Brandin Cooks Displays Tavon Austin-Like Talent at a Much Safer Draft Position

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Brandin Cooks Displays Tavon Austin-Like Talent at a Much Safer Draft Position
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

NFL teams that loved West Virginia's Tavon Austin last year should be infatuated with Oregon State's Brandin Cooks. 

The St. Louis Rams traded with the Buffalo Bills to move from No. 16 to No. 8 overall to snag Austin, the nimble, yards-after-the-catch dynamo, who was the first wide receiver off the board in the 2013 draft.

What's so enticing about Cooks is, although he's easily comparable to Austin, a team almost assuredly won't have to spend an early first-round pick to select him.

Cooks led Division I with 1,730 yards this season, but there's not nearly as much buzz surrounding him as there was for Austin a year ago. 

Here's a look at Cooks' stunning combine performance: 

Brandin Cooks' 2014 Combine Performance
Height Weight Hand 40 Bench 10-yd Split Vertical Broad 20-yd Shuttle 60-yd Shuttle
Brandin Cooks 5'9 6/10" 189 9 5/8" 4.33 16 1.50 36" 10' 3.81 10.72

Official Results

Cooks' 4.33 seconds was the fastest time of all the wide receivers and the second fastest of all the combine participants. 

While his vertical and broad jump figures weren't anywhere near the top at his position, no one inside Lucas Oil Stadium finished with better times in the 20- and 60-yard shuttle drills. 

For perspective, a year ago, Austin ran an official 4.34 40-yard dash, repped 225 pounds 14 times on the bench press, had a 32-inch vertical jump and a 10' broad jump. He only ran the 20-yard shuttle and did so in 4.01 seconds.

 

The Tale Of The Tape

Based on the film, Cooks was used at Oregon State similarly to the way Austin was used at West Virginia. 

Austin caught a variety of screens, short drag routes and slants, but he was also given the ball on "jet sweeps"—a handoff as a player motions across the formation—and saw plenty of touches from the traditional running back formation. 

Cooks was utilized on jet sweeps, too.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Like Austin, many of his targets and subsequent receptions came on plays in which he took a few steps forward to bait the corner covering him then dipped back and inside toward the quarterback.

But from that utilization similarity comes a difference in frequency. 

Austin ran the ball 72 times in 2012, while Cooks received 32 handoffs in 2013. 

Per SecondRoundStats.com, a robust 33.93 percent of Austin's receptions came on plays classified as "screens" in his final season with the Mountaineers. 

According to Rotoworld's Greg Peshek—who created SecondRoundStats.com and posted the Austin article—26.23 percent of Cooks' grabs this year were made on screens.

Just 21.43 of Austin's catches came at least 11 yards down the field, while 29.5 percent of Cooks' catches were made 11 yards down the field or further. 

The disparity may have been due to a slight contrast in offensive scheme. But it also indicates that Austin was more of a dynamic, yards-after-the-catch runner, and Cooks proved to be a more polished, well-rounded receiver whom his coaches believed could handle a wider variety of traditional wideout responsibilities. 

While Cooks is very much like Austin in terms of size, acceleration and straight-line speed, the Oregon State pass-catcher wasn't nearly as productive after catching the football, oftentimes running horizontally in hopes of hitting the big play and ultimately being tackled without much forward progress. 

In Peshek's article, he points out that Cooks averaged only 5.24 yards after the catch in 2013, a rather low number for a wideout with his skill set. 

Comparatively, Austin's yards-after-the-catch average was a ridiculous 7.3. 

Peshek did write the following about Cooks' surprisingly low YAC figure, however: 

Comebacks nearly always yield 2.5 yards after the catch regardless of receiver while posts/corners/slants bring the highest YAC. 39% of Cooks’ routes were comebacks while only 18% were high YAC yield routes. It seems that the number one WR in the Oregon State offense is destined to get low YAC due to play design.

Despite consistently scintillating scampers in the open field at the collegiate level, Austin wasn't able to efficiently produce at the NFL level in his rookie year. 

Though the St. Louis Rams coaching staff didn't necessarily use him in a West Virginia-esque way, the No. 8 overall selection totaled only 40 catches for 418 yards with four receiving touchdowns. 

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Then again, that doesn't mean Austin can't improve in his second professional campaign and beyond. 

Was Austin's lack of "refinement" or unfamiliarity running a wide range of routes detrimental to his success in 2013? 

Potentially. 

Cooks might not have the vision or spatial awareness of Austin, but his size, speed and quick-twitch athleticism can easily be likened to him, and he seems to be "futher along" than Austin was in terms of important wide receiver nuances and route-tree experience. 

The best part about Cooks'—a team won't have to use an early first-round selection on him. The NFL draft is all about finding value, and Brandin Cooks would represent pretty good value at the top of Round 2. 

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