KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs have six former first-round draft picks who either start or play a lot on their defense, which is a formidable one. The Chiefs have allowed fewer points than any other NFL team.
But for all of those high draft picks, good defenses become great by developing the players who were low-round choices. That appears to be going on now with rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round pick.
Cooper wasn’t even drafted by the Chiefs. He went instead to the San Francisco 49ers. But the Chiefs liked Cooper’s 6-2 frame, liked the way he played in college at Rutgers and liked him when they played against the 49ers in the preseason.
So when he was placed on waivers before the start of the regular season, the Chiefs claimed him, believing he could eventually become a productive player in the press-man coverage system.
That time came against the New York Giants last Sunday, when the Chiefs played without one of their starting corners, Brandon Flowers. Cooper started and gave up only one catch for nine yards against quarterback Eli Manning and a group of receivers that includes Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
The Giants, surprisingly, didn’t truly come after Cooper. That might come as soon as this Sunday, when the Chiefs pay against the Titans in Nashville, Tenn. Flowers’ balky knee kept him from practicing on Wednesday.
Cooper, though, looks like he has what it takes to play corner the way the Chiefs want it played. He said he was delighted to come to a team that plays as much man-to-man coverage as the Chiefs do.
“It works great for me," he said. “I’m a bigger guy, long arms, so I use that to my advantage."
Cooper should have a lot of room to develop. He played only two seasons at cornerback at Rutgers after switching from wide receiver. At one time, Cooper planned to be the next Jerry Rice or Randy Moss.
“I could name them all," he said. “I watched all the receivers. I tried to emulate all of those guys. When I switched (positions), I didn’t have any idea of who (played cornerback), so I didn’t know who I should try to be like or who I could try to get some tips from.
“This is very new to me. I thought I was a great receiver, like everybody should think about themselves. For them to tell me I wasn’t able to do it at receiver and to move me to defense, I was a little hurt."
Cooper eventually got over the hurt. And, who knows? Maybe someday a young corner will try to play like him. Based on the way he played against the Giants in his first NFL start, youthful players could find worse players to imitate.