ATLANTA – Brandin Cooks was a first-round draft pick. He was traded twice before he turned 25. He has played for three teams the past three seasons.
He also plays the same position as Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr., so the circumstantial evidence does not favor Cooks.
The empirical evidence, though, is fully in his favor.
On Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams receiver will play in a second consecutive Super Bowl, against the team he played for in last year’s, the New England Patriots.
A first-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints in 2014, Cooks spent one year learning the NFL, then produced four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, producing 30 touchdowns while proving to be a speed receiver tough enough to work the middle of the field and carry the ball on jet sweeps. He has not missed a game in those four seasons.
So why can’t he stick with a team?
Perhaps because, at 5-10 and a listed 183 pounds, Cooks does not look as if he’s built to last, or perhaps because of the unique mentality of the two teams that traded him.
Saints coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis are aggressive operators. They traded star tight end Jimmy Graham when he looked like he was headed for the Hall of Fame, and Graham has been disappointing since he left.
Drew Brees doesn’t need star receivers to win and the Saints were able to get a first-round pick from the Patriots for Cooks.
Cooks helped the Patriots to a Super Bowl … and they traded him to the Rams for a first-round pick. Cooks was at the end of his rookie contract. New England tried to sign him to an extension, and when the sides couldn’t cut a deal, the Patriots moved on from a talented player, as Bill Belichick’s team so often does.
So who will Cooks represent in next year’s Super Bowl?
“We’re not trading him,” Rams coach Sean McVay said this week with a smile.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty said Cooks did nothing on the field to prompt his departure. “I call B Cooks the walking stat,” McCourty said. “Every season he plays, he gets 1,000 yards. Having him here as a teammate let me see who he really is.
“He’s an awesome guy. Still talk to him these days. Good guy, great receiver, tough to cover, fast as they come, does a great job catching the ball. We know the guy we’re going against. We know how hard it will be to stop him. We saw it all year last year.”
Cooks doesn’t seem bothered or perplexed by the moves, noting that the Rams were happy to sign him to an extension.
“Doesn’t hurt my pride,” Cooks said. “I think it goes to say I can play this game at a high level and I’m still in demand. I was moved a couple times, but every single time I was moved to a special team. And for a first-round pick.”
Cooks provides the Rams with a pure deep threat, and has become even more important since the injury of receiver Cooper Kupp. Cooks caught 80 passes for 1,204 yards and five touchdowns. Fellow wideout Robert Woods caught 86 passes for 1,219 yards and six scores. No one else on the roster amassed 600 receiving yards.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is adept at limiting opposing star receivers, often with physical play. Cooks will have to handle that challenge better than did the Rams receivers in the first Super Bowl of the Patriots’ dynasty, when Belichick’s defenders mugged the St. Louis Rams’ stars at the line of scrimmage.
Cooks probably knows Belichick well enough to know what’s coming. As for the Rams, they seem thrilled to have a player of Cooks’ ability, and empathy. Last week, Cooks gave the team janitor tickets to the Super Bowl.
“When you get a chance to talk to Coach Belichick and Coach Payton, they think the world of Brandin and what he’s done,” McVay said. “This is a special human. The way he goes about his business, guys like him are why you love coaching.”