INDIANAPOLIS — One of the stars of the NFL combine was Brandin Cooks, the Oregon State receiver who posted a blazing time in the 40-yard dash.
Cooks, like most players, promised a head-turning time, and he backed it up two days later by running the 40 in 4.33 seconds. It was the seventh-fastest time by a receiver in the last nine years.
As NFL Network analyst and draft guru Mike Mayock said: “He’s a kid who I thought made a statement, ‘I’m a first-round pick.’ And this is one of the best wide-receiver drafts I’ve ever seen.”
But Cooks is interesting for another reason. At 5 feet 10, he was one of the shortest receivers at the combine. In evaluations of his play, his height and lack of bulk (he’s 189 pounds) always come up.
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“They say I’m not the tallest,” Cooks said, “but I feel like there’s so many guys in this game today that are potential Hall of Famers like Steve Smith, who’s killing the game right now. Or DeSean Jackson. I can go down the list. There are guys under 5-10 that are definitely great receivers.”
He’s right — to an extent. Look no further than the Seahawks’ roster. Seattle’s top two pass-catchers this season were both 5-10, and a third receiver — Percy Harvin — is 5-11.
But in the last five years, big receivers have still dominated the game.
“It depends on what you define as small,” said former Colts general manager Bill Polian, “but I’ll use a phrase our mutual friend Bill Parcells always uses: ‘Little guys have a hard time in this league.’ ”
As Polian noted, the difficulty is creating the parameters for “small” receivers. Is Nate Washington (6-1, 183 pounds) small, or is Roddy White (6-0, 211)? Anquan Boldin is 6-1, but at 220 pounds he plays much bigger.
In 2013, only four receivers shorter than 6 feet finished in the top 20 in receiving yards. The year before, only three sub-6-footers ranked in the league’s top 20. The same was true in 2011.
At the combine, Mayock made an interesting point. With the increased use of the back-shoulder fade — when a quarterback throws to a covered receiver’s back shoulder instead of his front shoulder — bigger receivers are more in demand.
“I think it has changed the whole way we’re drafting now,” Mayock said. “I really believe it.”
He referenced two receivers in particular: Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, who at 6-5 and 240 pounds resembles a tight end, and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, another monster target at 6-5 and 230 pounds.
“Benjamin and Evans are today’s NFL: outside the numbers, red zone, throw it up,” Mayock said. “In the old days, even 10 or 15 years ago, quarterbacks were taught that if a corner or safety covered your guy in press coverage, you went to your second read. Now they’re taught to throw to the back of the guy’s helmet.”
The Seahawks could be looking for that type of receiver in the draft. They tried to get one with fourth-round pick Chris Harper (6-1, 228). At the time, coach Pete Carroll said that Harper’s size and physical style brought a different element than what Seattle’s receivers offered. But the Seahawks cut him before the season. They also just released Sidney Rice, who at 6-4 gave them that presence before injuries derailed his productivity.
“They might be looking for a guy who is a little bit bigger, who can be a little bit more of a possession receiver,” Polian said. “They’re probably looking for somebody of a different style. A complementary guy.”
Mayock said there are plenty of options in this draft, even in the later rounds. He mentioned Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews (6-3, 212) and Rutgers’ Brandon Coleman (6-6, 225).
Said Seahawks general manager John Schneider: “You’re always looking for some uniqueness with your receivers. … You’re always looking for a big, powerful man.”
Yet one of the most talked-about receivers in this draft class is Cooks. He’s drawn comparisons to Smith, the veteran Panthers receiver who has been intent on showing size isn’t an issue.
Cooks loves the comparison.
“He’s a cold-blooded killer,” he said, “and that’s what I feel like I’m going to be.”
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