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John DeShazier: Brandin Cooks expects to build off of breakout 2015 season

Former first-round pick 'extremely confident, extremely excited'

The words Brandin Cooks offered during the offseason of 2015 weren't boastful so much as they were a promise.

Cooks, arguably the fastest player wearing a New Orleans Saints uniform in 2014, vowed to pick up his already brisk pace. The knowledge he gained in his rookie season, he said, would allow him to play freer and think less. The 4.24-second 40-yard dash speed he displayed as the fastest player at the NFL Combine better would be harnessed, the Saints would be the beneficiaries of it and opponents would bear the brunt of it.

And in Nostradamus-like fashion, Cooks delivered exactly as he envisioned.

From his first year total of 53 receptions for 550 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games, Cooks' production rocketed to 84 catches for 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns in his second season, team-leading totals in each category and the best number line for a Saints receiver since Marques Colston caught 83 passes for 1,154 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012.

He had seven catches of at least 30 yards, and five touchdown receptions of at least 26 yards.

So the inclination to believe Cooks is strong when he expresses another belief – namely, that there's more where last season came from.

"I'm extremely confident and extremely excited," he said. "Last year was an OK season in my book. I left a lot of meat out there on the bone. For that to be a 1,000-yard season, I'm so excited about what I can do this year just from getting smarter as a player, knowing how defenses are going to cover me."

Cooks, and the Saints, appeared to have figured out the coverages more than sufficiently last season, his effectiveness spiking toward the end of the year.

In Weeks 13 through 16, he posted three 100-yard games in the four-week span and caught 24 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns. Even including a five-touchdown stretch from Weeks 7 through 10, the totality of it was the best quadrant of games he had last year.

Now, Cooks enters his third season as the Saints' leading returning receiver, as well as their senior receiver.

No receiver on the roster has more experience in New Orleans' offense than does Cooks, the team's first-round draft pick in '14. With the release of Colston occurring earlier this offseason, Cooks becomes the sage voice in the room when it comes to the franchise, the expectations in the locker room and the expected work ethic, and he occupies the position as favored target of Drew Brees, having put in the most work with the future Hall of Fame quarterback.

"First and foremost, I miss Colston," Cooks said of the franchise's all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. "That's a guy that kept the room together. But now, moving on from that, the guys that we have – Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, Michael Thomas, R.J. Harris, I can go down the line with everyone that we have in that room – I'm looking forward to that.

"It's one of those things that you look forward to. I love that role. I'm excited with the guys that we have in this room so for me to be the oldest Saints receiver in the room, it's a wonderful thing because there are other guys on the squad that can take that same leadership. I'm looking forward to that, not only from a mental aspect but also on the field physically. I'm excited about that."

The role has been accepted and embraced this offseason by Cooks, who has been a mature-for-his-age player since joining the Saints.

"He's talking to the guys when they come off the field, so he's helping out," receivers coach John Morton said. "Because he was in that same position before, and he had Colston here that was helping him. So he knows all the nuances of the offense and how to help guys.

"I'm sure when he first came in here was just like he was a vet, (and) when I got him last year he was the same guy. That says a lot about a kid."

The temperament says much, and so does the production. And so, too, does the fact that Cooks enters the offseason with a promise that he intends to keep during the regular season, and has shown the ability to do so.

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