Wide Receiver/Return Specialist
Oregon State University Beavers
Lincoln High School
When Southern California's Marqise Lee shattered the Pac-12 Conference's reception and receiving yardage season records in 2012, many those impressive numbers of 118 catches for 1,728 yards would last for quite a few years before someone would come along and rewrite them. Even before the "ink" could dry in the record books, along came Cooks with his own brand of, "Can You Top This?" By the time the 2013 season concluded, Lee's numbers went down one spot, taken over by the Beaver's 128 receptions for 1,730 yards.
Teams looking for a slot receiver in the National Football League regard Cooks as a fearless athlete who steps on the field and takes on a Steve Smith-like (former Carolina Panther) personality – do whatever it takes to get to the ball and big plays will follow. Not only is Cook an accomplished flanker with the strength to defeat the jam, but he has also utilized his fantastic initial burst to excel carrying the ball out of the backfield, averaging 5.57 yards toting the pigskin as a ball carrier.
While some teams have "computer numbers" that they wish for in a receiver – 6:03, 215 pounds," that certainly will never be the 5:09.6, 189-pound OSU prospect, but based on his outstanding performance at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, none of the "big boys" could match up to the Stockton, California native. Cooks' 10-yard dash timing (1.54) was one of the fastest at the 2014 event. His 4.33-second clocking in the 40-yard dash was the second-fastest of all the 335-plus players in attendance. Among those that participated at the Combines over the last decade, that figure checks in as the 16th-best.
Cooks also ranked with the best at his position with a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10'-0" broad jump. He was timed at 3.81 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle. That figure was not only the best of all players at the 2014 testing, but only cornerback Jason Allen-Tennessee was able to match that figure during the last 10 years (2006). Cooks also led all players in the last decade with a 60-yard shuttle timing of 10.72 seconds and placed tenth among all wide receivers since 2005 with a 6.76-second performance in the three-cone testing.
On the gridiron, Cooks also established himself as one of the truly elite athletes, not only in the Pac-12 Conference, but in all of college football. Among active NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision players, he ranks fifth with 3,272 receiving yards and an average of 86.11 yards per game. He also placed seventh by averaging 5.95 receptions per game. He led the nation as a junior with 133.08 receiving yards and finished second while leading the league with an average of 9.85 receptions per game, which is tied for 15th on the NCAA season-record chart.
Cooks closed out his career by recording 13 100-yard receiving performances in 29 games as a starter. His 226 receptions placed second on the school record list and rank tenth in Pac-12 Conference annals. He ranks third in OSU history with 3,272 receiving yards, eighth best on the conference chart. His 24 touchdown catches established a Beavers career-record and his 3,863 all-purpose yards rank ninth in school annals.
Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion and Cooks connected for 16 touchdowns in 2013 and twenty-three times during their careers, making them the Beavers' most prolific quarterback-receiver tandem. When Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award, given to the top receiver in the country, he gave Mannion a nod. "I have to thank Sean for everything he did to help me get this award," Cooks said. "This isn't just for me. It's for my teammates and it's for the program. It took a lot of things for me to get this, so it all goes to my teammates."
That is why Cooks has been embraced by not only his teammates and coaches, but also his opponents, who marvel at his fearlessness playing "Davey" in a land of "Goliaths."
Cooks breakaway speed and big play ability was certainly well known to opposing Pac-12 coaches. "He's fearless. He's not very big, but he's very physical," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He can go up and get a football with two or three people around him."
Said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham: "So far nobody's seemed to have an answer for him."
But Stanford coach David Shaw put it most succinctly: "Wow."
Simply put, Cooks possesses all the tools — except maybe height — that you'd want in a wide receiver – speed, quickness, smarts, strength, sure hands, work ethic and most of all, drive. Put all that together and you get what Boise State sophomore cornerback Donte Deayon, Cooks' coverage assignment at the 2013 Hawaii Bowl, saw on video before the Beaver beat the Bronco for a touchdown on eight receptions in the game. "He's at a different speed than everybody else on the field," Deayon said.
"He's been one of the hardest workers we've ever had and one of the best characters we've ever had and one of the best talents we've ever had," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said of his standout flanker. "The combination of all that has led to him winning the Biletnikoff Award — and he deserves it all."
Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver, becoming the second player in school history to capture that prestigious honor (Mike Hass won it in 2005). He had the school and conference record-breaking numbers to back it up. In addition to those records, he caught at least nine passes in 10 of the Beavers' 2013 games. He gained 100 yards eight times. And he scored multiple touchdowns in five of his first six contests. "He's really shifty, fast, elusive," Deayon said, "and he can do things when he has the ball in his hands."
Cooks also has a compelling personal history. The Oregonian published a story detailing Cooks' family troubles. His father died of a heart attack when Cooks was six-years-old. His three older brothers have accumulated tales of hardship — most notably Cooks' closest brother, Andre, who is in prison. "The day after daddy died," Brandin Cooks told the news-paper, "it felt like everything went downhill."
His brothers saw something different in him — some of the same traits that Riley and the Beavers rave about today. Cooks attacked life with an energy and purpose that hinted of a bright future. His brothers pushed him to fulfill his potential. Now they see him as an inspiration.
"Even though I was the youngest, I was the only one who made (my father's death) a positive," Cooks told The Oregonian. "I can't forget it, but I can let it fuel me … I realized it young, and they realized it late. But they can still do it. I really believe I can be the one to change Andre's life."
After his sensational 2013 campaign, even his coaches felt that Cooks had little left to accomplish. His goal that season was to make 92 catches for 1,300 yards. He hit those marks in the first 10 games.
"The second I learned what college football was, what the NFL was, I said, ‘I want to do that,'" Cooks told The Oregonian. "I came in here, and I wanted to break records, I wanted to be better than anyone else who had come here. I wanted to set myself up so that within three years, I would have the option to leave."
Even Riley seems content to let Cooks go. He seized the opportunity to pitch Cooks on returning to school at the Hawaii Bowl press conference — but did it in a way so light-hearted that it seemed clear what the outcome will be. "Brandin will get so much better if he comes back to Oregon State. It would be unbelievable," Riley said with a laugh. "Everybody should repeat that to him all the time.
"Actually, I'm going to stay out of that one. We're going to play this game. I'm sure we'll talk. Brandin will do this correctly. He'll find out from the NFL where he's projected to be drafted. If it is best for him to head on, we'll wish him the best. If he comes back, it's obviously a big boost for our team."
Junior quarterback Sean Mannion, who ranked second in the nation in passing yards in large part because of his uncanny chemistry with Cooks, was also hoping his favorite target would return, but also understood what realizing an NFL dream truly means.
"They basically throw the football around the clock all year," Riley said. "They are passionate about what they do. The fact that Sean is the second-leading thrower in the country and Brandin leads in numerous categories is not an accident. They work hard, and they like it." All of that work made Cooks' Biletnikoff win meaningful to Mannion, too. The quarterback watched the awards show on TV.
"You couldn't give it to a better guy," Mannion said. "All the stats and on-the-field performance aside, what made me so happy — because I know him so well, he's one of my closest friends on the team — is I know how hard he worked to become a great player. I'm sure it's special for him, but it's also special for me. I'm so proud to be able to play with him."
Of course, when the time came to share his news, the first person Brandin Cooks called was his best friend, the person he bonded with the day they met at Oregon State, the guy he refers to as "my brother," even though they have no blood relation. Storm Woods cried "happy tears" when he heard Cooks was leaving school early to make himself eligible for the NFL draft, forgoing his final season of eligibility at Oregon State to "pursue a dream I've been chasing my whole life."
"I'm going to miss him because that's my best friend, my brother, but they were happy tears because where he came from and what he's done, it's perfect," Woods said. "What more could he do?" Indeed, it will be tough to duplicate 2013.
"It's been a long season," said Cooks, who held a press conference after making his announcement that he would go pro. "It's a great day. It's been my dream my whole life, ever since I knew what the NFL was. But it's also a sad day, because I'm leaving behind a bunch of good people: my friends and teammates who mean the world to me, and the coaching staff that means the world to me, who shaped me into the player I am today."
Cooks feels he can improve in all areas of his game, but Oregon State receivers coach Brent Brennan got more specific, saying Cooks will need to work on his route running. "He's got a such a good combination of speed, power and quickness it will be easy to fix," Brennan said. "He's done a great job of working on his game."
