Oct 5, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) in the third quarter of their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
When the New Orleans Saints traded up the board in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft to select Brandin Cooks, not only were Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis looking to add a spark to an already explosive offense, but the former Oregon State wideout was also called upon to stimulate a struggling return game on special teams.
Halfway through his rookie season, Cooks has reeled in 43 of 54 targets for 410 yards and two touchdowns, adding six more rushes for 68 yards and a score. The 2013 Consensus All-American and Biletnikoff Award (nation’s top WR) recipient has certainly proven to be a vital part of the Saints’ offense in just eight games — he’s second on the team in receptions, second in receiving yards and third in receiving touchdowns.
However, when it comes to special teams, returning punts to be exact, Cooks has been a non-factor. He has eight punt returns on the season totaling 27 yards. Two of those went for negative yards while another went for zero. With an average of only 3.3 yards per return, it’s time for the first-year wideout to turn things up.
Granted, until a couple of weeks ago, New Orleans’ defense was nonexistent, making punt returns a rare occasion for Greg McMahon‘s special teams unit. Cooks unquestionably possesses the talent to break loose in the open field, so maybe with a little more opportunity, he can get it going.
With a 4.33 40-yard dash time, his undeniable speed topped the list of receivers in his draft class. He’s light on his feet with outstanding balance, and shows excellent elusiveness and vision after the catch as a receiver. His quick feet, versatility and superb change of direction will serve him well in the NFL for a long time. As an open-field threat, he’s got exactly what it takes, so it’s about time for him to prove that in the return game.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Black and Gold seem to have found a franchise athlete, and I believe that to be true. If the defense can continue playing well throughout the remainder of the season by forcing three-and-outs and preventing opposing offenses from entering field-goal range, more and more opportunities will surface for young Cooks on special teams.
It’s crucial that QB Drew Brees is given good field position, and that starts with a favorable kick or punt return. With the seasoned defenses of the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens next up on the schedule, that starting field position will be critical. I know Brandin Cooks is certainly capable of assisting in that aspect of the game.