You have to give the Saints organization credit: when they want someone in the draft, they’re not afraid to be aggressive about getting him.
The Black and Gold, going into the 2014 season missing two of quarterback Drew Brees’s favorite targets (wide receiver Lance Moore and Darren Sproles), showed they were willing to pay a premium to jump seven spots up in the first round to add a critical weapon to the offense, shipping out their first round and third round selections to the Arizona Cardinals to secure Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
Short of packaging an even pricier deal to pole vault over the New York Giants at the 12th overall pick to grab LSU wide receiver and return man Odell Beckham, Jr., the Saints settled for the speedy Cooks, the fourth wide receiver selected in the draft.
At 5’10” Cooks lacks the build of big bodied receiver Marques Colston and is closer in physique to the slightly shorter Moore. But, forgive the expression, size doesn’t always matter.
Cooks ran the fastest 40 time for a wide receiver at the combine (earning him a $100,000.00 payday from Adidas for wearing their cleats in his dash) and can burn opposing defenses with his burst. Cooks is a good route runner and has demonstrated an ability to fool defensive backs.
Cooks could help out the Saints in the return game, an important area vacated with Moore and Sproles’s departures. In addition to playing wide receiver, Cooks also served as Oregon State’s punt returner and had previously returned kickoffs.
College football expert and WWL 870 AM draft analyst Mike Detillier compared Cooks to longtime Carolina Panthers’ (now Baltimore Ravens) wide receiver Steve Smith. If the Saints give him double duty on offense and special teams, Cooks might prove to be a more affordable Odell Beckham, Jr.
With the return of wide receiver Joe Morgan, who had been sidelined the entire 2013 season with a knee injury, and veteran speedster Robert Meachem and sophomore Kenny Stills, the addition of Cooks will help the Saints stretch the field in 2014, assuming the still questionable offensive line provides Brees with enough time to get the ball deep.
After Tampa Bay picked wide receiver Mike Evans with the seventh overall pick and Carolina choosing wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first round, there was little question where the Saints needed to go in the second round: best overall cornerback.
Next to a playmaking wide receiver, cornerback was arguably the team’s second biggest need even with the signing of future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey.
While cornerback Keenan Lewis has done an admirable job, the hole left by Jabari Greer season (if not career) was not filled by Corey White and cannot be expected to be adequately covered by 2010 first round draft pick Patrick Robinson, who might not be on the roster come September.
At 6’3” Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste has the size to be an outstanding NFL cornerback but needs work on his technique before he can step in. Jean-Baptiste will not be starting opposite Lewis in Week One though with time and preparation he could contribute at some point in the season, perhaps earlier than preferred if White and Robinson continue to flounder.
The Saints used their fourth round draft pick and one of their fifth round draft picks to beef up their linebacker corps. California’s Khairi Fortt was somewhat of a reach in the fourth round, being selected earlier than he was graded. Fortt was a highly coveted player out of high school but had an unremarkable and somewhat injury prone college record. However the Saints’ eagle eye scouts might be impressed with his physical tools and believe Fortt could be coached into playing a role at some point.
Florida’s Ronald Powell is another outside linebacker with a history of injuries, though there was little risk involved. With the Saints’ linebackers well-staffed with starters and experienced backups, neither Fortt nor Powell will see the field anytime soon.
The pair could be classified as lotto picks: more likely to end up being cut than start.
After Cooks, the Saints’ most intriguing selection was Alabama strong safety Vinnie Sunseri. Going after a strong safety made sense, particularly after Kenny Vaccaro went down late last season, which effectively ended the Saints’ Super Bowl chances (yes the Saints would go on to win their first ever road playoff game but sans Vaccaro, their post-season drive wasn’t going beyond Seattle). Hopefully the Who Dat Nation will never see Sunseri starting as strong safety in a regular season game. However he is expected to play on special teams.
Touted for his good football instincts, intelligence and intensity, Sunseri is likely to be the 2014 Saints’ draftee who spends the most time on the field after Cooks.
The Saints closed out the 2014 Draft by picking the obscure Tavon Rooks, offensive tackle from Kansas State. I use obscure for the 6’5”, 280 lb offensive lineman as he isn’t even mentioned in the almost 200 page Detillier draft guide- and he ranked 56 men at that position.
Though unmentioned, the draft guru was not unfamiliar with Rooks describing him as athletic.
Beyond keeping alive Kansas State’s streak of having had a player selected in 21 consecutive NFL drafts, what’s most noteworthy about the Rooks pick is that the Saints had not gone after an offensive lineman in an earlier round and could be a sign that the team has confidence in the fresh hands (guard/center Tim Lelito and tackle tackle Terron Armstead) that will be protecting their franchise player.
If Cooks proves to be worthy of what the Saints invested in him, Jean-Baptiste develops into at least a serviceable backup in the secondary and Sunseri stays healthy and has an impact on special teams, the 2014 NFL Draft could be graded as a solid B.