We were impressed with what we saw on film in 2013 from Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton.
We're even more impressed with his former teammate, likely 2014 first round pick Brandin Cooks.
The pair walked out of Corvallis, Ore., with two of the best receiving careers in school history, and along the way, both picked up on outstanding coaching and a feel of the modern intricacies of today's passing offense.
Cooks was living in the senior Wheaton's shadow. As soon as he left, Cooks set a PAC-12 record with 1,730 receiving yards, a mark that also led all of FBS. His 128 catches were second in the nation.
His production was trumped up a bit due to the fact he was the first, second and third option in Oregon State's offense, and he caught a lot of wide running passes, but it shouldn't take the shine off what was a truly excellent season. However he was used play-to-play doesn't change plays like this.
Cooks completely owns this defender from the snap. Watch him eye up his man and the field as he sets up his route. He recognizes the fact Cal is covering him in man, without deep help.
He closes the gap between himself and the defender, and, based on the leverage being given to him by that defender, sets him up to show an inside move. The defender gets off balance, biting on the stutter-step move, and Cooks gets position on him. When he gets to the goal line, he dips well into his break and creates a huge amount of separation. The defender has no chance at this point except to rally and make a play on a less-than-ideal throw. Cooks gets up in the air and makes a nice catch after an outstanding route for the touchdown. To whatever extent Cal felt it was to their advantage to play Cooks in single coverage (probably the reason he had 13 catches for 232 yards in that game), Cooks didn't see it often. In fact, teams tried to give him man over coverage often last season. The key for him in the NFL will be breaking press coverage - a skill that's becoming increasingly important with the emergence of slot receivers in the league. The smallish, quick guys like Cooks need to be able to use their feet and their hands to free themselves of a jam at the line of scrimmage. Oregon pressed Cooks frequently in this game, and overall, held him to a relatively limited amount of success. But this is just a release to the outside, and you see Cooks do a nice job (depending on how much contact you feel an offensive player should be able to get away with) creating some separation with his feet initially, then his hands down the field. More than anything, he makes a great catch in traffic, takes a good hit and has his head driven into the ground. A great display of concentration, athleticism and toughness outside of that, though. He can get inside the defender against press coverage too, and this shows how disruptive of a player he can be. Oregon's defense is looking to funnel Cooks down the seam with inside-out coverage, plus a safety over the top. Cooks gets over that in and out coverage, forcing the safety to take a flat angle on him. That leaves the underneath wide open for the tight end drag route. There are three defenders within five yards of Cooks when the tight end catches the ball, and none of them are less than nine yards from the receiver. Arizona State tried pressing him as well, and without shallow help over the top of him, he's just too quick from the wide side of the field. Look at the lateral quickness and burst he has off the line of scrimmage. The throw could have been a little earlier (his quarterback didn't have much of an issue hanging him out to dry last year. Not sure if he's the same one who threw to Wheaton in 2012, but we mentioned then how he would have been better off with a better quarterback), but Cooks again flashes a fearlessness that he'll need to haul in these short fades with an impending hit on the way. He appears to lose consciousness when his head is bounced off the turf, and he ended up losing control of the ball, but a great effort getting to that point.
Cooks ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, and while no one's going to mistake him for a big-bodied and big-handed receiver, he's an excellent route-runner with great balance and a strong sense of leverage in his routes. He's polished and can contribute as a slot receiver in the NFL very quickly into his career. He's not quite the return man one might think he'd be, but so much of returns is based on the unit as a whole.
Cooks is a perfect example of the huge amount of talent in the second level of receivers in this year's draft. He packs a lot of skill in his Antonio Brown-ish frame, and he will immediately be one of the better athletes on whatever team drafts him. If the Steelers are interested in Odell Beckham of LSU, which they are said to be, they've been looking at Cooks as well. Neither are likely to last until the second round, but both could be available in a trade-down situation.