up to full speed after he makes his break on the slant. The defender, #27, was responsible for Cooper on this play, and it became very apparent after Cooper’s cut to the inside the defender had no chance of making the play. While I want to focus on his athleticism this play, I will note he caught the ball away from his body (again) and because of that, could maintain momentum and speed as he brought the ball in. Lastly, It wasn’t a good angle by the safety, but credit Cooper for recognizing it early on and using his speed to beat it to the outside. Both the safety and corner were completely outclassed on this play, not because they’re bad players, but because of superior speed and cutting ability by the receiver.
Randall Cobb/Golden Tate/Brandin Cooks
Cooper is a jack-of-all-trades, there’s nothing he can’t do on a football field. Need a fade at the goal line? He’s there. Kickoff return? You got it. Take a jet sweep 60 yards for a touchdown? No problem. While he’ll have to show more in terms of volume to achieve high round status like the players I’ve compared him too, he’s already shown enough to me to warrant this high praise. For fantasy purposes, it will be very important to see what situation he falls into. When you think about a player like Golden Tate, it was important for him to find a new, higher paced offense to work in before he could come to fruition as a fantasy asset. I see a similar situation for Cooper. Cooper would probably be better served working off a number one target like Tate has now. I know this sounds like a negative, but In this day and age, almost any team can support two fantasy relevant wide receivers.