The New Orleans Saints got exactly what they were in search of last week at the 2014 NFL Draft, using their top two picks on a playmaking receiver with versatility and blazing speed, as well as an athletic Cornerback with great size, skills and potential. Those two prospects, Brandin Cooks and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, made their first appearances as full-fledged professional football players at the team's three-day minicamp over the weekend, and drawing the type of praise from coaches and management in attendance that helps illustrate what prompted the club to select them from the available pool of talent on the draft board.
Cooks, who the team moved up seven spots to pick, appears set for an instantaneous role in coach Sean Payton's offense. Cooks brings a dynamic skill set in a somewhat diminutive frame, but his athleticism, natural pass-catching skills and perhaps most importantly, versatility, caught Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis's eyes throughout the course of the draft process. Brandin Cooks catches a ball at minicamp.
"I think we can line him up in the slot, line him up outside... very good skill set with regards to acceleration, speed, catches the ball well. And I like his toughness,” Payton told reporters following one of the team's weekend minicamp workouts. He could be counted on to help fill the void left by the trade that sent Darren Sproles to Philadelphia before the draft. Payton could look to design plays similar to the ones he drew up for Reggie Bush throughout his tenure in New Orleans. Bush and Sproles were often motioned across formations and out of the backfield to create favorable matchups in space for New Orleans. Cooks also figures to see plenty of time aligned in positions more naturally associated with a receiver.
The 5-10 189 Oregon State alum recorded a sizzling 4.33 forty-yard dash time at the scouting combine in February, which ultimately turned out to be the fastest time ran by a receiver at the event. That speed coupled with Cooks' knack for making plays over the middle and down the field (he led the nation with 128 receptions and 1,730 yards) should see him integrate quickly to a receiving corps that includes established veteran Marques Colston, rising youngster Kenny Stills, former first-rounder Robert Meachem and a bevy of young, unproven talent. While Cooks could fall into the latter category in his own right, the former Beaver looks slated for a place among Drew Brees's top targets at the position. Brees has shown his willingness and ability in the past to involve all of his receivers in the passing game, and Cooks has landed on a great platform with an offense well-suited to tapping into his array of skills. Stanley Jean-Baptiste gives the Saints a tall,athletic prospect to mold into a future starting option at CB.
Jean-Baptiste, who was taken in the 2nd round by New Orleans, met the team's desire for a young, skilled corner with size and potential to develop into a future starter. The former 'Husker, who picked off 7 passes throughout his career in Lincoln, likely won't be rushed into as meaningful a role as Cooks right off the bat, but could play an important part in Rob Ryan's defensive sub-packages. Ryan likes to employ packages that feature as much as 6 defensive backs on the field at a time, and Jean-Baptiste's size, athletic traits and upside give the Saints' defensive alchemist another interesting tool to add to the chest.
But like most young defensive backs, Jean-Baptiste is in need of a little coaching-up. "This young guy, we’re getting a piece of clay," said Ryan, in reference to the team's intentions to slowly mold their 2nd round pick into a possible future running mate for Keenan Lewis at the corner position.
Jean-Baptiste will have a chance to grow, develop and learn from one of the best ever in the form of 12-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey, who was signed to a two-year deal in free agency. Corey White and Patrick Robinson add two more veterans to the corps, while the team likes the potential of Rod Sweeting. The talent at the position figures to help Jean-Baptiste adapt at a more steady pace to the pro game, where proper coaching should improve his technique and location while enhancing his already-smooth body control and ball skills.
It's easy to see why both Brandin Cooks and Stanley Jean-Baptiste caught the eyes of the New Orleans Saints. The two players tick the boxes of exactly what the Saints were in search of heading into the draft's early rounds. With only one round of rookie minicamp in the books, coaches and teammates, alike, can already envision the brightest of futures down south for the two rookies.
Rookie LB Khairi Fortt Signs
The Saints signed fourth-rounder Khairi Fortt on Monday, and now have all six of their 2014 picks under contract heading into June. Fortt, who began his collegiate career at Penn State before transferring west to California, has put pen to paper on a four-year deal. The 6-2 240 Linebacker hopes to shake off past injury troubles and fight for a role as a rotational player on defense as well as on kick coverage units. The Stamford, Connecticut native racked up 64 tackles and was one of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award last season.