Scouts have focused on the Tar Heels’ defense, for the most part, over the past few seasons; nine UNC defenders have been selected in the last three drafts. But Cooper might be North Carolina’s highest-drafted lineman since tackle Harris Barton was drafted in the first round (No. 22 overall) by the San Francisco 49ers in 1987.
He achieved a rare feat by being voted his high school conference’s player of the year as a senior offensive lineman, the same year his team won North Carolina Class 4-A state title. Cooper also wrestled, which scouts always like to see because that sport teaches players how to use their hands effectively in one-on-one situations. This skill set made him a starter at left guard for 10 games (he missed three starts with an ankle injury) as a redshirt freshman, earning a place on the All-ACC Freshman team. Cooper has stayed healthy in each of the past two seasons, starting all 26 games (the 2010 opener at center and the following 25 at left guard) and earning second-team All-ACC honors as both a sophomore and junior. He had surgery on his left shoulder after the 2011 season to alleviate chronic inflammation. Cooper continued his excellent play as a senior, earning spots on the first-team All-American and All-ACC teams, as well as winning the ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy.