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Ole Miss at the 2020 NFL Draft: Octavious Cooley is about as athletic as they come

The sum of the parts is far greater than the numbers.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Octavious Cooley - Tight End / Wide Receiver / Athlete

Bio:

Octavious Cooley is a former four-star recruit from Laurel, Miss. that was ranked as the third-best tight end in the nation and the No. 2 prospect in Mississippi by Scout in 2016. He spent much of his career on the Ole Miss depth chart behind Bills tight end Dawson Knox and Giants tight end Evan Engram, but received his chance for significant playing time came as an upperclassman and played in all 12 games in 2018 and 2019.

Cooley struggled with maintaining his weight and tipped the scales at 290 pounds at the beginning of his junior year— 55 pounds more than he was in high school. Coaches told him that if he were to continue to gain, they would make him a tackle. He cut 30 pounds and was named to the Mackey Award Watch List entering his senior season, but fell victim to Rich Rodriguez’s heavy run-first offensive system as he was slated to take the lion’s share of work. Nevertheless, he averaged 12.5 yards per catch on 13 catches.

Measurables:

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 266 pounds

Hand: 9 3/8”

Arm: 31 3/8”

Wingspan: 77 1/4”

NFL Combine Results:

N/A

Positives:

Cooley led all Ole Miss tight ends with only 13 receptions, but it needs to be considered that no receiver other than Elijah Moore earned more than 20 receptions. Thus it is important to judge him based on the instances of NFL potential he has shown on the field, which goes beyond the box score.

He is a fluid runner with quick thinking and steady balance. On this play, Cooley breaks out of the backfield (where Ole Miss used him similar to a wingback or off-line end) and makes a good catch to his backside, keeping his body forward toward the end zone. When the ball gets in his hands, he recognizes the crashing safety and uses a nifty spin move to get himself away from the tackle. Once he quickly gets his body around and eyes back forward, Cooley has the wherewithal to evade another tackle and accelerate into the open field.

Cooley, of course, is not a small guy. Playing at somewhere close to 270 pounds, he has sprightly feet and surprising speed once he starts rumbling. In the best single effort of his career, Cooley gets through the second level and out-runs the defense to the house.

When the whole package comes together for Cooley, it has the potential to be a thing of beauty. On this play, he slides out in the flat and hauls in a difficult catch at his feet without losing momentum or falling forward. He keeps a wide base, turns upfield and uses another agile juke to get away from the defender in pursuit... in fact, he makes him look silly.

After making a nice move, Cooley turns on the jets and shows a fleet-footed burst before he simply out-muscles two would-be tackles for six yards after contact.

As a blocker, which was Cooley’s primary role in 2019, he has shown potential both inside and outside the numbers. On this play, he lines up split-out and blocks a crashing corner to the sideline. His base stays firm and pad level remains low while he drives his feet.

He does the same thing here out of the backfield, showing his ability more as a true tight end as opposed to a receiver or hybrid role player. Cooley takes on the defensive end that is staying home and sets a cutback lane, should his running back see it. His feet are wide and he locks off the edge with strong arms inside.

Cooley’s value is high as a lead blocker. Combining his deceptive speed with his substantial proportions, if he gets out in front it’s like a freight train coming full speed down the tracks. Watch as he moves out of the off-set spot and blows up a crashing end. He clears out the linebacker and creates just enough of a running lane for quarterback Matt Corral to break down the sideline in the process.

The pieces are there, he just has to put them all together.

Negatives:

Cooley is relatively unproven. He was slated to take a large role after the departure of Dawson Knox, but the Rebels ran the ball more than three times the amount that they threw the ball on average per game. As a result, Cooley never caught the ball more than twice in a single game in 2019.

In addition, his size is a great unknown. For Cooley to play tight end on the next level would require a lot of refinement and a transition to wide receiver at 270 pounds is difficult, but is likely necessary to make an NFL roster. Considering him as a receiver, there are glaring issues that begin with his route running.

His ability to stick to a tight route that would create space and get open against a professional corner back would be difficult. He has rarely lined up beyond the slot and in this play (lined up second from the top on the 50-yard line), his troubles are illustrated. As he runs a simple post route, Cooley cannot shake his man who doesn’t have to challenge him much beyond the five-yard box.

Cooley didn’t have a standout statistical career at Ole Miss and will have to develop all of the skills on the field in a short amount of time.

Bottom Line:

Should Cooley display the mental acumen and professionalism needed to be a “rise-from-nowhere” NFL talent, he has potential. For whichever team gets his hands on the moldable Cooley clay, the athleticism and nimbleness for someone his size is unteachable. The little things, however, need to be taught. If a general manager or coach is looking for a pure, elastic athlete, look no further.

Cooley is not expected to be drafted, but will surely sign as an undrafted free agent with boundless upside in May.