Breaking Down Why the Kansas City Chiefs Should Draft WR Brandin Cooks

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Breaking Down Why the Kansas City Chiefs Should Draft WR Brandin Cooks
Tony Avelar/Associated Press|Image Edited by Brett Gering

On May 8, you'll actively count down the minutes before tuning in to the 2014 NFL draft, at which point you'll regress to a zombified recluse who's utterly oblivious to the world around him or her.

The inner Kansas City Chiefs fan will emerge from the athletic abyss known as baseball season, and names will fall from seven-round big boards like shingles off an aging roof.

Seemingly, swift seconds will turn to agonizing hours until selection No. 23 rolls around. A pundit will eventually announce, "The pick is in," while you and your sweaty-palmed self inch closer to the flat screen that's holding your retinas hostage. 

A mocked commissioner ("What?") will announce Kansas City's selection, and odds are, the choice will be a wide receiver.

By the time John Dorsey eases anticipation and phones in the pick, Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans will have already posed for their jersey-held photo op. Signing either of them is an afterthought.

If they fall, there are three (realistic) first-round receiving options who could book KCI-bound flights: Odell Beckham Jr, Brandin Cooks and Marqise Lee.  

Which first-round receiver is the best fit for Kansas City's offense?

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If his services are still available, Kansas City should set its sights on the man in the middle. 

Is the position a shoo-in at No. 23? Far from it. The Chiefs can snag a free safety, enlisting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Jimmie Ward or Calvin Pryor. They can bolster their offensive line, drafting a tackle like Joel Bitonio or grabbing a guard like Zack Martin.

Better yet, Dorsey might trade down, which, depending on the offer, may be the wisest option of the three. 

As of this writing, according to Adam Teicher's ESPN poll, 66 percent of readers believe that the Chiefs should pluck a wideout at pick No. 23, though. Head over to "NFL Mock Draft Central" at NFL.com, and it's easy to see why; seven of the eight analysts slot a first-round pass-catcher to Kansas City (three favored Beckham, while Cooks and Lee each received two votes). 

This being the case, let's look past the bite-sized "draft profiles" and take it a step further—showing instead of simply telling.

 

Strengths

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

If a man posing as Nostradamus approached me (or, as we call it in Lawrence, KS, "Friday"), I'd ask for him to prove it. If he answered with a claim that suggested, five years from now, Cooks would be deemed the best receiver of the 2014 class, I'd believe him...then decline his Matrix-like pill offering and proceed to question life itself. 

Point being, out of the upcoming crop of wideouts, it's not unfeasible to think that Cooks is the most explosive.

Let's start with this (Cooks' results stem from the 2014 combine, while DeSean Jackson's and Dexter McCluster's stem from the 2010 combine and their respective pro days—the best performances taking precedence): 

Predraft Metrics: Brandin Cooks vs. DeSean Jackson vs. Dexter McCluster
Cooks Jackson McCluster
Height: 5'10" 5'10" 5'9"
Weight: 189 lbs 169 lbs 172 lbs
Hand Size: 9.63" 8.63" 8.38"
40-Yard Dash: 4.33 seconds 4.35 seconds 4.44 seconds
Vertical: 36" 34.5" 37.5"
Broad Jump: 10' 10'2" 9'10"
3-Cone Drill: 6.76 seconds 6.82 seconds 6.73 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle: 3.81 seconds 4.19 seconds 4.06 seconds

NFL.com, NFL Draft Scout

Entering the NFL, Cooks is presumably faster, quicker and 20 pounds heavier than the three-time Pro Bowler was—not a bad resume-builder. 

On the field, he's a precise route-runner who, after the catch, utilizes his low center of gravity in Darren Sproles-like fashion. That being said, while Cooks is stronger than his frame suggests, he won't shed as many tackles as Sproles. 

He's not hesitant to cross the middle of the field, as Oregon State regularly made use of his open-field elusiveness via screens, slants, digs and in-routes. 

Also, there are two misconceptions about Cooks, claiming a) he rarely faced press coverage, and b) despite his skill set, he's a mediocre punt returner. 

