Drew Brees: Brandin Cooks will help fill Sproles' role


After the New Orleans Saints traded Darren Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles in March, Drew Brees saluted his former backfield mate as "once in a lifetime" talent in the passing game.

A unique specialist of Sproles' caliber can't be replaced by one player, but Brees now believes first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks can assume some of those same mismatch possibilities.

Around The League predicts the Week 1 starting lineups for all 32 teams, analyzing the potential impact of each rookie class.

AFC East
» Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
» Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
» Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
» Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
» Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
» Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
» Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
» Cardinals | 49ers | Rams | Seahawks

"Even though Darren Sproles played the running back position, we were creative with him," Brees told USA Today's Tom Pelissero this week. "We did a lot of things with him out of the backfield. We'd split him out. We'd throw him screens. We'd do all kinds of stuff with him. So, that role can be filled by maybe even a receiver.

"Hey, we go out in the draft and get a guy in Brandin Cooks out of Oregon State -- an explosive player, great speed, great talent, tremendous young man, loves to learn, loves the game of football. ... From all indications, this guy can do a lot of things for us, and he's eager to fill a role that we need him to on offense."

Brees' comments echo the recent sentiment from NFL Media's Bucky Brooks on the "Around The League Podcast" that Cooks is a candidate for "70-plus catches" while taking on a portion of the routes run by Sproles and Lance Moore.

"Oh man, I've seen all the highlights, and that gets you excited," Brees continued. "I think he can do a lot of things. I think he can play outside receiver. I think I he can play inside in the slot. You can hand him reverses. You can throw him screens. He can return punts.

"He's a very versatile player, very explosive player that you just want to get the ball in his hands and get it to him in space and good things will happen."

With the additions of potential difference-makers such as Cooks and Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, it's easy to get excited in the Big Easy this offseason.

Whereas the wide receiver corps had grown old and stale last season, Cooks, second-year deep threat Kenny Stills and "Making the Leap" candidate Khiry Robinson are poised to inject a massive dose of playmaking ability into Brees' high-octane offense.

The Saints have a legitimate shot to post the NFL's best record this season.

In the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the heroes discuss which teams "realistically" have no shot at winning the Super Bowl this season.