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New Orleans Saints select Brandin Cooks No. 20 overall in the 2014 NFL draft

New Orleans Saints select Brandin Cooks No. 20 overall in the 2014 NFL draft Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (Joshua Weisberg/Icon SMI)

The Saints moved up from the 27th spot in the first round to the 20th, formerly owned by the Arizona Cardinals, and took Oregon State receiver Brandon Cooks with that selection. With Kenny Stills already developing as a slot receiver, and Jimmy Graham in the fold for at least another year, adding Cooks gives Drew Brees a dynamite deep threat -- he's the kind of player who can open things up for everyone else in the passing game, often at a level that prompts comparisons to DeSean Jackson.

Strengths: Prolific receiver who gets the whole route tree and has experience in a pro-style offense. Cooks can make plays from just about anywhere in the formation — wide, in the slot, different points in trips and bunch concepts, and as a runner on jet sweeps and quick screens. Tremendous after-catch runner who can break a play wide open with a small opening off a short pass. Cooks has great straight-line speed, and he’s very hard to cover on angular routes (slants, drags, posts) because he’s able to maintain his speed from side to side. Has the downfield quickness to flat-out beat better cornerbacks on all kinds of vertical routes from the seam to the sideline.

Has a great natural ability with route cuts — Cooks can put his foot in the ground, change direction, and get right back up to speed in a big hurry. Very tough to cover on comebacks and curls. He’s practiced with stutters and foot fakes at the line, and at times, that’s all he’s going to need to get free for a long play. Excellent boundary receiver who keeps his eye on the sideline. Quick, gliding runner on sweeps; he could really befuddle defenses with this as Reggie Bush and Percy Harvin have. Doesn’t have the size to win vertical battles, but he’s always up for trying. Despite his size, Cooks hasn’t been injury-prone. Wasn’t asked to be much of a return man in college, but certainly has all the attributes to make that happen.

Weaknesses: Cooks’ size is an obvious limitation in a few ways — he will lose a lot of jump-ball battles against larger defensive backs, he’s not going to out-muscle defenders in traffic, and he can be edged out of erratically-thrown passes — it’s harder for him to fight to avoid interceptions because he’s not built to mix it up. And he’s going to get most of his NFL touchdowns from the field as opposed to beating people in the end zone and red zone. Could suffer when pressed at the line at the next level; Cooks will have to get separation in those situations with short-area quickness as opposed to muscle.

Grade: A.  

No collegiate receiver covered more ground last season than Brandin Cooks, the 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner, who led the NCAA with 1,730 receiving yards on 128 catches. He added 16 touchdowns to his totals, firmly establishing himself as one of the nation’s most vexing offensive problems. Add in his 1,151-yard season in 2012, and it’s clear that the 5-10, 189-pound Cooks is ready to attack any defense he faces with legitimate 4.3 speed and rare agility -- even if he doesn’t look like your traditional No. 1 target.

“Just the production,” he said at the combine, when asked why he believed himself to be the best receiver in this class. “Numbers don’t lie, and what I bring to the game and my confidence with the way I work, my work ethic. I feel like no one is out there working harder than me. I have a lot to prove. I have a chip on my shoulder. They say I’m not the tallest, but I feel like there’s so many guys in this game today that are potential Hall of Famers like Steve Smith, who’s killing the game right now. DeSean Jackson. I can go down the list, and there [are] under 5-10 [guys] that are definitely great receivers in this game.”

In the right system (and the Saints seem to have it), there’s no question that Cooks has the potential to be a true gamebreaker.

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