It's true that the Biletnikoff winner normally squared off against off-man or zone coverage, but there's a reason for that. Utah, who stubbornly tried to blanket him by way of bump-and-run or press-bail, discovered why other teams took a less aggressive approach. 

In the following clip, Oregon State is facing a 3rd-and-1, and Cooks is isolated as a split end on the weak side of the formation. Utah deploys Cover 1, and the deep safety ultimately bites on play-action.

Keith McGill, a projected third-round corner in this year's draft (whom the Chiefs could target, nonetheless), aligns with an inside shade, which offers him leverage in preventing any interior routes. 

When the ball is snapped, McGill (correctly) keeps his shoulders squared and strafes laterally with the intent to jam Cooks at the line. However, Cooks subtly feints to the outside, which temporarily freezes the corner in his tracks. Game-set-match.

The wideout gains inside leverage and dusts McGill, easily creating two to three yards of separation along the way. 

Draft Breakdown

The next example is a masterfully designed screen that illustrates another pitfall of playing man coverage against fleet-footed receivers. 

Again, Utah crowds the line of scrimmage with nickel personnel (3-3-5). Only this time, the play falls on 1st-and-10, and Cooks lines up as the flanker, granting him a cushion. Also, the pre-snap defense is disguised to look like a Cover 2 or quarter-quarter-half variation, but it reveals to be Cover 1 again. 

Cooks' initial step is downfield, which forces McGill to abandon his squared stance and take a step backward. 

The wideout then cuts inward—laterally sprinting two yards ahead of the line of scrimmage—and leaves his feet to reel in the pass. 

What makes the concept "masterful"? The play is designed to exploit man-coverage tendencies and create running room by clearing the middle of the field. 

Draft Breakdown|Image Edited by Brett Gering

Blitzing outside linebackers are picked up by the tackles.

The in-line tight end releases to block McGill, and the strong safety is assigned to cover said tight end, which culminates in a "two birds, one stone" effect. 

Both guards chip the defensive end on their respective side of the ball prior to releasing and paving space in the open field. 

Since Utah is playing man coverage—disallowing corners to look back at the quarterback—the weak-side receivers dart up the field (notice that both release to the outside shoulder), handcuffing the attention of their two defenders and opening the sideline for Cooks, who, at this point, is bolting through the heart of the defense. 

The aforementioned receivers shield their defenders from the sideline as No. 7 kicks it into sixth gear, rounds the corner and performs a high-wire act, staying inbounds while shedding a would-be tackle.

Add six. 

Draft Breakdown

Oregon State repeated the play against California—different defense, same result. 

Draft Breakdown

Let's look at another example.

Here, Cooks is opposite of another corner, Wayne Lyons, who also totes a prototypical (6'1", 193 lbs.) NFL-caliber frame. 

Lyons, however, employs press-bail technique, backpedaling as his receiver releases from the line of scrimmage. Cooks, with his eyes downfield, runs vertically but subtly angles toward Lyons' inside shoulder, which causes the corner to open his hips as he anticipates changing direction. 

Draft Breakdown|Image Edited by Brett Gering

As soon as the cornerback's shoulders turn, Cooks swims past him and stems outward toward the sideline on a fade. The ball was overthrown—winning the Biletnikoff Award is one thing; winning the Biletnikoff Award with this brand of quarterbacking is a minor miracle—but exhibits his ability to beat another press technique. 

Draft Breakdown

Later in the game, a 205-pound corner, Alex Carter, initially jammed Cooks' inside shoulder, but the wideout freed himself with a hand slap, secured the pass, juked a linebacker and moved the chains. 

Draft Breakdown

If you're wondering why the above teams didn't prescribe more off-man coverage, they were likely hesitant because Cooks, if given a sizable plot of space, abuses secondaries. Whenever that scenario presents itself, his agility and acceleration allow him to repeatedly pepper corners—who have to respect his vertical speed—with comebacks and out routes, which are all but indefensible when the timing is in rhythm. 

As for the second misconception? Returning punts? One can easily glance at Cooks' career stats, read that he netted 72 yards on 12 attempts and brush it off as mediocrity.

