WWL 870 AM contributor, college football expert and author of one of the most comprehensive draft guides sold to the public Mike Detillier breaks down the Saints’ 2014 Draft for The Hayride.
In the first installment of this two part interview Detillier shares his thoughts on first round draft pick Brandin Cooks’s role with the team and whether they paid too much for the opportunity to acquire the wide receiver’s services, filling the void left by Darren Sproles and the state of the Black and Gold defense after the front office loaded up on linebackers and defensive backs in the draft.
1) First and foremost, is Brandin Cooks the missing element the Saints badly needed in their offense?
Well, Cooks is a big piece of it. Brandin gives this team that “over the top” receiver they didn’t have in the lineup in 2013. Devery Henderson got up in age and with the injury to Joe Morgan it was not there.
What is impressive is that for someone with great speed he is such a good route runner and he comes out of his cuts and breaks so smoothly. Some track sprinters build up so much running torque that they almost have to come to a stop to make that sharp cut and break, but Cooks is so smooth in doing that.
He has good hands and eye-hand coordination and he is a smart football player, 40% of his catches in 2013 were on comeback routes and so that means when the quarterback is in trouble he works his way back toward him to give him a chance to make a completion.
Some receivers even in the NFL just stop, but Cooks is a well versed end in that category. I wrote this in my book because of his build, his hands, his big-play element and his aggressiveness to make the catch in a crowd he reminds me a lot of Steve Smith who was such a great player for the Carolina Panthers for years and is now with the Baltimore Ravens.
2) Did the Saints overpay to get Cooks packaging a first and third round picks to jump seven spots?
No, the Saints under Sean Payton has a lot of say and his fingerprints are on every guy they bring in New Orleans. He gets the player he wants. (Payton) is the best talent evaluator as a coach to ever be a head coach with the Saints and he wanted Cooks and while it did cost you an extra round pick you can be aggressive because the scouting department has done their job finding so many undrafted free agents that make the team.
They had seven last year in CB. Rod Sweeting, DT. Glenn Foster, QB. Ryan Griffin, RB. Khiry Robinson, OC/OG. Tim Lelito, Kevin Reddick and TE. Josh Hill.
I thought it was a fair price to pay for someone you really wanted and there was no chance he would be there at #27. Also the S.F. 49ers were eyeing him and they could have leapfrogged ahead of the Saints to select him.
3) Did the Saints adequately address the cornerback need with the selection of defensive back Stanley Jean-Baptiste?
In time Stanley Jean-Baptiste will turn out to be an excellent pick, but right now he is not ready for primetime. He will need some refinement work with his techniques and also adjusting to playing in “off” coverage sets.
He was mainly a bump and run or “press” cover guy at Nebraska, so he is a work in progress, but he has the size, arm length, ball skills and recovery speed you crave in a cornerback today and in our predraft segments it is something I spoke about and that is that Rob Ryan really likes a taller cornerback because the league is being flooded with all these king-sized receivers today.
He is a lot like Terron Armstead in that he is physically gifted, but he will need some refinement work just like Armstead did last season. Armstead was a small college guy, Jean-Baptiste is a former wide receiver turned cornerback and he is more of a reps guy. Like Armstead it may be an injury or poor play by a cornerback that gets him in the lineup somewhere in the 2014 season.
4) Many Who Dats wanted to see Odell Beckham Jr in a Saints uniform. How much do you believe it would have cost the organization to move up to get him?
I would have loved to see that too, but it would have cost a lot more to get up to that spot to get Beckham. You have a player in Cooks who does the same things Odell can and it was not as expensive to get. Also, both are good punt returners and for the Saints that element with Cooks should make the special teams better.
I am a big Odell Beckham fan and the NY Giants got a real good player in him. There is a lot of Louisiana on that team with Eli Manning and Reuben Randle.
5) Speaking of Odell, the departure of wide receiver Lance Moore and the trade to the Philadelphia Eagles of running back Darren Sproles have left vacancies at the punt return and kick return spots. Do you see the Saints pushing Cooks into either or both of those roles or going with someone else?
I see Cooks as the replacement for Sproles as a punt returner, no doubt about that. In watching him he catches the ball so cleanly with his hands. He is a natural catching it and then getting upfield.
That is not something you can teach. Either you can or you can’t do it. Trindon Holliday is a terrific return man, but you can see he is uncomfortable at times catching a punt. He is fine as a kickoff guy, but that is a different situation. Just watch Holliday’s hands and feet when he catches a punt they are never settled. With Cooks, he is on balance and he cradles it like you would a baby. And he has the speed to jet away from defenders.
He is part of filling in for Sproles as a receiver and on the reverse plays. It is part of Sean Payton’s offense that will always be there. He wants that mismatch downfield. He has a lot of confidence in running back Travaris Cadet to fill some of that element too. Cadet can do the same things that Sproles could do, but he just isn’t as good at it.
6) Were you surprised by how defense heavy the Saints front office was in the 2014 draft?
No, not really. This team has made it part of what they want to do to get back to the Super Bowl and that is to get physically bigger and stronger on defense. Let’s be honest. The two best teams are on the West Coast right now in San Francisco and Seattle. They have represented the NFC the past two seasons in the Super Bowl and they are built with tough and physical defenses and a strong rushing attack. The Saints know for them to get back they need to physically get stronger front-seven wise and also improve their rushing attack.
With the defense the Saints have today Sean Payton can be more patient with his running game because he knows he will get some 3 and outs, that was not the case in the past.
The Saints have the best young 3-4 defensive linemen today in the league in Cam Jordan, Akiem Hicks and John Jenkins. They needed to add some bulk and talent at linebacker and did so with Ronald Powell and Khairi Fortt.
Powell is the potential rush man. He was a superb high school player. Powell was the most highly recruited defensive player in the nation as a senior, but he had injury problems at Florida and 2 ACL reconstruction surgeries in one year. If he is healthy they are getting a really good football player. Fortt had some injuries also in college. He was part of a platoon system at Penn State before the scandal hit and he went to California. Last season with the Bears he played on the weakside and also in the middle. He will play inside with the Saints. He is a physical player, a good openfield tackler and he gets around heavy traffic very well. He is a one-year starter at Cal, but both should help on special teams along with Vinnie Sunseri from Alabama.
For all the talk about the Saints offense, the key to getting back to the Super Bowl will be their defense and getting production from the D draft choices and also certainly the free agent pickups of Jairus Byrd, Champ Bailey and having Victor Butler healthy in 2014 at outside linebacker.
The Saints front line is really good and it is part of staying with the “Joneses’” of the NFL and today those teams are San Francisco and Seattle.