A developmental guard is on the New England Patriots’ shopping list heading into the 2021 NFL Draft.
Perhaps they’ll find one in their own backyard.
The Patriots are one of nearly a dozen NFL teams that have shown interest in Merrimack guard Sam Cooper during the pre-draft process.
Cooper also has had contact with the Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs, he told NESN.com on Tuesday. His pro day attracted representatives from nine NFL teams to Merrimack’s North Andover, Mass., campus, located an hour north of Gillette Stadium.
Those on hand witnessed an impressive workout, as Cooper ran a 5.1-second 40-yard dash with a 1.69-second 10-yard split and pumped out 35 bench-press reps at 6-foot-2, 308 pounds.
That 10-yard split would have tied first-round draft pick Tristan Wirfs for the fastest by an offensive lineman at last year’s NFL Scouting Combine. His 35 bench reps would have ranked third, his 7.69-second three-cone drill would have ranked sixth and his 29.5-inch vertical jump would have fallen just outside the top 10.
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler recently listed Cooper on his top-10 list of NFL draft sleepers.
“I didn’t think I did well (at my pro day), but I did really well,” Cooper told NESN.com. “I’m the kind of guy who’s never satisfied. My goal was 40 reps on bench, but I got 35 extremely strict reps. My goal was a 4.9 (40-yard dash). … But I had one of the fastest 10-yard (splits) in America, and the 10-yard is the most important thing for an offensive lineman. A scout had me at 1.63 (seconds), but the Pats had me at 1.69. Either way, I’ll take both of those numbers, because that’s still the fastest.”
Cooper began his college career at Maine before transferring to Merrimack, where he started at left guard for two seasons and was a team captain in 2019. Merrimack, an FCS program that moved up from Division II in 2019, had its 2020 season canceled due to COVID-19, but Cooper earned postseason invites to the East-West Shrine Bowl, Hula Bowl, Tropical Bowl and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
A native of Bensalem, Pa., Cooper has done much of his draft prep in the Boston area, training at Mike Boyle’s Strength and Conditioning in Woburn, Mass. He’s also worked with a prominent former NFL offensive line coach to refine his technique.
Cooper, who listed Patriots right guard Shaq Mason as one of his primary O-line influences, described his playing style as “relentless.”
“Listen, I’m the nicest guy off the field,” Cooper said. “I’m peaceful, I love Jesus, I’m an innocent guy. But once my left pinky toe touches the field, you know it’s all business. I’m just locked in all the time, every day. I take it seriously. There’s no friends out there. I’m all about being relentless — that’s my game. I’m not the most skilled guy, but I will not be outworked. That’s my whole mentality. …
“I live football. I don’t love it, I live it. This is my passion. This is what I enjoy most.”
Cooper didn’t begin playing football until high school — he had dreams of a pro baseball career as a kid — so he’s still a relatively raw prospect. He’s unlikely to hear his name called until Day 3 of the NFL draft, if he’s selected at all, but could be a fit for the Patriots, who typically favor interior offensive linemen with his size profile and tenacious attitude. He has experience at both guard spots and said he’s practicing snapping as part of his draft prep.
Projected top iOL backup Ted Karras is on a one-year contract with the Patriots, and New England’s other backup centers/guards (Marcus Martin, Ross Reynolds and Najee Toran) will enter training camp on the roster bubble.
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