Not to put too much pressure on a still-21-year-old kid who has only 10 career games under his belt. But the dynamic, 5-foot-10, 189-pound speedster sure looks primed to become the Saints' No. 1 receiver this year.
Cooks was actually leading the stellar 2014 wide receiver class last season with 53 receptions through 10 games until he suffered a season-ending broken thumb. Most of his catches came on shorter routes -- screen passes and plays of the like designed to get him open in space. But the Saints were finally starting to hit on the deep ball to him consistently in the weeks leading up the injury.
“I definitely have that thought of having unfinished business,” said Cooks, who finished with 550 yards and three touchdowns.
He said that motivation is combined with a much higher comfort level heading into his second pro season.
“I’m definitely ahead of where I was last year mentally, knowing my plays and just having that true confidence when I’m running around,” Cooks said
Believe it or not, Cooks said he thinks that will allow him to play even faster -- which is hard to picture since Cooks is known for his dazzling speed. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.
“You know, honestly it is (possible),” Cooks said. “Because taking the thinking out of it, some of that thinking I was doing last year can really slow you down.”
The Saints are high on Cooks in the mental department as well. They raved as much last year about his character, his smarts, his work ethic and his polish coming out of a pro-style college system under former NFL coach Mike Riley as they did about his eye-popping athleticism.
Cooks also spent some time working out with quarterback Drew Brees this offseason in San Diego, which is Brees' home base out of season.
“The more time on task we have together, the more we can build that relationship (the better),” Brees said. “And I know this about him, he already came back better than he was before, and I think just mentally tougher, stronger.
“I know he has been chomping at the bit now for a while now. So just getting back to work and watching his attention to detail and his work ethic, he’s everything you want in a teammate.”
Cooks said the thing he learned most last season was the need to adjust to the physicality of defenses intent on disrupting his routes and keeping him out of that open space the Saints try to create for him.
“You can’t just run away from everybody like you can in college,” said Cooks, who posted monster numbers in his final year at Oregon State (128 catches, 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns). “You actually have to have your technique down to a T. So that’s the biggest thing that I saw on film from myself last year.”
The Saints will also lean heavily on veteran receiver Marques Colston and newly-signed runner/receiver C.J. Spiller, among others, to help fill that enormous void in their passing game. But if Cooks continues on his current trajectory, numbers like 1,000 yards and 90-100 catches aren’t unrealistic.