With the Broncos closing in on what could be their first season with a winning record since 2016, outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper is playing his best football when it matters most — and setting records in the process.
In the first quarter of Denver's game against the Chargers, Cooper brought down Los Angeles quarterback Easton Stick and tallied a sack for the third consecutive game — the first three-game sack streak of his career — and boosted his season total to 8.5. The 239th-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Cooper became the first Broncos player selected in the seventh round or later to record 8.5 sacks in a season in the past 25 years.
Cooper's impressive sack production has also put him in the company of two recent Denver standout pass rushers. His 8.5 sacks are the most by a Broncos player since 2018, when Von Miller and Bradley Chubb each tallied double-digit sacks.
"It means a lot," Cooper said of reaching 8.5 sacks. "I feel like [it's meaningful] with my teammates and coaches believing in me and the type of player that I am."
Cooper's breakout season hasn't caught him by surprise, and he'll have a chance to reach double-digit sacks when the Broncos close out their season against the Raiders in Week 18.
"I feel like my goal for this season was eight or ten [sacks]," Cooper said. "I'm trying to get to double digits, trying to get to that ten mark. I'm going to keep rocking. Keep going. I'm really happy for myself, but I'm more happy with these wins that we're getting. Any way that I can help the team win is what I'm trying to do."
In his third season in Denver, Cooper has carved out a key role on the Broncos defense. In addition to his strides in his pass rushing, the Ohio State product pulled in an interception in Denver's first matchup against the Chargers and returned a fumble for a touchdown in the Broncos' comeback victory over the Bears in Week 4. His emergence has been a major development for a Denver defense that has shown massive improvement over the course of the season.
Cooper was encouraged by the defense's performance in the Broncos' 16-9 win, and he is looking for the unit to continue its improvement in its season finale.
"[For] how disappointing the loss was last week, it was super important to get a win this week," Cooper said. "We just have to keep going [and] keep stacking [wins]. I feel like this defense has been pretty solid all year. We just have to find a way to keep getting better individually and collectively. I'm really just proud of the unit especially how we came out this game compared to what happened last game."