By now it's no secret: the New Orleans Saints have arguably the most explosive offense in the NFL. Under head coach Sean Payton and with Drew Brees at quarterback, the Saints have led the League in net yards per game in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011, and finished first in scoring in 2008 and 2009. Brees is a seven-time Pro Bowler and became only the second player in NFL history to pass for over 4,000 yards in eight-straight campaigns – including a NFL-record four 5,000-yard passing seasons.
Payton and Brees have utilized many explosive weapons in their offensive arsenal over the years, with their current favorite option being TE Jimmy Graham. Since the start of 2011, Graham has 288 receptions and 38 touchdowns, totals that include a 99-catch season in 2011 and 18 receptions and two touchdowns through two games this season.
The Saints appear poised to remain one of the NFL's most explosive offenses, with Payton, Brees and Graham all in place and clicking on all cylinders. But a big reason the Saints are set to remain prolific on offense is because of a lesser-known (for now) pass-catching threat who is emerging in the Payton system – rookie WR Brandin Cooks.
Entering the 2014 season, Cooks was on the radar of only the most astute NFL observers. That is changing now. Cooks' quick rise and the versatility he possesses as one of Brees' top targets makes him this week's opponent X-factor.
Brandin Cooks ProfileHeight: 5-10
College: Oregon State
I went back and watched the Saints first two games to study how Cooks is being deployed in the offense. Through two games, Cooks has been targeted 14 times in the passing game and he's also been given three opportunities to run the ball. Here are a few of my thoughts on how the Saints have used Cook to date.
-- In 14 targets, Cooks has caught 10 passes for 94 yards and one touchdown.
-- The most common personnel grouping when the ball goes Cooks' direction is 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end). The Saints used 11 personnel on 12 of Cooks 17 targets rushes. The other three personnel groupings used were: 12 (twice) and 20 and 21 once each.
-- New Orleans shows no tendencies in terms of depth of routes with Cooks. He has caught seven passes on shorter routes (quick slants, screens, comebacks) and seven passes on longer routes (digs, gos, posts, seams).
-- The Saints also show no tendencies in where they line Cooks up. He has lined up in the backfield once, on the left side of the formation seven times and on the right side of the formation six times. With that said, he has lined up wide left twice as much as any other spot (six times). He's lined up wide right three times, slot right twice and once each in the following spots: slot left, backfield, short slot right.
-- All three of Cooks' rushing attempts have gone to the offense's left side. He has run two jet sweeps – both times motioning to the offense's left. His lone end-around attempt came with him lined up in the short slot right position and motioning to the offense's left.
-- In the 17 snaps I watched, the Saints used motion with Cooks six times; three times motioning left, three times motioning right.