The New Orleans Saints selected Oregon State wide receiver/running back/returner Brandin Cooks No. 20 overall. The Saints began the night slated to pick at No. 27 but executed a trade with the Arizona Cardinals, which included the Saints’ third-round pick (No. 91 overall).
The 5’10”, 189-pound receiver projects in the NFL as a “flex back”—a position the Saints offense has always possessed under head coach Sean Payton. Cooks’ experience in carrying the ball at Oregon State was mostly limited to a series of “fly sweep” actions—something Oregon State has long used under head coach Mike Reilly.
On such plays, Cooks showed great instincts and elusiveness to get to the second level of the defense. As it translates to the Saints offense, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Saints line Cooks up in the backfield on occasion and toss the ball to him, hoping he can gain the edge much the way they did with Darren Sproles over the past three seasons.
In truth, Cooks is almost a mirror image of Sproles. When watching film of him earlier this year, I instantly thought I was watching Darren Sproles 2.0. It sounds elementary, but even the way Cooks moves is eerily reminiscent to Sproles.
Like Sproles, he is electric when he catches the short passes in the flats. He can start and stop on a dime and make defenders miss in space. He promises to line up in the slot quite often, much the way Sproles did.
He’ll use his quickness and superior route running to get open on those short and intermediate routes. Unlike Sproles, Cooks figures to be a guy who can get open deep and make plays down the field. He did so often at Oregon State.
In that sense, he’s a little more like Reggie Bush.
Payton praised Cooks Thursday night for his toughness and smarts:
"I like his makeup with regards to mental toughness…his interview was fantastic". More from payton on Cooks— Kristian Garic (@KristianGaric1) May 9, 2014
In short, Cooks pretty much replaces the departed Sproles in the offense. While he probably won’t line up in the backfield nearly as often as Sproles did, he brings similar ability. He certainly has the body and skill set to do so, if asked.
Payton clearly loves the kid:
“He’s a play-maker…a tough player--physically and mentally; he’s consistent; durable, runs well" Payton described Cooks #Saints— Kristian Garic (@KristianGaric1) May 9, 2014
He added this about the fit with Cooks and the Saints:
"We just saw this guy as a real good fit. It’s nice when you’re able to grade, scout, get real strong convictions about guys. " Payton...— Kristian Garic (@KristianGaric1) May 9, 2014
Cooks is also expected to challenge for a spot as a returner—something he did often at Oregon State. Though not the best return man in this draft, he made a number of exciting plays in that realm as a collegian.
Of course, that is an area where the Saints have struggled the past two years. Some of that may have been due to Sproles losing some juice and explosiveness. Some of it, however, was the result of poor scheme and blocking.
Cooks will not fix that issue all on his own. But he does have the jukes, jives and burst to get out of tackles and run by oncoming tacklers.
Not that it matters a ton—any and every prospect is going to be happy to be drafted—but Cooks sounded excited when reached Thursday night after his being selected by the Saints.
Cooks also revealed that he hadn’t spoken to the Saints since the NFL combine but had a feeling he was headed to New Orleans when the Saints made the trade up to pick No. 20.
The diminutive flex back adds a dimension to the offense that was only questionably filled by Travaris Cadet prior to this move. Cooks is more explosive than Cadet and also more reliable.
He offers greater flexibility overall.
I had the Saints taking a similar kind of player later in the draft—in the person of De’Anthony Thomas, a college rival of Cooks. Cooks and Thomas are not that much different, but Cooks promises to be more durable.
He fits the Saints in so many ways. He won’t have to play within the offense immediately but is ready to play if needed. That’s what a playoff team is hoping to gain with its first-round pick.
All in all, Thursday was a good night for the Saints. They gave up a third-round pick but could easily trade back into that round if they so choose.
And they got “their guy” in Cooks.