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The Problem With Brandin Cooks Is Not His Size But His College Offense

I see that Mel Kiper tabbing Brandin Cooks for the Panthers has caused some concern because Cooks isn't a "big WR." That may be an issue with Gettleman - as the Giants have long preferred big and physical over small and fast for WRs, with Steve Smith of USC being the only WR less than 6'0" and 200 lbs. that the Giants have invested a high draft pick in (Victor Cruz was an undrafted free agent, and even he is 6'0" 205 lbs) - but it is not an issue with Cam Newton.

Yes, Cam Newton is a big-armed WR. So what. He was still averaging almost 64% completions before getting dinged up at the end of the season caused his accuracy to drop. It is amazing: when you are a dual threat QB, people focus more on the passes that you misfire on than the passes that you complete. So we don't talk about Andrew Luck's 60% completion percentage, or that Matt Ryan never reached a 63% completion percentage until his 5th year in the league (and the Falcons drafted Julio Jones).

Yes, Newton "misses high" on a lot of his throws. But accuracy in the NFL is heavily a "between the ears" thing (from the footwork to the release) which makes me think that if you fix Newton's subpar OL, then that will greatly improve his mindset, which will help his footwork, mechanics, delivery and accuracy. Lots of QBs who have OLs like Carolina does get "happy feet" and turn the ball over right and left. (See Manning, Peyton; Manning, Eli; Leinart, Matt; Cutler, Jay; Bledsoe, Drew; Schaub, Matt and Stafford, Matt.) Newton, a dual threat QB that is used to getting hit, just sails a few throws. I prefer the latter. Incidentally, giving Newton WRs that he has confidence in will do so also. If a QB has doubts as to whether a WR will run a crisp route, get separation and make a play on/fight for the ball (all the things that you just saw Anquan Boldin do and that you have seen Steve Smith do throughout his career) then that might lead to a QB getting tense and "overcorrecting" at the last second when he throws the ball. But when a QB has confidence in the guy that he is getting the ball to, he will relax and just focus on getting the ball out as quickly as possible to the WR will go get it.

So yes, a Pro Bowl caliber big WR is ideal. But a Pro Bowl caliber small WR is preferable to an average or mediocre big WR. Look at the Panthers' current roster: Brandon LaFell is 6'3" and Steve Smith is 5'9". If the Panthers had two Steve Smith's they'd win the Super Bowl. If they had two Brandon LaFells they would go 4-12. And another thing: I still remember Cam Newton's rookie year and believe that the "big target" for Cam Newton should be a TE such as the Fresno State sleeper prospect Marcel Jensen to pair with Olsen.

So what is my problem with Brandin Cooks then? Mainly, it is the Oregon State offense. Oregon State runs a west coast style offense where the QB gets the ball to the WR in space and the WR gets big YAC. While Cam Newton proved that he was capable of doing that this year, that isn't his game. Newton is a better intermediate and down the field vertical passer than he is at the Drew Brees/Tom Brady/Aaron Rodgers/Peyton Manning game. Not a knock on Newton, by the way. Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco have similar strengths and weaknesses to Newton as a passer.

So the question is whether Cooks can adapt from being a west coast YAC guy to being a vertical WR. (Incidentally, lots of small WRs have been great vertical threats. In addition to Steve Smith, please recall "the smurfs" of the Washington Redskin Super Bowl teams.) I suppose a better way to phrase the question: in Carolina's offense, would Cooks be better utilized as a #1 WR or a slot WR? Even if the answer is "slot WR" that should not necessarily disqualify Cooks with the #1 pick, as we have seen how Wes Welker and the aforementioned Cruz have dominated the NFL from the slot, being more valuable than the starting WRs. You could be really creative with average or above average WRs on the outside but using the slot WRs and the TEs (again the Panthers would need another one) to crush people, similar to the Patriots' offense with Gronkowski, Hernandez and Welker that went to the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. (The problem with that is that though I still defend Mike Shula as an offensive coordinator, that is not a scheme or philosophy that he has experience running.)

So, we have a risk/reward ratio here. What is more likely?

A) Brandin Cooks adapting to a vertical offense.

B) Kelvin Benjamin booming rather than busting.

C) Jordan Rodgers or Allen Robinson being able to separate from defenders consistently in the NFL.

If the Panthers decided to go conservative and go with A) I wouldn't mind. But based on Gettleman's history, C) is likely the direction that he will choose. At least in round 1 anyways. If the Panthers go OT and CB in the first 2 rounds and Cooks is available in round 3, Gettleman will certainly grab him.

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