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Brandin Cooks on Saints receivers: We are young, but not waiting

Saints receiver Brandin Cooks had 84 receptions for 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns last season. David Grunfeld/NOLA.com The Times-Picayune via AP

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- I’ve written a lot about rookie receiver Michael Thomas over the past two days, since he is generating the most buzz so far at New Orleans Saints camp.

And I wrote about Saints receiver Willie Snead over the weekend, since he showed up with a new look and new expectations after his breakout season.

But I couldn’t leave out New Orleans' No. 1 receiver, Brandin Cooks -- especially on this Mock Draft Monday at ESPN. Because Cooks is still poised to be the Saints' most dynamic playmaker after his sizzling finish last season (eight touchdowns and four games with 100-plus yards from scrimmage over the final nine games).

Cooks, still just 22 until September, has emerged as a top-10 fantasy receiver after catching 84 passes for 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns last season. The blazing-fast, 5-foot-10, 189-pounder really started to get into a nice deep-ball rhythm with quarterback Drew Brees during his sophomore NFL season last year, with TD catches of 71, 60, 54 and 38 yards over that nine-game stretch.

Those deep TD catches have continued to pop up almost daily in training camp.

"It’s one of those things ... when the ball is there, go get it," said Cooks, who said he has also concentrated quite a bit on gaining more yards after the catch on shorter passes.

"That’s where I need to be dynamic," Cooks said. “I should be able to catch short routes and take 'em the distance. And that’s knowing the defense, what routes you should run against the type of defense, and knowing where you should go."

From the moment the Saints drafted Cooks in the first round out of Oregon State in 2014, coaches and teammates have praised him for his football IQ and his work ethic as much as his dazzling physical tools.

Both of those elements should allow him to keep rising in Year 3. As Cooks insisted this offseason, he feels like he still "left a lot of meat out there on the bone" last season.

"He has to be able to think one step ahead the way that Drew does, and you really see that now in his third year," said the Saints’ veteran backup quarterback, Luke McCown.

Even at 22, Cooks is essentially the most veteran receiver on the Saints’ roster now. Only newcomer Hakeem Nicks, who arrived last a few days ago, has played in more NFL games.

But that hasn’t stopped Cooks and Snead from making an impact so far. And Thomas could quickly join them if he keeps up the level of savvy and playmaking ability he has shown so far this offseason.

"We are young, yes. But this game, you can’t let your youth hold you back from being great," Cooks said. "And that’s the way I think about it, and that’s the way we all feel about it in that room.

"We might be young, but darn it, we’re gonna make great plays and we’re gonna do big things. And we’re not gonna wait until our fifth, sixth year, we’re gonna do it now."