Who is the best wide receiver in the Pac-12?
If you polled general managers and scouts before the season, the answer would've been USC's Marqise Lee by a landslide. However, the conversation is starting to change with the emergence of Oregon State's Brandin Cooks as the most productive receiver in college football.
That might take casual college football observers by surprise, considering Lee's remarkable accomplishments throughout his tenure as a Trojan. A standout junior, Lee has 235 receptions for 3,468 yards and 27 receiving touchdowns in 34 career games, including a spectacular sophomore season in which he had 118 catches for 1,721 receiving yards and 14 scores. Those numbers accurately reflect Lee's dominant presence as a perimeter playmaker, which is why scouts are captivated by his potential as a pro.
As the FBS leader in receptions and receiving yards, also ranking second with 14 receiving touchdowns, Cooks has stolen some of Lee's thunder by showcasing a dynamic game and explosive speed. He has torched opponents on vertical routes on the perimeter and has displayed exceptional quickness and burst on "catch and run" plays. Cooks' sudden acceleration and burst is unrivaled at his position; he is truly a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
When I spoke to several scouts at the Stanford-USC game this weekend, the opinion was nearly unanimous that, right now, Cooks is a superior player to Lee. An NFC South scout said, "Cooks is just as explosive as Lee, but more consistent as a pass catcher." That opinion was validated when an AFC East scout told me that the debate "isn't close" based on their performance this season. He told me that Cooks has played at a higher level since the beginning of the season and is one of the most "electric players" he's seen in the Pac-12 in years. Given the playmakers that perennially come out of the conference, this is high praise for a player who seemingly came from out of nowhere to become one of the most productive players in the college game.
Of course, there are still a few games left to alter the opinion of evaluators, but I've spoken to at least five evaluators within the past week who've held Cooks in high regard, suggesting the buzz is quietly building around his potential as a difference-maker at the next level.