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How New Orleans Saints WR Brandin Cooks survives as a smaller athlete

With the 20th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Oregon State. The Black and Gold traded up to grab the young speedster from Stockton, California, which unsurprisingly turned out to be the right choice down on the bayou.

Great hands, off-the-charts speed and savvy route-running skills make Cooks a promising candidate for long-term success at the next level. What’s even more impressive is what he’s capable of doing at such a small size.

Now, Brandin Cooks isn’t too small. In fact, he’s just about average. But let’s face it — scouts and coaches don’t drool over a 5-foot-11, 189 pound wideout. Most teams are looking for a big man that cannot only stretch the field, but consistently produce in the red zone as well.

Cooks seems to brush all that off with a chip on his shoulder — a good trait for a man of his stature in the National Football League. He uses his size to his advantage, which is exactly what you need to do as an undersized athlete if you plan to be a factor as a professional football player.

The little man has taken part in a video series with GRIT Media. Whether it’s describing his life as a Nike athlete, or explaining the keys to improving his game, Cooks likes to share his thoughts. This time, in GRIT’s ‘Unfiltered’ series, the former Biletnikoff Award winner (nation’s top college receiver), talks about using his size to his advantage.

“The thing that helped me through my process was having a chip on my shoulder,” Cooks said. “Hearing and listening to people telling me that I’m too small, that I can’t play receiver, that I can’t play football, maybe you should rethink what you do, and instead of changing and instead of listening to those people and giving up on myself, I never did that. And I kept that chip on my shoulder, so when the time came of making it, I have a story to tell and I can reach out and inspire others.

“When I was growing up and I saw smaller guys like Steve Smith play at such a high level, I was like aw man, I want to be like him, I want to play the game like him,” Cooks continued. “He’s (Smith) doing it at such a high level and proving so many people wrong. Why can’t I do it?

“A lot of people say that it’s a negative thing of being a smaller athlete, but I take so much positive from it, because I feel like we’re not beating up on our body as much as those bigger athletes, or those taller athletes,” Cooks said.

“Another advantage or positive thing is that it’s so easy to miss us out there on the field, because we’re so quick, and we’re getting around. They (defenses) don’t have time to actually get a good lick on us, so being a smaller athlete you really don’t see us getting that hard hit. You may see it every once and a while, but you don’t see it as often, because we’re just so fluid and so shifty,” he explained.

“Some of the traits that I feel like you need to have is a good change of direction, a good sense of space and always having your head on a swivel, because they’re coming after us. Let’s just be honest — they want that good lick on us, because they know it may hurt us more than most people.

“Also, you just got to be a smart player. Know when the right time is to go down and just take that tackle. Sometimes you have to know when to go out of bounds. Don’t be afraid of people saying he’s scared. No, he’s just being smart and he’s trying to save his career,” Cooks wrapped up.

I’d also like to add that receivers like Brandin Cooks can be mismatch nightmares for some of the bigger defensive backs. It’s tough for those big guys to keep up and follow the pace of the smaller, speedier guys. Cooks proved that so well as a rookie, and he’ll look to do it again in 2015.

Unfortunately, his rookie campaign came to an early end after suffering a hand injury in Week 11 versus the Cincinnati Bengals, missing the final six games. Cooks totaled 53 receptions for 550 yards and three touchdowns in ten games, adding seven rushes for 73 yards and another score.

With Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills now out of the picture, he is set for an expanded role with the huge possibility of becoming Drew Brees‘ top target. Keep doing your thing, Brandin Cooks. It’s worked so far, and things should only get better from here. There’s a very bright future ahead.