When the New Orleans Saints made a deal with the Arizona Cardinals for the 20th overall pick at the 2014 NFL Draft, it was crystal clear what player the franchise intended to grab, and the sense of urgency to move up seven spots to make the selection was palpable. That player turned out to be none other than Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks, and with teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers lurking ahead of them in the draft pecking order, New Orleans felt plenty of justification to leap up to 20 and get their man.
The Saints were always thought to be exceptionally high on Cooks, who led all top flight NCAA receivers with 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns last season in Corvallis. With blazing speed(4.33 forty-yard dash), top-end agility, immense playmaking ability after the catch and versatility that every team craves, Cooks found himself poised to fall into the lap of a team in need of a dynamic threat at the receiver position. The Saints certainly had a need, following the departure of Lance Moore and the general feeling that it was time to add a fresh weapon to Drew Brees's arsenal. Brandin Cooks catches a ball at minicamp.
Moore, who caught 37 passes for 452 yards and 2 touchdowns last season, was not the only notable skill player to depart the Crescent City, as the team traded Darren Sproles to the Eagles for a 2014 5th round draft pick in March. Sproles, who accrued over 1,200 all-purpose yards in 2013 and caught at least 70 balls in each of the last three seasons, left a rather large hole to fill in Sean Payton's offense. While the former Charger struggled with nagging injuries over the past two years and saw his impact as a runner taper off some, he still played the crucial role of the "satellite" threat within the Saints' potent attack.
Reggie Bush made that role his own from 2006-2010, helping the Saints reach the playoffs three times and win a Super Bowl along the way. Following Bush's trade to the Miami Dolphins after the lockout in 2011, Sproles was brought in to reunite with his former San Diego Quarterback, Brees, and made a seamless transition into New Orleans's new scatback extraordinaire. Both Bush and Sproles were used as offensive jokers, lined up in the backfield, in the slot, out wide, sent in motion every which way and often set up to receive the ball in space, where they excelled best. The Saints, one of the better executors of the screen game in today's NFL, need someone who can play that part, and Cooks's skill set seems to fit the bill.
Not only can he help fill the shoes of Moore, who had over 1,000 yards in 2012, but Cooks can additionally serve as a potential plug-and-play option for Sproles in a satellite-type role. Per Pro Football Focus, Sproles lined up out wide or in the slot just over 39% of his 2013 snaps. Oregon State got the ball to Cooks in a variety of ways, and Sean Payton will surely have similar plans for the former Beaver, who only turns 21 in September.
As they did with Bush in 2006, the Saints will be unlikely to balk at giving Cooks as much volume as he can handle. Already possessing the traits of a natural receiver, Cooks can bring added value as a player the team can build unique packages around, looking to motion him around out of various positions and into favorable matchups. With Kenny Stills also set to emerge in Moore's stead, Cooks figures to see plenty of looks come his way should be prove capable of handling such a workload over the next 3 months. Travaris Cadet is another player the Saints like as a Sproles-esque option, but Cooks's versatility and explosive nature will certainly be taken advantage of in New Orleans to the utmost degree.
Quick dump-offs into the flats, slant patterns over the middle, bubble screens, deep posts, fly routes, double moves and double reverses. The Walter White residing in Sean Payton's elite offensive mind is surely concocting a litany of creative ways to use he and Drew Brees's new toy. Weather he is serving as a more traditional pass-catcher like a Lance Moore, or a potential game-changing X factor like Darren Sproles, Brandin Cooks has found himself in the perfect offense on the perfect team to best utilize his abilities.
Brees is already very high on his new teammate, saying recently "There's no doubt he's a guy who has the ability to be a big contributor on offense for us this year. (Cooks and Sproles) are both kind of smaller guys but extremely quick, versatile matchup options. Then you lose a guy like Lance who could play inside and outside, so maybe there's a correlation there."
Teams don't just trade up for a player unless they are certain he can be a valuable asset to their team. In the case of the New Orleans Saints and Brandin Cooks, there is a player who can help fill multiple needs created by the departures of two veterans that made sizeable contributions throughout their tenures as Saints. In other words, double the asset. New Orleans may have lost two playmakers within their passing game, but they've added one. And that one can be more than just a sure-handed receiver or an electric threat in space. He can be both, and then some.