Why Brandin Cooks Is the NFL's Next Impact Slot Receiver

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Why Brandin Cooks Is the NFL's Next Impact Slot Receiver
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Former Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks has the speed, acceleration and lateral quickness offensive play-callers want inside of the numbers at the wide receiver position.

But in a league that is trending toward size and length in the passing game, how will Cooks’ talent transition to the pro level?

After watching tape of the 5’10”, 189-pound Biletnikoff Award winner, I see a dynamic playmaker that has the ability to produce in the NFL.

 

Combine Numbers Mesh with the Tape

Cooks generated some serious buzz back in February at the NFL Scouting Combine because of the numbers he posted during his testing on the field.

I’m talking about the top-end, vertical speed in the 40-yard dash, the change-of-direction ability in the short shuttle (5-10-5) plus the lateral quickness/acceleration displayed in the three-cone drill.

Take a look at Cooks’ numbers from Indianapolis…  

40-yard dash: 4.33 seconds

Short Shuttle: 3.81 seconds

Three-Cone: 6.76 seconds

The 40 time is always going to create the most discussion coming out of the combine. And while any sub-4.4 time is impressive inside Lucas Oil Stadium given the pressure on these prospects, I was more focused on Cooks’ times in the change-of-direction drills.

The 3.81 time in the short shuttle is excellent and the 6.76 time in the three-cone drill (best judge of functional football speed) shows us that Cooks has the ability to sink his hips, burst out of cuts and finish with speed.

However, when looking at any prospect in this year’s draft class, do the numbers mesh with what we see on the tape?

With Cooks, there is no question about that.

The receiver’s top-end speed shows up along with that ability to change directions and work laterally in the open filed. That allows Cooks to create room at the top of the route stem and separate from defenders after the catch.

 

“Two-Way-Go” In the Slot

When watching Cooks, I see a very similar skill set to my former teammate with the Rams, Az Hakim, when focusing on his ability to win on the release from a slot alignment.

L.G. PATTERSON

Hakim had a unique ability to take advantage (or expose) nickel cornerbacks inside of the numbers because of the “two-way-go” (release inside or outside).

Different than an alignment outside of the numbers (where defensive backs can pin the receiver to the boundary), the slot alignment gives receivers the opportunity on the release—and within the route stem—to use the extra space to create separation.

As I broke down this past Friday when looking at the NFL route tree, Cooks has the ability to run multiple concepts from the slot because of the quickness at the line of scrimmage to get on the edge of defensive backs in press-man.

Here’s a look at the route schemes Cooks will run in the NFL using the All-22 film with the Bears in a Doubles alignment (2x2 formation) out of Posse/11 personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB).

NFL Game Rewind

Check out the option route, inside vertical seam, shallow drive route (part of the Hi-Lo) series, etc. And don’t forget about the bubble screen where Cooks can produce after the catch because of the open-field ability he put on tape back at Oregon State.

But it all starts with the opportunity to work a defensive back with a “two-way-go” on the release.

 

Body Control at the Point of Attack

As I mentioned above, size and length are trending right now at the wide receiver position because NFL offenses want to create matchups at the point of attack, run inside breaking concepts (dig, curl, slant, etc.) and get production in the red zone on the fade/slant combo, 7 (corner) and seam.

Look at some of the first and second-round prospects in the 2014 draft class such as Sammy Watkins (6’1”, 211), Mike Evans (6’5”, 231), Marqise Lee (6’0”, 192) Kelvin Benjamin (6’5”, 240) and Allen Robinson (6’2”, 220).

Plus, we have to look at the young, established talent at the position in the NFL with Alshon Jeffery and Josh Gordon. They produced top-tier numbers in 2013 because they were able to win by creating leverage/positioning versus defensive backs in both the short-to-intermediate passing game and the vertical throws over the top.

We know Cooks doesn’t have the ideal size NFL teams are looking for at the position, but after watching his tape, he does show the ability to win down the field in the vertical passing game on contested throws.

Greg Wahl-Stephens

I think Cooks has exceptional body control and he will adjust to the ball in the air to put himself in a position to make the play.

Plus, he can secure the catch and bring the ball down in traffic.

The question that remains, however, is his ability to align outside of the numbers. Can he beat press in a plus-three split (three yards on top of the numbers) to run the 9 (fade) route or use a hard, inside stem to work to the dig, post, etc. versus pro talent?

Cooks didn’t see a ton of press looks at Oregon State, but even if he did, the majority of college defensive backs play with suspect technique when they are asked to jam, slide (or mirror) and transition (open hips and run). 

That will change in the NFL versus veterans that are schooled in using the proper technique from a press position.

As with every rookie wide receiver, this part of the transition process takes time in terms of development. And it is something to keep an eye on with Cooks when he is asked to play outside of the numbers this season in the NFL.

 

Matchups/Formation Flexibility

When I study wide receiver prospects, I focus on possible fits from a scheme perspective at the NFL level.

With Cooks, I’m thinking of the multiple alignments inside of the numbers (along with the stack/bunch looks) that we saw from DeSean Jackson this past season with the Eagles or the West Coast concepts of Andy Reid's Chiefs.  

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Give Cooks a free release to create space off the ball. That’s where he can use that natural ability to change directions, accelerate out of cuts and get his hands on the football in the open field.

And that might be the real story here with the Oregon State product. 

Similar to what I expect from the Rams and Tavon Austin this season as the second-year pro continues to develop, Cooks’ production after the catch is key. This is how he can earn his money in the NFL and create matchup issues for opposing secondaries.

I do believe Cooks carries a first-round grade after watching his tape. And despite his lack of ideal size at the position to create leverage (or box-out defenders), his ability to win with speed and make plays after the catch can’t be ignored.

 

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. 

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