By now, every Saints fan should have heard about the potential, and seemingly likely, Brandin Cooks trade and the social media drama surrounding it. Twitter has been on fire about it, and even former players such as Keenan Lewis have joined in it. Brandin Cooks’ services appear to be in high demand, and the Saints have reportedly already received multiple trade offers for him.
Cooks is one of the most talented young receivers in the NFL, but even with his skill set the Twitter drama between him and Michael Thomas could potentially hurt his trade value. Hopefully, the market is big enough for him that this has no effect and the Saints are still able to get the “awful lot” they referred to when general manager Mickey Loomis described what it would take to trade Cooks.
Now, when this assumed trade happens, and I say when because everything is pointing in that direction, who would the Saints bring in to replace Cooks? The Saints were an elite, high-powered and high-flying offense long before the arrival of Cooks. The arrival of Sean Payton and Drew Brees took the Saints to a level the franchise had never experienced.
Regardless, it does not mean they can just leave the roster as is when Cooks is no longer wearing a Saints jersey. Someone will have to take his place and it will be someone from free agency or the draft. The most obvious way to address it is to find someone with a similar skill set to Cooks, but that does not mean that a different type of receiver could not come in and add value to the Saints offense.
There are a few options in free agency who might be able to come in and replace Cooks, but of those options, most either come with a high price tag or issues with consistency. Chris Dunnells recently did a piece on the potential free agent suitors, so be sure to check it out.
This article will focus on the potential draft replacements for Cooks, and since the NFL Combine just wrapped up, we can evaluate the performances of the receivers who participated in it. Who stood out among the receiver group and improved their draft stock and who might the Saints target in April to replace Cooks?
Ross, a first round prospect, just set a new NFL Combine record in the 40-yard dash. Ross is 5-foot-11, 188-pounds, just slightly taller than the 5-foot-10 Cooks, and ran a time of 4.22 seconds at the combine. He was also in the Top 10 in the Vertical Jump (37”) and Broad Jump (133”). Ross didn’t do much as a freshman or sophomore with the Huskies, and in 2015 he missed his entire junior season with a torn ACL. In 2016, Ross finally had his breakout season by posting 81 catches for 1,252 yards and 17 touchdowns. Ross is about the closest comparison to Brandin Cooks in this draft with similar size and speed and drafting him would mean the Saints have the fastest player in the NFL on their roster.
My speed Coach said God was sending a message. https://t.co/U2jT57Z2Ur— John Ross III (@WatchJRoss) March 5, 2017
Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Davis, another first round prospect, did not participate in combine drills - so he does not have an official 40-yard dash time listed. CBS Sports does have unofficial time listed at 4.48 seconds. While he isn’t a burner like Cooks or Ross, at 6-foot-3, 209-pounds, that is still a very respectable time. Davis is clearly not in the Brandin Cooks mold, but having another big receiver with the potential of Davis certainly would not hurt the Saints offense.
According to NFL.com, Davis earned “The 2016 Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year is the all-time leader in major college football in receiving yards (5,285).” Even without the speed of Cooks, Davis still possesses big play, deep threat ability while also possessing the size to high point the ball in the air. Another thing Davis displayed through college was consistency and steady improvement, increasing his receptions and yards every single season. A combination of Thomas and Davis could giving opposing defenses fits, especially in the red zone.
Would Davis give the Saints their own version of Dez Bryant?
Curtis Samuel, Ohio State
Samuel ran the second fastest 40-yard dash time of the receivers at the combine. Samuel’s 4.31 is also slightly faster than Cooks’ time of 4.33 seconds, and like Ross, he’s slightly bigger than Cooks standing 5’11’’ and 195 pounds. When looking at Samuel’s receiving stats for the Buckeyes, they don’t come off as impressive when compared to other players like Ross or Davis.
Samuel still had more receiving yards than Michael Thomas did in his last season at Ohio State, but Samuel is more than just a receiving threat. While he totaled 865 yards receiving with seven touchdowns, he also totaled 771 yards rushing and eight touchdowns (7.9 yards per carry). Samuel would bring the same speed to the field as Cooks, but also add the versatility of a runner/receiver that the Saints tried to do with Cooks, usually unsuccessfully.
