Green Bay Packers

Gutekunst Should Be Patient If He Wants Edgerrin Cooper

Photo Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Need versus value is the eternal battle NFL general managers face in the NFL draft. Focusing too much on need causes GMs to reach for prospects or risk round-hole-square-peg scheme fits, but not addressing need at all will leave glaring roster holes.

The Green Bay Packers have generally done well with balance, attacking premium positions rather than forcing picks for need. Brian Gutekunst understands that you must look beyond the current season to set your team up for continued success.

We’ll see what strategy Gutekunst takes with this draft. This year’s draft class is stacked at two premium positions, cornerback and offensive tackle, and a run on both positions could happen before Green Bay picks at 25. If his top options at more premium positions are gone, will Gutekunst risk reaching for need by going for an off-ball linebacker in the first round?

Inside linebacker isn’t commonly viewed as a premium position, and this class isn’t exactly stacked there. But it’s a major area of need for the Packers, who haven’t addressed that spot in free agency. Green Bay spent a first-round pick on Quay Walker in 2022. They could do it again with Texas A&M linebacker Edgerrin Cooper, who has many of their favorite traits. They’ve met with him twice so far. Obviously, the draft hasn’t happened yet, but Cooper’s name is generating first-round buzz. He could be a surprising first-round selection for Green Bay, but I believe Gutekunst should hold strong and wait for the right value spot.

I’m not saying Cooper is a bad fit for Green Bay — in fact, quite the opposite.

The 22-year-old linebacker has explosive speed, running a 4.51 40-yard dash. While his size is on the slightly lower side, that elite speed gives him an 8.96 RAS. That would be on the relatively lower end of Gutekunst’s first-round picks. Only Darnell Savage (8.37) and Jordan Love (8.44) were lower, but we won’t pretend that being just shy of 9.0 is actually low.

In Cooper’s 2023 breakout season, he led the SEC in tackles for loss and led the Aggies in tackles, sacks, and pressures. Texas A&M used him as a versatile chess piece and gave him ample opportunities to rush the passer. He’s consistently a major factor in the run game and shows skills in coverage. The Aggies occasionally used him as a QB spy.

Cooper’s pros are his athletic profile, trigger, range, and blitzing ability. Described by The Draft Network as “a twitched-up second-level defender with the length and explosiveness to live within the lungs of a defense,” Cooper brings an aggression and blitzing ability that would be a nice fit for Jeff Hafley’s new defense. Hafley’s defense will be much more aggressive and disruptive than the previous coordinator’s soft-serve.

The cons of Cooper are consistency, instincts, technique, and discipline. Cooper often wins through sheer athleticism and simply being much faster than his quarry. He can often over-pursue and needs to learn to control his incredible speed. Taking on blocks is another area in need of improvement. Per CheeseheadTV Draft Guide contributor Dan Dahlke:

Where Cooper needs to improve at the next level is taking on blocks. In college, he survived by being quicker than offensive linemen and slipping their attempts. However, too frequently he was washed out of plays once he engaged with opponents.

An athletically gifted off-ball linebacker in need of refined technique and discipline sounds a lot like Quay Walker, whom Gutekunst liked enough to take in the first round despite his consensus ranking being at 51.

Similarly, NFL Mock Draft Database has Cooper as LB2 and sitting at 43 on the consensus big board.

Not that the draft works like that. However, that projection shows Cooper should theoretically be available when the Packers pick at 41 in the second round, using the pick they received from the New York Jets. That would be an excellent spot to grab one of this class’s few immediate-impact off-ball linebackers.

But the first round would feel like a massive reach for a player who should still be available early in the second round. First-round ILBs haven’t been overly impressive on their rookie contracts, and even Green Bay’s own Walker is still a work in progress. Like Cooper, a player similar to Walker might follow a similar learning curve.

Cooper would be a nice fit for the Packers in the second round, but the first round should offer more impactful starting options. Even if there is a run on cornerbacks and tackles, that could leave Green Bay with their pick from the top prospects along the defensive line or the interior offensive line. IOL might generally be viewed as a non-premium position. Still, that appears to be changing, and winning in the NFL starts in the trenches.

Drafting Cooper would give the Packers the potential for an athletically gifted, aggressive duo if he and Walker both develop the way the team would hope. Doubling down on that archetype is risky but could have a nice payoff, and Cooper is a good fit for the team. But Gutekunst needs to keep value in mind, as devoting two first-round picks to a non-premium position like an off-ball linebacker in three years feels far too rich. Value there can be found in the middle rounds, and the Packers probably can get better impact from other positions that early.

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Photo Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

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