It's not as if Brandin Cooks' NFL career got off to a slow start.
He caught seven passes for 77 yards in his debut, tying for the most receptions by a New Orleans Saints rookie in his first game, and followed with games of eight catches for 74 yards against Minnesota, and nine for 56 yards against Tampa Bay.
But it appears as though, entering Sunday's game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome between the Saints (4-5) and Cincinnati (5-3-1), that the rookie receiver has found his stride in New Orleans' most recent three games. And it's a stride – an NFL Scouting Combine-best 4.33-second, 40-yard dash – that adds a special dimension to the offense.
In the last three games, Cooks has produced 14 catches for 222 yards (15.9 yards per catch) and two touchdowns, and a 4-yard touchdown run. Included in his haul are receptions of 14, 18 and 50 yards (for a touchdown) against Green Bay; 18 and 15 yards against Carolina; and 40 and 31 yards (touchdown) against San Francisco.
Compared to his first six games – 34 catches for 278 yards (8.2 yards per catch) and one touchdown – Cooks, in the last three games, appears to be on an extended statistical Jet Sweep.
"He's outstanding in his preparation and I think that each week, there are plays that may be featured where he's primary," Coach Sean Payton said. "The touchdown he catches last week (31-yarder against the 49ers), really there are a handful of guys that are in the progression and he ends up with the matchup, and ends up with the look that Drew (Brees) finds.
"He's explosive and I think that aside from his learning curve, it's just the way that he practices. It's full speed, it's 100 percent and he's always listening, does a great job taking coaching. I think those things show up and now it's just those opportunities that we give him."
The chances look to be flowing more frequently with the highly touted rookie, who is the youngest player in NFL history to score via run and reception in the same game (against Green Bay).
He caught 18 passes and had three carries in his first three games, but the big plays weren't as prevalent as they've become.
"I just feel like it's one of things where I'm just getting more comfortable," Cooks said. "I wouldn't say it's my turn, because everybody else is still being productive for the most part. It just happens to be the right time, right moments.
"I'm definitely getting more comfortable with the offense. I always knew the plays but now it's like the back of my hand, so I'm not too much thinking out there on the field like it was the first couple of weeks."
The byproduct has been that the Saints better have been able to take advantage of his speed, especially down the field.
"For me, I feel like with my speed, no matter what technique (a defensive back uses) – for the long ones – for the most part, I get him," Cooks said. "It's a matter of where he is. But no matter where he is, it's not that big of a deal."
Rather, the big deal has become Cooks, who has had 90-plus receiving yards in two of the last three games and hasn't yet begun to scratch the surface of the impact he's expected to make, and that he expects to make.
Photos of Brandin Cooks from the 2014 season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)