From what wideout Brandin Cooks can tell, the offense he operated in at Oregon State has readied him well as he prepares to join forces with Saints coach Sean Payton and former Super Bowl MVP quarterback Drew Brees.
He ran shallows, hitches, slants and fly routes. He went on sweeps, and he caught screens in a pro-style system under Beavers coach Mike Riley.
“To come from an offense like that is very helpful because I’m going to be kind of familiar with the terminology,” Cooks said Thursday night on a conference call with the media after the Saints selected him in the first round of the draft. “I’ll be extremely familiar with the concepts.”
And that won’t make life easier in 2014 for NFL defenses tasked with trying to contain a Saints passing attack that was ranked second last season.
Before the Saints traded away the 27th pick of the draft as well as their third-round selection (91st overall) to move up and grab him at No. 20, Cooks spent his three seasons in Corvalis, Ore., on the receiving end of passes from quarterback Sean Mannion.
Cooks’ first year in 2012 was nothing out of the ordinary — 391 yards and three touchdowns on 31 catches.
He barged into the nation’s conscience his second year with 1,151 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 67 catches, landing a semifinalist nod for the Biletnikoff Award given out to the top collegiate receiver in the country.
But it was at the conclusion of his third year that the 5-foot-10, 189-pound Cooks convinced the Saints’ brain trust that he belonged in black and gold.
It wasn’t just the single-season conference records he set with 128 catches and 1,730 yards, which were the most in the nation; or the Biletnikoff trophy he won that impressed New Orleans’ scouts.
It wasn’t merely the 16 touchdown receptions he hauled in, which helped him establish a school mark in scoring catches (24); or the 40-yard dash he ran in 4.33 seconds at February’s scouting combine, which was the fastest time among wide receivers at the event in Indianapolis.
It was also the fact that the next time he misses a football game will be his first — ever.
“He’s a tough player both physically and mentally,” Payton said Thursday evening. “He has been very consistent, very durable.
“Obviously he runs well, but I like his makeup in regards to his mental toughness.”
So much so that the Saints didn’t visit with Cooks again after interviewing him at the combine.
So much so that upon talking with defensive back and wide receiver draft prospects this year and asking them to name some of the best players they’d opposed in college, they kept mentioning one name: “Brandin Cooks.”
Now Cooks is moving on from Mannion to Brees, the only NFL player to pass for more than 5,000 yards in four separate seasons and in more than one campaign.
Since arriving in 2006 with Payton, Brees has taken the Saints to the franchise’s lone Super Bowl triumph; its only two NFC Championship Games; three of its five division titles; and half of its 10 playoff appearances.
“To be able to have a quarterback like him, I would say a potential future Hall of Famer, … as a rookie, you have to be excited,” said Cooks, a native of Stockton, Calif., who ran track at Oregon State, was a Junior Olympian in prep school and was tagged with the nickname “Sonic Boom.”
“The beauty about him (is) he gets the ball to all of his players, all of his receivers, his tight ends, his backs.”
But, from listening to Payton speak and watching his team’s aggressive actions Thursday, it’s clear the Saints see beauty in Cooks, too.
He’s another aerial weapon in an armament that last year featured All-Pro Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Kenny Stills. He’s a candidate to fill a gap that formed when Lance Moore, a Pittsburgh Steeler these days, was released by the Saints in March amidst a salary purge.
Furthermore, Payton said, Cooks (who rushed 61 times for 340 yards and two scores in college) can expect to audition for the punt and kickoff return duties once primarily handled by running back Darren Sproles, dealt away in March to Philadelphia in exchange for a fifth-round choice in this year’s draft. The ex-Beaver returned 12 punts for 72 yards in 2013 and eight kickoffs for 179 yards two seasons prior.
Cooks, for his part, is primed for it all.
“When I was in the meeting (with the Saints at the combine) and after I was done, the words that they had to say on how they were impressed, more how I handle myself and how I knew the game of football,” Cooks said. “That’s how I knew this was a great opportunity and a great chance.”
-The Saints on Friday announced Cooks will wear jersey No. 10.
-The website Grantland on Wednesday published an in-depth story chronicling the difficult upbringing that preceded Cooks’ rise as a football player. Essentially, Cooks was motivated to maximize his astounding athleticism following his father’s death from a heart attack. Cooks was 6 when his father passed away.