Kansas City Chiefs Draft Countdown: Making the Case for Brandin Cooks

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Wide receiver Brandin Cooks #7 of the Oregon State Beavers carries the ball to one on a 46 yard pass play in the fourth quarter against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on September 22, 2012 in Pasadena, California.  Oregon State won 27-20.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Brandin Cooks offers the versatility, move skills and talent after the catch the Kansas City Chiefs need in their passing game. He is close to the perfect fit for the team that owns the 23rd overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

The Chiefs taking a wide receiver in Round 1 is a common theme among draft pundits, according to Kansas City Star reporter Terez A. Paylor. Both CBS Sports writer Rob Rang and NFL.com Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah believe Cooks will be the wideout coveted by head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey.

Jeremiah helps make the case for the ex-Oregon State sensation in one succinct line: "Andy Reid's offense is at its best when he has a vertical threat in the passing game."

His point is well taken considering how much trouble the Chiefs had stretching the field in 2013. The Kansas City passing game ranked 24th in the league, per stats from NFL.com.

Reid's air attack managed only seven completions for 40 yards or more. That put the Chiefs in a six-way tie with teams like the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Buccaneers, just above the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets.

That is not the kind of company any head coach should want his passing game to keep.

It's no surprise the Chiefs struggled to muster a credible vertical threat. Quarterback Alex Smith averaged just 6.5 yards per completion.

That was the same as Matt Schaub, who was benched for the 2-14 Houston Texans. It was less than failed Oakland Raiders starter Terrelle Pryor and struggling young Miami Dolphins passer Ryan Tannehill.

Critics of Smith would argue this is simply what a team can expect to get from the cautious former first overall pick in 2005. But the real problem isn't with Smith, it's with a limited group of receivers.

Smith has shown he can get the ball downfield when he has the right target to aim for. Last season that target was Donnie Avery, who averaged 14.9 yards per reception and hauled in a 79-yard touchdown pass from Smith in the postseason.

But aside from Avery, the Chiefs lack a dynamic field-stretcher. Dwayne Bowe is a solid, possession receiver, while Dexter McCluster was most effective from the slot.

Cooks can be the outside burner this offense desperately needs. Bleacher Report columnist Matt Miller is another draft pundit who sees Cooks making the trip to Kansas City.

Miller highlights how Cooks will remind Reid of one of his former players from his days in charge of the Philadelphia Eagles:

The 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner, Brandin Cooks absolutely abused Pac-12 defenses with his speed, open-field vision and playmaking ability. That's what Andy Reid hopes he'll bring to the NFL. If so, Cooks can step into the Kansas City offense and fill a DeSean Jackson-like role.

It's an apt comparison and one that should ease any concerns about Cooks' relatively modest 5'10", 189-pound frame. Standing just 5'10" and weighing a mere 175 pounds has never stopped Jackson from winning on the outside, or getting behind deep coverage.

Cooks compares to one of Andy Reid's former versatile speedsters, DeSean Jackson.
Cooks compares to one of Andy Reid's former versatile speedsters, DeSean Jackson.Rich Schultz

A perceived lack of size won't prevent Cooks doing the same. He averaged 13.52 yards per catch in 2013, per cfbstats.com. He has the raw, straight-line speed to attack vertical routes, evidenced by the 4.33 40-yard dash time he posted at the Combine.

But Cooks' value in Reid's offense won't be limited strictly to his ability to go long. In fact, his talent for accumulating yards after the catch will be his best attribute.

Reid and coordinator Doug Pederson have crafted a playbook crammed with plays designed to maximize yards after the catch. The duo have established a niche varying slants and screens to get receivers free over the middle.

A play from the team's painful, 44-45 Wild Card Playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts superbly combined elements of both concepts.

The Chiefs split four receivers to one side, while A.J. Jenkins was isolated on the other. Jenkins was the primary target on a short and shallow slant.

The Chiefs prepare a middle screen.
The Chiefs prepare a middle screen.NBC Sports and NFL.com Game Pass.

The four receivers away from the play cleared a path in the middle by blocking intermediate coverage defenders. That allowed Jenkins to use his speed in the open field.

Screen-style blocking frees a receiver on a shallow slant pattern.
Screen-style blocking frees a receiver on a shallow slant pattern.NBC Sports and NFL.com Game Pass.

The final angle shows how he was untouched across the middle, and able to outsprint his pursuit. Jenkins completed a 27-yard gain.

With a path a cleared, speed after the catch produces a big gain.
With a path a cleared, speed after the catch produces a big gain.NBC Sports and NFL.com Game Pass.

These crafty designs require playmakers with the speed and moves to turn short passes into big gains. That is Cooks' speciality, as CBS Sports pundit Dane Brugler vividly describes:

Special athlete with explosive feet and natural burst - springs in his legs. Fluid body control with excellent start/stop moves, open-field vision and patient hesitation to elude defenders - joystick moves with loose hips and joints. Beautiful acceleration with speed to burn - electric after the catch.

Those skills can be unleashed from anywhere on an offensive formation, refuting the idea the pint-sized dynamo is merely suited to a role in the slot.

Instead, Cooks is a true roving weapon. He is a "Joker-style" receiver who would help the Chiefs absorb the loss of Dexter McCluster, who joined the Tennessee Titans in free agency.

Cooks would help soften the blow of losing Dexter McCluster.
Cooks would help soften the blow of losing Dexter McCluster.Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

McCluster was the "move" target Reid deployed in a variety of ways. He made possible the concepts "spread game analyst" Brad Childress was hired to put in place.

Cooks will add similar skills. As a bonus, he might even assume McCluster's return duties.

ESPN writer Adam Teicher believes the Chiefs will target a return man in this draft, although NFL.com draft scribe Nolan Nawrocki maintains Cooks is "not an impactful punt returner."

That's okay, because Cooks' real value in Kansas City will be in the passing game. He can be a Jackson-McCluster dual threat.

Essentially, the Chiefs will be getting two players for the price of one. There is no stronger case for taking Cooks with the draft's 23rd pick.

All screen shots courtesy of NBC Sports and NFL.com Game Pass.

All statistics via NFL.com.