Earlier in the week rumors were abuzz that the New Orleans Saints have put their young explosive Wide Receiver, Brandin Cooks on the trade block. Given the huge need the Eagles have at the Wide Receiver position, naturally they are said to be in the mix. The Eagles were rumored to have interest in Cooks in the 2014 draft before the Saints leapfrogged them and selected Cooks. Jeff McLane has found sources that said the Eagles actually tried to trade for Cooks before the trade deadline last year. Despite the rumors, should the Eagles be interested?
In short, Absolutely, but the reasoning goes far beyond filling a massive hole on the team. Brandin Cooks is a legitimate playmaker and looks like an idea fit in Doug Pederson's scheme. Let's have a look.
This one goes without saying. Everyone knows Brandin Cooks is fast. Very fast. He can take the top off the defense and demands safety help. He applies pressure on all different types of coverage. Check out this first play against the Colts. The Colts have one deep safety and man coverage on the outside at the top of screen over Cooks. The defender is giving Cooks some cushion deep in their own territory. Watch how quickly Cooks eats up that cushion and blows by the DB. Brees and Cooks attack the sideline where the safety has no chance to get there to break up the pass in time:
Here he is again against a one deep safety look. Again the DB is giving Cooks about an 8 yard cushion in man coverage. Cooks immediately eats up that cushion and flies past the DB on a straight go route for the touchdown:
Again, a one deep safety look deep near their end zone. Cooks is on the bottom of the screen lined up against press man coverage. Following the snap he makes a nice fake inside and releases down the sideline. The DB can't even get his hands on Cooks and it's game over:
Again with a 10 yard cushion Cooks runs a nice subtle out and up route and the DB doesn't stand a chance:
One more against a 2-deep zone. This just isn't fair. Cooks runs right past the safety and as soon as he flips his hips he's done:
The above clips might remind Eagles fans of one, Desean Jackson, another player who happens to be hitting the market later this week. Jackson can definitely make similar plays and will serve an offense well by clearing out the middle of the field. However, the comparisons between Jackson and Cooks end there. While Jackson is a legitimate Wide Receiver he is a bit of a boom/bust player. While he has made his share of plays in this league and has single-handedly determined the outcomes of games, Jackson has shown a tendency to disappear in games. Defenses tend to play Jackson with 2 deep safeties and provide safety help over the top. While that is beneficial to an offense, what the Eagles really need is a go-to playmaker. A player that they can get the ball to 6-8 times a game who has explosive ability. I believe Brandin Cooks is that guy and his skill set meshes well with Doug Pederson's scheme. As we all know, Doug runs a hybrid West Coast Offense with lots of spread concepts. If the Eagles were able to land Cooks, I would anticipate them leveraging some of these concepts to feed Cooks the ball and to maximize his touches and playmaking ability. Here are a few examples of things Pederson likes to do an offense that Cooks has demonstrated the skill set to do well.
Pederson ran jet sweeps with DeAnthony Thomas in Kansas City, and attempted the same thing with Josh Huff in Philadelphia. Running this play successfully in the NFL however requires elite speed as defenses are much faster from sideline to sideline. It also requires a certain amount of physicality as you are likely going to take some hits. While Josh Huff had the latter, he didn't have the former:
Brandin Cooks has both:
One common misconception about the jet sweep is that some believe it is a trick play. While it is a bit of a non-standard play it is a strategic one. When you have a fast explosive player running the jet sweep, the defense has to respect that. It applies pressure on the backside defensive end specifically. In many ways, it accomplishes a similar things as the zone read or a bootleg play. The backside defensive end has to honor it, and thus offensive coordinators often leave that defensive end unblocked so they can gain a blocker on the playside. You'll see in both plays above, I highlight how the Jet Sweep combined with run action on the other side freezes an unblocked defensive end in the backfield. If he crashes down against the run, he'll get burned on the edge by the speedy sweeper. If he holds back to defend the jet sweep, it it is one less defender in the run game. Check out this example of Doug running this concept with the Chiefs. They run jet sweep action and look at the defenders it takes with it. 3 defenders, 2 LBs and the unblocked DE are forced to hesitate and defend the jet sweep. In addition, the Browns are in man coverage so there is a defender chasing the Chiefs player on the jet sweep. This gives the Chiefs a huge advantage on the playside run play which they break for a big one:
I also do love running the jet sweep out of the shotgun because you can then add the QB run element on the playside as well and read that backside defender to always make them wrong.
