10 New Orleans Saints who must make an impact in 2015: No.1, Brandin Cooks


We’ve reached the end of our countdown, and thankfully right as training camp begins, and so it is time to find out who I believe is going to be the player who MUST have an impact in 2015 more than any other. Obviously the team goes as Drew Brees does, but outside of No. 9 there is simply no player on this team whose impact in a positive manor is more of a requirement than my fellow Oregon State graduate. I probably would have had this player at 3 or 4 at the end of last season, however, after the way the offseason has unfolded, I believe he is the one player who will determine if this team is able to be a contender this year.

Some of you may be hoping that the Beaver I am referring to is Keenan Lewis, and I’m sorry to disappoint you. I promise to do some coverage on Keenan and my expectations/ hopes for him, but in this case there is only one player who I want to talk about.


I am not even going to try to pretend that I am in anyway unbiased when it comes to this player. I was one of the first people saying that the New Orleans Saints should draft him (in large part because I went to the same school and saw him live), I actually projected him to the Saints in my draft profiles on SaintsNation, and to be honest he is just such a good young man it’s hard not to like him. I root for the New Orleans Saints first and foremost, but I am a fan  of Brandin Cooks as both a person and player. The question is does that invalidate him from this position on my ranking of players we need to make an impact? Not even close.

I could spend a lot of time getting into Cooks’ background and his makeup as a person, but frankly Grantland did a tremendous job of that for me and if you haven’t read it yet you really should check it out here. There is no question that Brandin is among the best ‘character guys’ on the roster and reports of his dedication and maturity haven’t been exaggerated. He not only wants to be great, but is more than willing to put in the effort necessary to do so.

Case and point he spend a large part of this last summer in San Diego with Drew Brees working on timing and all of the nuance that takes a player from a potential star to a real one. Brees, Payton, and many of his other teammates have lauded his abilities and work ethic with enough passion and consistency that questioning it at this point is a little ridiculous.

I had the good fortune of getting to see his evolution as a player at Oregon State and I can tell you that one of the biggest leaps I have ever seen a player have was what he did going from the number 2 guy (behind Pittsburgh Steelers WR Markus Wheaton) in his Sophomore season, to the top guy in his junior season. That is a much more difficult transition than many understand and Brandin didn’t just live up to expectations…he shattered them.

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Cooks won the Belitnikoff Award for College Football’s best wide receiver in 2013 by posting Pac-12 records of 128 receptions for 1,730 yards and a school record 16 touchdowns. That alone is impressive, but when you realize that he was frequently double and triple teamed by the opposition it demonstrates his ability to be the guy. That is something that really can’t be taught and is something the Saints are really going to need out of their second year player if they want to make a run at the end of the year.

One of the most translatable skills he had in college was the ability to ‘intercept’ the ball. Now normally an interception can only be caused by the defense, but when the quarterback throws it right at the defender as was too often the case, Cooks demonstrated an ability to go up and fight for the ball snagging victory from the jaws of defeat. It’s that tenacity and trust in his abilities that will serve him well going forward.

Now I know up to this point I have been doing a lot of talking about what he did in college, and as a second year player that becomes a lot less like reference material and more a fond remembrance. However, what I am trying to do is frame what I believe is going to be his trajectory, the same one he followed while in college. Cooks was a solid number 2 receiver with a knack for making plays in his Sophomore year, however it wasn’t until Wheaton left and he was forced to step up and become the guy that his other worldly talents truly began to blossom.

I personally believe that some of that had to do with maturing both technically and physically in Mike Riley’s pro-style offense. However, Brandin Cooks is also a humble guy who isn’t really known for having a braggadocios personality. I personally believe that in both his Rookie season in New Orleans and his Sophomore season at Oregon State he either wasn’t able (due to role), or willing to fully assert himself and demand that the offense go through him. That just doesn’t seem to be his makeup, he is a team first guy.

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  • The good news is that generally when the pressure is placed on him and he is asked to deliver and become the focul point of the offense he has. The combination of work ethic and phsycial tools is part of what makes him such a potentially great star. That’s good for us because it just so happens that the Saints are now in need of a star player.

    The Sean Payton offense has always had certain ‘roles’ or duties that need to be filled in order to function best. Now the idea of a ‘field stretcher’ is certainly something we have heard about before, and no team would so no to such a player. But the real key to the offense is having players who allow Payton to dictate matchups and create situations where either the opponent commits wholeheartedly to stopping one or two players, or try to stop everyone at once. It’s really an offense that is an endless supply of ‘catch 22’ scenarios. The problem is that ain’t nobody out there who will be catching number 10.

    Brandin Cooks isn’t just your run of the mill speed demon who can run in a straight line on a track and put up a good number. There have been lots of those guys. The one trait of his that actually makes him truly special in my opinion ISN’T his 40 time, its what he did in the shuttle drills at the combine that truly stands out. Brandin ran the fastest 60 yard shuttle(10.72) and 20 yard shuttle in combine history(3.81). The reason that is so relevant is that it shows his ability to change direction, and not only not lose speed…but actually accelerate through his breaks.

    It is that ability more than any other that makes him so dangerous. Sure he can absolutely blow right by a defender, just watch the Green Bay Packers game from last year if you don’t believe me. But how many of the guys with truly elite deep threat speed are also able to get in and out of breaks, run virtually every route,  and do so without losing any speed? It’s a short list to say the least. Cooks has at least as good of short area quickness as Darren Sproles did, and going into his second year with the confidence in himself that he seems to have cultivated I honestly pity defensive coordinators….just a little though.

    Of course as is often the case with players who put up such tremendous numbers in the ‘underwear Olympics’ (combine) it’s necessary to check the game film to see if those numbers actually translate onto a football field. Here’s the short version: they do. Take a look at a short highlight video of his and imagine what that will look like with C.J. Spiller drawing attention and Drew Brees throwing him the ball.

    Pretty good right? Of course it is, that’s why we traded up to get him. Brandin Cooks is not only a rare person, but a rare football talent. That is exactly why he is at the top of my list for players who MUST make an impact this year. Cooks has the ability to open up the offense for the rest of his teammates while ALSO dominating his matchups (really it will be accomplished by him dominating those matchups). Cooks has the ability to both thrive off the attention that will be afforded to C.J. Spiller (number 2 on this list), while also diverting that attention through exploiting it, and redirecting it back upon himself. In other words the two of them together can become an almost unstoppable duo because there are only so many defenders you can dedicate to stopping any one player.

    But, in order for that to happen, Brandin has to step up in his sophomore year in the NFL just like he did his junior year in college and become the guy. If he is able to not only produce, but force teams to be aware of his presence at all times it will make this offense truly dynamic.

    The thing is he has all of the physical tools; if he was 6-foot-1 instead of 5’10” he would have gone in the top ten picks without question, but with his tenacity, agility, body control, and leaping ability/hands, that really isn’t a limitation for him. Add on to it the fact that his most dangerous ability is how he can change direction and accelerate and you have someone who is almost impossible to bottle up. Cooks is ready and willing route runner who is best used to attack all levels of the field. It’s that very versatility that made him uncoverable in college, and should continue in the pro’s.

    It will have to — C.J. Spiller is an incredible player and fits right into the ‘Joker’ role within Payton’s deck of cards. However, in my opinion, there is simply no way this offense will achieve anything close to its maximum potential unless Brandin Cooks steps up and becomes the player I know he can be. And on the flip side, if he does take it to that other level again, I’m not sure there will be anyone who can stop the Saints’ offense.

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