Program administrator Jay Locey, who recruited Cooks, gave him some of the highest praise a football player in Corvallis can get. "I didn't think there would be anybody who could be better than (former OSU receiver) James Rodgers," Locey said. "But he's filled those shoes up, and maybe expanded them."
Cooks consulted with his family after the conclusion of the Beavers' 2013 season — OSU beat Boise State 38-23 in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24 — but had a feeling after the final regular-season game against Oregon that it might be time to go.
"We had some downtime and I thought about it, but once we found out we were going to a bowl game, I pushed it behind me and focused on my teammates and on getting a win for this program," Cooks said. "After the bowl game, I went home, sat down with my family once again" before coming to a decision. He added that Riley and the coaching staff emphasized he needed to do what was best for him personally, not what was best for the program.
"They didn't try to sway me either way," he said. "They were a great support through this process, just like they've been the entire time I've been here. They're like another family."
Cooks is the fourth Oregon State player to leave early, joining former standouts Steven Jackson (who left after the 2003 season), Brandon Browner (2004) and Jacquizz Rodgers (2010).
One thing Cooks promised his coach was that he would continue to take online classes, as he is on track to graduate with his degree in human development and family sciences next winter. "If he says he's going to finish it, he will," Brennan said. "Nothing with him is lip service. His drive to be great is better than any I've ever seen."
Cooks is generously listed at 5-foot-10, but his speed, and particularly his acceleration after the catch, is what sets him apart from other receivers.
"I don't think his size will scare people away. He plays bigger than his size, and there are a lot of guys his size who are unbelievable NFL players," assistant coach Brent Brennan said. "And remember, he tore up a really good conference the last couple years. It's not like he just showed up. He had almost 1,200 yards last year … some teams, some (general managers) might have that hesitation, but then he's going to go run something great at the combine, jump something crazy, his shuttle will be off the charts and everybody will be taking about him."
Brennan believes he will make an impact at the next level, just like he did at Oregon State, where he will leave as arguably the best receiver in program history. "Every generation there are a few players who leave their mark, and they're burned into our legacy forever," Brennan said. "That's how he'll be. Forever us, the media and our alumni will be talking about the day he ripped someone for 200 yards, or hung big numbers on someone else. It's going to be fun to see what the next chapter holds. If I had a pick, I'm choosing him."
It was only four years ago that Cooks was living up to his billing as a four-star prospect. He earned Offensive Player of the Year in the Section, All-Area and team MVP two years each. He had 29 receptions for 600 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. The following season, he made 46 catches for 783 yards and 10 touchdowns as a flanker, and on defense, he had three interceptions.
During his final campaign, Cooks registered 66 receptions for 1,125 yards and 11 touchdowns, as he ended up with 1,525 all purpose yards. He was also a standout sprinter in track, participating in the Junior Olympics. He closed out his prep career earning six total letters – three in football, two in track and one in basketball. He competed in the National Underclassmen Combine's All World Gridiron Classic December 31st, 2010 in Orlando and at the 2010 Nike Combine at Stanford, he earned MVP recognition.
Cooks appeared in 12 games for Oregon State in 2011, becoming the first true freshman since 1996 to start for the Beavers in a season opener. He recorded 31 catches for 391 yards (12.61 ypc) and three touchdowns while splitting time at flanker. He took over the position full-time as a sophomore and while Markus Wheaton was the team's featured receiver, it was Cooks that was a Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist after pulling down 67 throws for 1,151 yards and five touchdowns in 2012.
With Wheaton gone to the National Football League, Cooks stepped on to the center stage as a junior and put together his record-breaking performance. The Biletnikoff Award winner was also the recipient of team MVP honors. The Maxwell Award semi-finalist also garnered All-American and All-Pac 12 Conference first-team honors in what would his final season on the college gridiron.
Cooks was also a standout athlete for the Oregon State University track team. He posted personal bests of 6.81 seconds in the 60 meters, 9.52 seconds in the 100 meters and 19.59 seconds in the 200 meters.
Cooks started 29-of-38 games at Oregon State at flanker, including his first two and final 27 contests…Gained 3,272 yards with 24 touchdowns on 226 catches (14.48 ypc), adding 340 yards and two scores on 61 carries (5.57 ypc), 72 yards on 12 punt returns and 179 yards on eight kickoff returns for a total of 3,863 all-purpose yards, an average of 101.66 yards per game.