A similar concept is the end around or reverse play. Any time you motion a player to the backside defenses have to pay attention. When that player is Brandin Cooks you can bet they need to pay attention otherwise he will burn them like here:
And once you get a defense fearing that backside play, it in turn opens up your running game:
Yards after the Catch:
The downside of Brandin Cooks on paper is his size. At 5'10 he isn't going to bowl people over, however he is surprisingly physical and does go up and attack the football in the air. In addition, with his speed and quickness he is able to get separation down the field. With an accurate QB like Brees this has allowed him to show off some impressive YAC ability.
Against the Giants here Cooks is matched up in man coverage. He does an excellent job at the line with his feet to sell the outside and open up the opportunity for a quick slant. He immediately gets separation on his break, gets a great throw in stride from Brees and waltzes into the end zone:
Against the Cardinals, the Saints line up in a trips formation at the bottom of the screen. They run a levels concept with the other receiver running a clear out. Here Cooks runs the shallow drag and gets matched up against Tyrann Mathieu. Cooks easily gets separation, another in stride throw from Brees and a big play:
Another element of Pederson's scheme that was handicapped with the lack of a dynamic wide receiver were the bubble and tunnel screens he likes to run. Once again, Brandin Cooks would be a welcome addition in this scheme. Watch the patience Cooks shows in waiting for his blocks and attacking up field once he sees a lane:
Finally, one of the biggest things Cooks would bring to the Eagles is versatility. He is truly a player you can move all over the formation to create mismatches against the defense. He is not a one trick pony outside threat. Cooks actually played a fair amount of snaps out of the slot for the Saints and was very productive. This is where Cooks' quickness in addition to his speed really pays off. Against the Eagles, the Saints get Cooks in the slot and immediately get the match-up they are looking for. While Malcolm Jenkins is strong covering WRs in the slot, he's just not going to be able to keep up with Brandin Cooks and Brees and Payton know it. Here, Cooks gets a clean release off the ball and leaves Jenkins in the dust:
Next up he is lined up against Darius Slay in man coverage in the slot. He just runs by him. Slay actually has excellent coverage on Cooks here and sticks with him but Brees throws to Cooks' back shoulder and he makes a great adjustment and hauls the ball in:
One more against the Giants. One of the difficulties of defending Cooks out of the slot is because the defender has to defend against a 2-way go. Is he going inside or outside? I showed a play earlier where he sold the outside first to gain quick separation on the slant. He does the opposite here and sells the slant only to run a wheel fade to the outside:
Another area Payton experimented with Cooks was lining him up in the backfield similar to what the Packers do with Randall Cobb. From that position he's a threat as both a runner and a receiver. On the first play, Cooks is lined up in the Pistol in the backfield. The Saints simply run an outside zone stretch play and Cooks has the speed to get to the edge:
On the final play Cooks is lined up in the backfield. The benefits of doing this in the passing game is to create a mismatch. The Saints get a huge one here as they have Cooks running a wheel route out of the backfield. He draws a linebacker in coverage and it's curtains for the Chiefs:
In summary, it's not hard to see why the Eagles have been interested in Brandin Cooks dating back to the 2014 draft. While some questions should be asked about why the Saints are ready to trade away such a young and dynamic player there is no question that he would immediately upgrade the Eagles Wide Receiver position and would be a huge boost to the offense in 2017 and beyond.
Get it done Howie!