As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.
College: Oregon State
Hands: 9 1/2”
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.33
Vertical Jump: 36”
Broad Jump: 10’
20-Yard Shuttle: 3.81
Background (College Stats)
A three-sport athlete at Lincoln High School in Stockton (Calif.) who earned the nickname of “Sonic Boom” for his exploits as a sprinter, Cooks broke the hearts of most of the Pac-12 Conference when he committed to the Beavers. He made an immediate impact as a freshman, finishing third on the team behind Markus Wheaton and James Rodgers in receptions (31) and receiving yards (391) while tying for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (three). Cooks essentially stepped into Rodgers’ old role as the second option in the Oregon State passing attack as a sophomore, combining with Wheaton to form one of the best receiving duos in the country while also ushering the biggest single-season turnaround in school history (from 3-9 in 2011 to 9-4 in 2012). Although Cooks was obviously a key part of the offense (67 catches, 1,151 yards and five touchdowns), he didn’t appear all that likely to dominate college football in 2013 as was limited to three catches or fewer in three of his final four games as a sophomore. However, once Wheaton left for the NFL and Oregon State settled on Sean Mannion as its quarterback, the Pac-12 became Cooks’ little playground and opponents were nearly powerless against the mighty mite. In his final season, the consensus All-American caught at least six passes in every game and was held under 100 yards receiving only four times (with his low point being 88 yards against USC). Unsurprisingly, Cooks set the Pac-12 record for receptions in a season (128) and led the FBS with 1,730 yards en route to becoming the second Beaver to claim the Biletnikoff Award.
NFL Player Comp(s): A less physical Steve Smith
- As explosive and elusive as any receiver in this class and perhaps the best at transitioning out of his breaks, which only serves to accentuate his ability as a fine route runner.
- Stop/start ability and vision make him a terror in the open field; possesses the speed to take away a defensive back’s angle and has proven he can beat double teams.
- Shows no fear running over the middle and has the ability to turn any run or catch into a big play.
- Wins more one-on-one battles downfield than many bigger receivers do thanks in part to impeccable timing, solid ball skills and stronger/bigger hands than most wideouts his size.
- Always seems to know where he is on the field and works the sideline beautifully.
- A tough player that seems to get “it” with no history of durability or off-field issues.
- Among the smallest receivers available and does not have the frame to add much more muscle/weight.
- Struggles with the few physical defenders that can stay in front of him at the line of scrimmage.
- While unafraid to work the middle of the field or in traffic, he is unlikely to generate many yards after contact.
- Does not project well on a run-heavy team and may never have enough size to do more than get in the way of a defender as a blocker.
With Wheaton in the NFL and no running game to speak of in 2013, Oregon State had to rely on Cooks and the Beavers’ opponents knew they had to stop him. Suffice it to say that opposing defenses usually failed miserably. It’s hard to recall the last time a major-college receiver – especially one with Cooks’ size – attracted so much attention from opposing defenses and still thrived. (Look no further than Oregon State’s “Civil War” game with Oregon to see the number of times Cooks drew two or even three defenders, even on play-action passes.) The NFL is littered with receivers that were dogged about their lack of size coming out of college, only to prove their talent and desire to compete were much greater than any height/weight concerns that personnel executives had prior to drafting them. Few of the undersized receivers have the breathtaking ability and overall game that Cooks does, however. It’s entirely possible that Cooks will get drafted late in the first round by a team that has the luxury of starting him out as purely a slot receiver (which would alleviate any concerns about his ability to defeat physical coverage), but there is little doubt he will have the ability to lift the top off the defense right away. Cooks is about 2-3 inches and 10-15 pounds shy of pushing Sammy Watkins for top rookie prospect honors, but a savvy offensive coordinator shouldn’t have much problem getting instant production out of him. Much like Watkins, there are very few weaknesses in his game. Cooks may lack the size to be a consistent red-zone weapon (at least initially), but he is so much more than a one-trick pony, meaning his ceiling is higher than that of a Mike Wallace or DeSean Jackson.