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.
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.
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.”