Beginning now, and every single week until the end of the Saints’ 2014 Season (hopefully on February 1st; in the town of Glendale in suburban Phoenix, Arizona — site of Super Bowl XLIX); I will be choosing the Saints player whom I feel has the chance to make the biggest impact or influence on the outcome of that week’s game; that most people may not be giving enough attention to — my “X -Factor”. So as the Saints travel to Atlanta this Sunday to face the Falcons in the season opener of what Saints fans are hoping will be a championship-winning year; here is my X-Factor pick for Week 1: Saints rookie WR Brandin Cooks.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again unequivocally right here: the NFL isn’t ready for one of the League’s fastest, brightest, and young players (he’s only 20 years old) in Brandin Cooks. To even say that the young man is dynamic is stating it rather mildly. Surely the Atlanta Falcons aren’t ready for Cooks (though they most definitely will try to be), and likely with 2nd year CB Desmond Trufant lined up on him one-on-one in certain coverages, I look for Brandin Cooks to make a huge impact at some point during the course of this contest.
Mark Ingram, Jimmy Graham, and Brandin Cooks are about to have a hay day Sunday against the Falcons. #WhoDat
— ashley (@ashl0vely) September 3, 2014
— ashley (@ashl0vely) September 3, 2014
As I mentioned in my last article on Cooks a few weeks ago, he has played the “X”, “Y”, “Z” and slot positions (essentially every WR position in an offensive scheme that there is) for the Saints in the pre-season games that he played in. When you consider that Cooks is still only a rookie, it’s certainly a very impressive thing to behold. While some players take several years to develop (like a Nick Toon), Cooks has both the acumen and the God-given physical gifts to make an impact almost IMMEDIATELY. The last WR to have that type of an impact right away like this was from my recollection a guy by the name of Jerry Rice – the Hall of Famer and maybe the greatest NFL WR of all-time.
Make no mistake about it. The term “speed kills” is very accurate in that in today’s game, it usually lends itself to being one of if not the main reason that a team finds itself in the win column on Sunday night. The NFL at the moment is loaded with guys with the incredible quickness to simply take a ‘dump off’/ screen pass from the QB and “take it to the house”. If only the game were that easy. No, the key to success as a young receiver in the NFL is the little things. However, a majority of those very same players don’t UNDERSTAND route running — or how to find space against a defense and attack certain schemes or coverages.
From all indications within the Saints organization and from informed observers and analysts of both the team and the sport as a whole, Cooks is certainly an exception to that rule. Cooks rarely rounds off routes, which under normal circumstances would cause a DB to “undercut” coverage against the WR. He also is able to find space in the defense and sit, showing that he has the feel for exactly where to be at that precise moment, and how long to wait in that spot. It’s that type of knowledge of the game that I personally think makes Cooks even more dangerous than what’s he already considered to be just because of his exceptional physical talent.
Brandin Cooks is the real deal. Crazy speed & athleticism, great football IQ, super-competitive, huge upside. I’m in.
— Joshua Papernick (@jopapes) September 2, 2014
That takes us of course to this Sunday, where an already-weakened secondary that had trouble stopping Jimmy Graham last year, is in for a double-dose of trouble when faced with the prospect of having to cover both Graham and Cooks. The rookie WR gives them yet another mismatch to exploit against a Falcons defense that has lost several key component through either injury or free-agency, including LB Sean Weatherspoon and former CB Asante Samuel. Their only holdover in the defensive backfield besides the two young CB’s is strong safety William Moore — who got OWNED last year by Graham.
Moore has actually been an integral part now of the Falcons’ defensive backfield since 2010, which coincides with the exact same time that Jimmy Graham arrived in New Orleans. Since then, Graham has played head-to-head against the Falcons eight times — catching 35 passes for 500 yards and seven touchdowns. Those are numbers that obviously LEAP off the page; and facing off against the veteran Moore (who isn’t exactly “fundamentally sound” at times) is the reason why JG has managed to put them up.
Last year, he embarrassed Moore first with an outstanding display of route-running; then made the catch and outran him down the sideline while outmuscling him and nearly carrying (literally) Moore on his back on the way into the end zone – in what was one of the “highlight reel” plays of all of 2013. So why is that significant with regard to Cooks? No doubt the Falcons and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will try to give Graham some extra added attention; hoping to make the other Saints’ WR’s (Colston, Meachem, Morgan) beat them. Nolan loves to play the nickel and likely will devote a lot of that coverage (either 3-3-5 or 2-4-5 alignments) to lessen Graham’s impact.
I believe it means that it opens up more opportunities for the Saints to get Cooks out into open space, either on designed screens or testing the Falcons’ safeties or nickel backs (particularly CB Robert McClain) with a deep route down the middle — where Cooks is sure to blow past anyone that Atlanta can put on him.There’s also the possibility that at times Cooks could be lined up in one-on-one coverage against Trufant, who despite his unquestionable talent, absolutely no way in my opinion will be able to hang with the ridiculous speed that Cooks has. As I said earlier, no one is READY for Cooks’ speed and quickness. He’s gone before you even have a chance to realize what it was that blew right past you.
— saarlis (@saarlis) September 1, 2014
— FantasyFootballLive (@FFLonNBCSN) September 2, 2014
Drew Brees has to be salivating at the prospect of options that Cooks will give him in this game, and I would expect that he and head coach Sean Payton will look to take full advantage of that opportunity. I predict that Brees will easily throw for nearly 400 yards in this game; with Cooks if nothing else making a few grabs that will help lead possessions to become points on the scoreboard, with the possibility of a long TD strike thrown in for good measure. I’d even feel comfortable with starting Cooks on my Fantasy Football team this week, if I owned him. I fully expect this to be another wild and crazy season opener similar to some of the classic ones over the years (including last year when it came down to the game’s FINAL PLAY), and you can rest assured that an “X-Factor” will be rookie WR Brandin Cooks.