Drew Brees, Kenny Stills hope to — and think they can — excel with Brandin Cooks for years

Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the New Orleans Saints as the 20th pick the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Thursday, May 8, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the New Orleans Saints as the 20th pick the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Thursday, May 8, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

It’s not just Saints fans who expect rookie first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks to dazzle when he trots out to the football field in 2014.

Two of his new colleagues — quarterback Drew Brees and fellow receiver Kenny Stills — sounded just as giddy about finally seeing Cooks in action when answering questions from the media about him at a charity softball game in Metairie on Wednesday night.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a pass during a 2014 Pro Bowl practice. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a pass during a 2014 Pro Bowl practice. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Brees said it speaks volumes about the potential the Saints see in Cooks that the team traded a third-round pick to move up seven spots in the draft order and take the former Oregon State receiver No. 20 overall on May 8.

“That tells me a lot … about his talent and his skill-set and just the type of guy he is,” said Brees, who in 2013 guided the Saints to a divisional playoff appearance and commanded the passing attack to a No. 2 ranking.

“From all accounts, he’s a phenomenal person, great teammate, extremely tough work ethic (and a) great character guy. He fits in perfect into our locker room and loves football — we love those guys.”

It’s been widely said the 5-foot-10, 189-pound Cooks has never missed a football game at any level. He is coming off a season in which he set Pac-12 Conference records with 128 catches for 1,730 yards, which were most in the nation.

He also had an Oregon State record 16 touchdown receptions in 2013 and a school career mark of 24. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver last year.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) pulls in a 76-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) pulls in a 76-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

At February’s NFL combine, Cooks ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds, the fastest time among wide receivers. Coupled with the fact that he returned kicks in college, Cooks is someone the Saints envision can line up as an inside and outside receiver while getting touches on special teams.

He’s a prime candidate to emulate the role vacated by running back Darren Sproles, who led the Saints in all-purpose yardage from 2011 to 2013 before being traded to Philadelphia in March.

It’s also possible that defenses focused on avoiding surrendering big gains to Cooks will permit more opportunities for those around him, such as Stills.

“His explosiveness as a player, who doesn’t get excited about that?” Stills said. “It’s going to be a fun season for us as an offense.”

As Cooks tries to live up to expectations while adjusting to the NFL as a rookie, he can count from guidance on Stills if he wants it.

Stills — a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2013 — impressed in his rookie campaign with 32 catches, 641 receiving yards and five touchdowns. His 20.3 yards per catch were the best among NFL players who qualified to be considered for that statistical category.

“If Brandin asks for help, then I’ll help him,” Stills said. “I’m one of the outgoing guys that (likes) to talk, so I’m more than happy to walk him through the process.”

Applying to young Saints pass-catchers such as Cooks and Stills, Brees added that he dreams of developing the same kind of on-field connection with them that he has with veteran teammates such as Marques Colston and Robert Meachem and with former targets like Devery Henderson and Lance Moore, all with whom he won Super Bowl XLIV.

Brees is heading into his ninth season with Colston and his seventh with Meachem. He had seven years with Henderson (who hasn’t been in the NFL since being released by Washington in the 2013 preseason) and eight with Moore, now a Pittsburgh Steeler.

“You put that much time in, you’re going to see and experience everything you can possibly experience,” Brees said. “So, when it comes up again, you’re on the same page.

“I look forward to gaining that with … the young guys.”

As he successfully did in college, Saints receiver Kenny Stills focused on avoiding sophomore slump

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) pulls in a 76-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) pulls in a 76-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Not long after Saints receiver Kenny Stills caught 61 passes for 786 yards and five touchdowns during his freshman year in college to help Oklahoma win the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2010 season, he was arrested on suspicion of underage drinking and driving.

Stills recalls many predicted he’d experience the dreaded second-year doldrums, and the fact that he was suspended for one game and missed another with a head injury to start 2011 didn’t ameliorate that perception.

But a slump never came. He caught 61 passes for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games as a sophomore while Oklahoma triumphed in the Insight Bowl, and as a junior he had a career year with 82 grabs for 959 yards and 11 scores in 13 contests as the Sooners reached the Cotton Bowl.

As Stills heads into his sophomore campaign with the Saints in 2014, there is no legal distraction like there was in Oklahoma three years earlier. But his mindset preparing for his second year with the Saints is similar to the one he had moving toward season No. 2 with the Sooners.

“That’s kind of the mentality I took to this offseason — making sure, like in college, you don’t have a sophomore slump,” Stills, whom the Saints selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, said Wednesday night at a charity softball game in Metairie. “I gained a few pounds. My head’s been in this playbook. I’m so focused just on football.

“That negativity (from the public after his freshman year) has always driven me.”

The son a former safety for the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, Stills last season played as well as any rookie joining one of the most complex, prolific offenses in the NFL could hope.

He finished third on the team with 641 receiving yards off 32 catches. His astounding 20.03 yards per catch was the best among NFL players who qualified for that statistical category’s leader board.

Stills had five touchdowns receptions and incorporated himself smoothly into the Saints’ passing offense, which was second in 2013 and has never been worse than fourth since quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton arrived in 2006.

The “shortest” of those TDs was 34 yards. The longest was 76. In between, the scores were from 42, 52 and 69 yards. Four of them were on obvious, third-down passing situations, but he nonetheless managed to free himself of the coverage.

From all that, Stills only concludes that he’s “a little more comfortable around the stuff … (he’s) learning” alongside a receiving corps which is led by nine-year veteran Marques Colston and recently added rookie Brandin Cooks, the first-round pick out of Oregon State.

“There’s so much I can still learn from this offense, and that’s what I’m focused on this offseason,” Stills said. “There’s definitely more that I can do. There’s always more that I can do.”

Quotable:

“A lot of fans have been asking if I’m going to be taking over Lance (Moore’s) dancing. I’m not a big dancer, but we’ll find a way to keep the fans entertained.” — Stills, on Moore, the longtime Saints receiver who was released in March and later signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Stills said he speaks to Moore daily via text message and is happy he landed with the Steelers, whose six Super Bowl trophies are the most in the NFL.

Stills and Moore may forever be linked in the memories of Saints fans because Moore, on his last touchdown celebration at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, thrust his hips three times in a celebration inspired by the skit “Excessive Celebration” from the Comedy Central show “Key & Peele.”

Moore and Stills — who threw his playing towel in the air as part of a celebration they insist was talked about beforehand but never rehearsed — were each fined $7,875 afterwards.