With the 20th overall pick, the New Orleans Saints select Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Oregon State.
At the start of his junior season (and what proved to be his last one) as an Oregon State Beaver, there were doubts about whether Cooks could perform at the number one receiver spot; he had played second-fiddle to current Steelers wideout Markus Wheaton prior to last year. In his first game as the primary receiver, he put up 196 yards and two touchdowns in the 13-catch route of Eastern Washington. The doubts people had about his game quickly vanished as he finished his junior year with an astounding 128 catches for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns.
As a finalist for the 2013 Biletnikoff Award (awarded to the nation’s top college receiver), he managed to beat out fellow finalists Mike Evans (picked 7th overall in the 2014 draft) and Sammy Watkins (picked 4th overall) to win it. Saints fans will be hoping he follows in the footsteps of previous winners of the prestigious award, such as Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Fast-forward a few months and he’s at the NFL Scouting Combine. For the average NFL fan, Cooks wasn’t a household name like a Mike Evans was – that changed after that weekend in Indianapolis. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash of all receivers at the Combine (a blazing 4.33 seconds) and ran the fastest 20-yard and 40-yard shuttles of all receivers too (3.81 and 10.72 seconds, respectively). His best performance at the Combine though, was his interview. Saints head coach Sean Payton called his interview “fantastic”, and said “it was pretty clear as to how he interviewed and how we felt about him”.
They felt great about him, as evidenced by their trading up in the first round to draft the playmaker out of Oregon State. “He was the one remaining player in that group that was someone we identified that we might trade up to get if we felt it was necessary,” Payton said. They made him the first receiver they drafted in the first round since Robert Meachem in 2007.
Brandin Cooks – the Swiss Army knife
Prior to free agency, the receiver depth chart was a worry. With Lance Moore gone, the position was even more of a precarious one. Behind rookie sensation Stills and the aging Colston were Joe Morgan (recovering from an ACL tear), Nick Toon (a season away from being a bust) and Robert Meachem (inconsistent). Every Saints fan had been desperately hoping for a receiver to be drafted. On Thursday night, their prayers were answered.
For New Orleans, Cooks is the perfect player. Picture him running a deep route out wide like Stills did often last year. With his speed and ability to get a clean release, Cooks will be able to burn corners without much else. If he can do that consistently, it forces defences to roll a safety over the top.
While exceeding expectations in the “burner” role (leading the league in yards-per-reception with 20), I can see Stills excelling even more in a Lance Moore type, move-the-chains role. And lest we forget, forcing the safeties to stay deep opens up the field for the matchup nightmare Jimmy Graham to work the seams. Throw in Colston’s work-the-middle possession role and we can allay all doubts about the Saints passing game.
Deep routes isn’t the only thing Cooks can do, however. In 2013, Cooks caught only 13% of his receptions beyond 20 yards of the line of scrimmage – by contrast, Jarvis Landry (15%), Odell Beckham Jr. (17%), Kelvin Benjamin (25%) and Mike Evans (26%) all had a greater proportion of their receptions deep.
The screen game is another area of the passing game that Cooks excels in. His punt-return experience comes in play with the ball in his hands and his run-after-the-catch ability will remind Saints fans of Darren Sproles. Sproles’ 71 receptions will need to be replaced and while Thomas/Ingram will take on most of them, expect Cooks’ contributions in the screen game to help alleviate the burden on the running backs.
Is he a two-trick pony then? There’s nothing wrong with that – smaller receivers tend to deal their greatest damage in the extremes of the field (deep and shallow catches) whereas bigger possession receivers do most of their work within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage.
The answer though, is no. Cooks can do everything, and has proven it in college. 36% of his catches last year came between six and 20 yards; impressive, when you compare that to someone like Jordan Matthews (26%), Sammy Watkins (20%) and Mike Evans (33%). Cooks also had 26% of his catches come on screens which was less than Allen Robinson (28%) and MUCH less than Jordan Matthews (46%) and Sammy Watkins (57%).
It’s not only the variety of where he caught balls that makes me think he’ll see the field often; it’s the variety of his routes too. Excluding screens, 18% of his catches were on slants/posts/corners, 37% on in/out routes and 39% on hitches/comebacks.
All of that is useless though, unless you can catch the ball well. Here, again, he outdid his fellow collegiate wideouts, dropping only 4.7% of catchable balls. By comparison, Beckham Jr. dropped 6.5%, Matthews dropped 7.7%, Benjamin dropped 9.7% and Lee dropped 12.3%.
The Saints know all of this, and know that they have drafted a versatile weapon. “Coach Payton said I could be used in the slot and outside and possibly returning kicks,” said Cooks. Expect them to use him as they did Vaccaro on defense last year – everywhere.
Cooks is THE MAN, a Swiss Army knife of the finest kind, and I for one cannot wait to see him on the field!