Almost always, pro days for NFL prospects are about putting up big numbers in the weight room and on the field.
But for South Carolina receiver Pharoh Cooper, that wasn’t the point on Wednesday.
Cooper performed for scouts from nearly every NFL team at Williams-Brice Stadium, and he and all the scouts knew he wasn’t going to blow them away on the 40-yard dash.
Cooper didn’t know his 40 time after his performance – it ranged from the high 4.5s to the low 4.6s according to scouts – but knew that wasn’t going to define him at the next level.
“I’m not a fast burner,” Cooper said. “They know that. I’m a football player. Whatever my 40 is, it is what it is. It’s over with and I can’t do (anything) about it. I really don’t care about it anymore.”
What Cooper lacks in speed he makes up on the field. Turn on the tape and it’s clear that Cooper is a football player no matter what the stopwatch says.
He’s in the mold of Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry and Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell, who is thought to be the top receiver in this year’s draft. Neither wowed scouts at their respective pro days with their speed, but there’s no question they can play receiver at the NFL level.
So at South Carolina’s pro day, Cooper wanted to show he could catch passes and had sharper routes. He didn’t drop a single pass, though he did get confused on instructions on one route.
At 5-foot-11 and 203 pounds, Cooper figures to be a slot receiver in the NFL. In positional drills Cooper almost exclusively caught passes that would be typical for a slot receiver. His deepest reception came on a skinny post route about 20 yards downfield.
“I proved my route running, that I could catch the ball,” Cooper said of his day. “They always had questions about me catching the ball so I felt like I did well through the whole position drills. That’s what I was looking forward to. I’m not a big test guy. I’m not going to a run a 4.3 or jump a 40 (inch vertical). I’m just going to go out there and play football.”
Cooper didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine last month, citing a quad injury. He also dropped a few passes in field drills and felt that left him with a “bad mark” on his name.
Cooper is squarely a Day 2 player, meaning he’ll be drafted as high as the second round or as low as the third round. A Havelock native, Cooper said he has had no interaction with the Carolina Panthers one month before the draft.
In 2014, Cooper caught 69 passes for 1,136 yards and nine touchdowns for the Gamecocks. He followed that up this past season with 66 catches for 973 yards and eight touchdowns. He was named to the All-SEC first team in consecutive seasons before leaving after his junior year.
South Carolina also used Cooper on special teams as a kick and punt returner, and he showed off those skills after positional drills Wednesday.
Cooper, who played quarterback in high school, also threw 16 passes – for nine completions and four touchdowns – for the Gamecocks. A Titans coach in attendance had Cooper throw deep passes to tailback Shon Carson to show potential as a wildcat quarterback.
On top of his versatility, Cooper is a leader. His teammate, running back Brandon Wilds, said Cooper led by example with his play on the field in a tough season for the Gamecocks that saw Steve Spurrier retire mid-season.
Cooper’s grandfather and father were Marines, so that kind of environment molded him into who he is today.
“I feel like it helped me a lot in the interviews and meeting rooms,” Cooper said of his leadership traits. “I come from a military background and I feel coaches like that. The interview process, I feel it went well and did well in all my interviews and they don’t have to worry about any issues off the field.”
South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott was the interim Gamecocks coach after Spurrier left. Elliott took over the 2-4 Gamecocks but only mustered one win in the final six games before South Carolina hired Will Muschamp as coach.
During that trying season, Elliott always knew he could lean on Cooper on and off the field to help rally teammates when they needed it.
“He’s just a great guy that you could count on on game day,” Elliott said. “If you needed a play, you could always look to him. Any time, any moment you could dial him up and he was going to deliver for you.
“He gave you that sense that he’s our go-to guy and everything’s going to be OK.”