While I was in Connecticut recently for a couple of days of meetings at ESPN’s headquarters, the Hartford Courant had a nice story on Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper. A Connecticut native, Cooper was being honored at his former high school.
Cooper was recently named as Chiefs rookie of the year for 2013, an unlikely prospect when they claimed him off waivers just days before the start of the regular season. But Cooper played well enough as a rookie to win the award instead of, among others, tackle Eric Fisher and running back Knile Davis.
Looking forward, Cooper looms as a key developmental player for the Chiefs. He was no small factor in their 9-0 start last season. As the third cornerback, he locked down opposing receivers so well that it wasn’t a stretch to call him his team’s best player at his position.
Things fell apart for Cooper over the season’s second half. The Chiefs faced more accomplished quarterbacks, such as Denver's Peyton Manning and San Diego's Philip Rivers and they took advantage of Cooper's inexperience.
Getting Cooper back to the player he was in the first half of the season should be an offseason priority for the Chiefs when they gather for the start of their offseason work next month. The Chiefs have a couple of established veterans at cornerback in Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith, but the Cooper from the first half of last season completes the set. With Cooper playing well, the Chiefs are set at corner for next season and can reasonably expect Cooper to step in at an important position and become a starter when the Chiefs decide Flowers or Smith becomes too expensive or is no longer effective.
The Chiefs have a few other players in the category of younger players who need to make offseason improvement: Fisher, defensive back Sanders Commings, tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins and linebacker Nico Johnson. You could argue Cooper is as important as any to the Chiefs’ success in 2014 and beyond.