Could the Saints reunite Samuel with former teammate Michael Thomas?
Mike Williams, Clemson
Williams, another top prospect, did participate in the combine but elected not to run the 40-yard dash. He will instead wait until Clemson’s Pro Day. Williams is regarded as the No. 1 receiver in the draft, according to most draft boards and mocks. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Williams had a successful four years at Clemson. Unfortunately, similar to Saints corner Delvin Breaux, he nearly saw the end of his football career when he fractured his neck during the season opener his junior season.
Luckily, Davis was able to recover and came back in 2016 to help led Clemson to a National Championship totaling 98 receptions for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. With no 40-yard dash time listed and some scouts showing concern for his speed, Williams may not be the best fit to replace Cooks, but his size and pure ability as a receiver cannot be ignored. Williams will most likely become a valuable asset for whatever team he ends up with in April.
Two of the NFL’s best in Michael Irvin and Steve Smith Sr. seems to think Williams is the “future”, could he be the Saints future?
Zay Jones, East Carolina
Jones absolutely killed it at the Senior Bowl (click to watch). He improved his draft stock there and improved it even more with his combine performance. Jones is a big receiver at 6-foot-2, 201-pounds, and ran a 4.45 second 40-yard dash at the combine. He also finished 3rd in the Broad Jump (133”), 3rd in the 20-yard shuttle, 4th in the 60-yard shuttle, and 10th in the Vertical Jump (36.5”).
Jones is another receiver who showed great consistency throughout college and improved every season with the Pirates. From 2013-2016, his yardage totals increased from 604, 830, 1,099, and finally 1,746 yards as a senior. He totaled 23 touchdowns over four years, eight of them as a senior. According to NFL.com, Jones holds the “NCAA record for most receptions in a career (399) and the single-season record with 158 catches in 2016.” He comes from a football family where several of his closest family members played either professional or college ball, and he is praised for his high football IQ.
ECU's Zay Jones clocked at 4.46 in his first 40-yard dash. pic.twitter.com/XR3L7bkHxX— Hoist The Colours (@HTC247) March 4, 2017
Chris Godwin, Penn State
At 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, Godwin ran a 4.42 second 40-yard dash at the combine, good for 6th among the receiver group. Godwin had a productive three years at Penn State, totaling 154 receptions for 2,421 yards and 18 touchdowns. 2015’s sophomore season saw Godwin put up 1,101 yards, his best over the three years, but still put up 982 as a junior.
What is most impressive about Godwin is that he is clutch. When Penn State needed a big performance in those important games, Godwin was on point.
According to NFL.com:
Though some of his receiving numbers were down in an honorable mention all-conference junior year (59-982), Godwin scored a career-high 11 times. He saved the best performances in his career for bowl games, first as a freshman (7-140, TD vs. Boston College in Pinstripe Bowl), then in 2015 (6-133 vs. Georgia in TaxSlayer.com Bowl) and finally in his last college game (9-187, 2 TDs vs. USC in the Rose Bowl).
A speedster who has his best performances at the most important times could make for a good addition to the Saints, especially for someone who might be available in the 3rd round of the draft.
Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech
Henderson is a 5-foot-11, 199-pound dual-threat receiver. In college, he showed his versatility by totaling 259 yards rushing throughout his three years at Louisiana Tech. Henderson improved each season as a receiver in catches, yards and touchdowns. In 2016, he totaled 82 catches for 1,535 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also added 14 carries for 133 yards and two touchdowns on the season.
While Henderson may not have been one of the top performers at the combine, he still put up good numbers running 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 13 reps on bench press, 36-inch vertical, 131-inch broad jump, 7.18 seconds in 3-cone, 4.35 in 20-yard shuttle, and 11.79 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle. Henderson has also scored touchdowns as a kickoff returner, and was ranked 4th in the FBS with 23 total touchdowns. Henderson is described as a good route runner with a good double move and is able to maintain his speed when changing directions in his route.
Already rocking some black and gold, is Henderson sending the Saints a hint?
Who do you think the Saints should target to replace Brandin Cooks? All suggestions and arguments are welcome.