If you take time to study the film, though, his paltry six-yard average doesn't derive from a lack of skill; it's due to the fact that, by the time he secured punts, he was normally suffocated by an avalanche of tacklers. Subpar blocking was the root of the head-scratching average. 

Draft Breakdown
Draft Breakdown

In the rare instances in which he was given elbow room, Cooks didn't disappoint, showing composed vision and nimble-footed agility. 

 

Concerns

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

As with every prospect, Cooks isn't exempt of flaws. And, unsurprisingly, most emanate from his size. 

Over the course of his three seasons, he participated in all 38 of Oregon State's contests, but someone of his stature will always prompt durability concerns. 

Cooks is a willing blocker, but if larger corners latch on to his pads, they're able to rag-doll him from time to time. 

Draft Breakdown

Generally speaking, he's a sure-handed receiver, though a few passes will slip from his grasp every now and again.

Also, he isn't going to out-jump a crowd of defenders for 50/50 balls. If anything, he'll create room with a soft push-off before attempting to snatch one. 

Draft Breakdown

Once in a while, he'll also fall prone to "Dante Hall syndrome," evading a mob of pursuers by trying to reverse course but ultimately losing yardage. 

 

A Cut Above

Greg Wahl-Stephens/Associated Press

Just to reiterate, when Dorsey is on the clock, the agents of Watkins and Evans will already be booking first-class flights. 

If the Chiefs ink a first-round pass-catcher, the lineup will likely include Cooks, Beckham, Lee and perhaps Cody Latimer. 

So, what separates Cooks from the pack?

The latter of the four (Latimer) is an athletic marvel who boasts a rare combination of size and speed. However, he didn't begin playing the game until his junior year of high school, and at times, it shows. His fundamentals, especially those related to his route running, still scream with rawness. 

He can become a star, but he needs a year or two of professional coaching before he can develop into a weekly playmaker. 

With the ball in his hands, Lee looks the part of a top-10 talent. He authors crisp cuts and violent jukes that snap ankles in a way that should be tried for attempted murder.

Lee regularly succumbs to injury, though, and perplexing drops plagued his 2013 season. 

While their skill sets aren't identical, overall, a case can be made that Beckham's NFL outlook is just as promising as Cooks'. He's an inch taller, nine pounds heavier and periodically headlines the leaping buzz-worthy catch. 

Meanwhile, Cooks is slightly quicker and flashes a higher grade of straight-line speed. 

The deciding factor? On tape, the taller, heavier Beckham is the one who occasionally finds himself rerouted by opposing corners. 

The LSU wideout benched just seven reps at the combine—less than half of Cooks' 16. And while technique(s) can circumvent some deficiencies and mask upper-body weakness, at the next level, physical corners will inevitably find their mark and thud opponents at the line. 

If college film is indicative of the future, that can be problematic for Beckham.

Here, you'll see him run a clean route before adding to his reception column. As he breaks, however, a backpedaling 5'11", 178-pound corner (Charles Sawyer) nearly knocks him off-balance, turning his shoulders away from the quarterback and forcing him upright. 

Draft Breakdown

In his 2013 matchup at Georgia, the issue becomes more pronounced.

On the following play, Beckham releases to the inside, but Damian Swann (coincidentally, also just 5'11", 178 pounds) secures a jam and easily redirects the wideout until the ball is airborne. 

Draft Breakdown

At the end of the day, both Beckham and Cooks are infinitely shifty home run threats who will immediately upgrade any receiving corps. 

Kansas City desperately needs a slot receiver (don't pin your hopes on Weston Dressler), and it also lacks consistent production at the No. 2 spot. Cooks and Beckham can fulfill either vacancy on any given down.

However, contrary to popular belief, the former actually notched more snaps as an outside option than his peer did. Also, Alex Smith is at his best when targeting short to intermediate routes, and Cooks excels at navigating through tight spaces over the middle.

When juxtaposed, favoring one receiver over the other is splitting fine hairs, and a scout's job is to comb through them. 

If the Chiefs select Cooks, though, he will prove to be what McCluster was thought to be. Only this time around, local expectations won't be dampened, they'll be exceeded.

 

Combine results provided by NFL.com and NFL Draft Scout. College statistics provided by Sports-Reference.com.

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