The 10 Best players on 2013 Cougars: No. 6

ONCE IN A while a player comes along who has Pac-12 talent written all over him -- but also a potential red flag. Some schools back off at that point and move to the next guy on their board. But for the No. 6 pick on our list of the best 2013 Cougs, Washington State stuck with him -- and were already reaping the benefits this past season during his first year on the Pac-12 gridiron.

It began as a request from scout.com, asking CF.C for a list of the 10 best Cougar football players for 2013. We solicited subscribers, readers and twitter followers, put it all into our crystal ball and then had our editors come up with the list. Today, we reveal the sixth member of the list...

6. Xavier Cooper

Cooper was getting a lot of attention early in the recruiting process coming out of Tacoma's Wilson High. But the Oregon's and Cal's of the world looked at his transcripts and that was that for them.

But WSU continued to stick with him as others dropped off, drawing up a plan that called for him to grayshirt and get qualified. He did, and later enrolled at WSU -- but then the NCAA deemed him a partial qualifier. He'd go on scholie, he could practice but he couldn't play.

Not until 2012, assuming he continued to take care of business in the college classroom as well.

He did that too, and it was worth the wait.

COOPER AS A redshirt freshman last season drew immediate notice for his play against the run.

He became a starter in Week 4 and never left the starting lineup after that. After playing 10 games on the season, he had racked up 8.5 tackles for loss among his 34 takedowns and he forced a fumble.

By the end of the 2012 campaign, he was becoming more and more of a problem for opposing teams in the passing game. Two of his three sacks came in the final four games.

THE COUGS' 3-4 requires bigger, better run-stopping defensive ends than a 4-3 scheme -- but Cooper is super-sized at 6-4, 298 pounds. He's strong but what really makes him special is the speed he has to go along with that size.

Cooper has not good, but great feet. And that allows him to play the inside from the outside.

This spring, according to CF.C's Joe Doyle, the two who arguably stood out most on defense were MLB Darryl Monroe and Cooper. Both redshirt freshmen a year ago, they were brimming with confidence and look poised to prove this fall that old adage – that the biggest improvement comes between the first and second seasons. (Note: NT Ioane Gauta and S Deone Bucannon were on their way to making that list a foursome this spring but both got dinged up.)

Cooper in the second half of the spring session missed the presence of Gauta and Toni Pole (also dinged up) at nose tackle, drawing more double teams as a result. But when Cooper had one of them on the inside of the line in the early going, particularly Gauta, Cooper was simply flying out of the chute and crashing the pocket with impressive regularity.

THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE Cougar Nation might see from Cooper in 2013 is in his pass rush. He was consistently finding his way into the pocket during spring ball.

Couple that along with what is expected to be an even better season against the run, and Cooper might be one of those guys that less familiar observers will refer to as a player who came out of nowhere.

But Cougar fans, if that turns out to be the case, will know better.


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The 10 best players on 2013 Cougars: No. 7
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