Carolina Panthers

Brandin Cooks looks to live up to Steve Smith comparison

jperson@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 11, 2014 


STEVE DYKES — Getty Images

Former Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks is confident he’ll measure up at the NFL’s scouting combine this month.

Cooks is shooting to run the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds and hopes he doesn’t shrink from his listed height of 5 feet, 10 inches when the scouts pull out the measuring tape.

“I know I’ll measure in at 5-10,” Cooks said Tuesday before allowing a little doubt to creep in. “We’re going to find out in a week and some change.”

Cooks, whom ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. last week called “the next Steve Smith,” has dealt with real adversity during his life. The possibility of being a half-inch off his listed height doesn’t qualify.

Cooks, the Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top college receiver last season, was 6 when his father died of a heart attack, leaving his mother to raise four boys in Stockton, Calif.

The two oldest sons are married with children, but 23-year-old Andre is imprisoned in Fort Bragg, Calif., for a parole violation after an earlier prison stint for illegal possession of a weapon, according to a December article in The Oregonian.

Brandin Cooks, 20, hasn’t seen his brother in person for a couple of years, although the two remain in contact.

“I still keep in touch with him to motivate him while he’s in there,” Cooks said during a phone interview. “He motivates me, too, to make things possible for my family and change things up.”

Cooks said his father, Worth, was a Marine who served in Vietnam and worked as a bounty hunter before his death.

“It was a tough household during that time,” he said.

Andrea Cooks held two jobs – working at a warehouse and in an after-school program at a local elementary school – until her boys were older. She still has the warehouse job, Cooks said.

Cooks is taking online classes while he trains in San Diego for the combine, and plans to become the first member of his family to graduate from college when he finishes his human development and family sciences degree next winter.

But it could be a while before Cooks puts his degree to work.

He’s projected as a late-first round or early-second round prospect after leading the country with 1,730 receiving yards and setting single-season Pac-12 records for receptions (128) and yards as a junior at Oregon State in 2013.

Cooks was familiar with Smith long before Kiper compared him to the Carolina Panthers’ longtime receiver.

“I know a lot about Steve Smith. That’s one of the guys I actually model my game after,” Cooks said. “He’s one of the best receivers today, so I definitely know who that is.”

Cooks said he added 10 pounds of muscle before his junior season and played at 184. Smith, 34, who has played 13 NFL seasons, is 5-9 and 185 pounds.

But Cooks said his admiration for Smith extends beyond a short guys’ appreciation club.

“Size-wise and the playmaking ability, but not just that. (Also) the heart and tenacity he brings to the game,” Cooks said. “He’s not scared to do anything. He’s not scared to go over the middle ... That’s how I like to see myself, too – a fearless receiver who’s not afraid to do those things.”

In addition to Smith, Cooks rattled off the names of four other height-challenged receivers who have had NFL success – Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, DeSean Jackson and Antonio Brown.

Cooks said he’s part of a “special breed” of shorter receivers who rely on quickness and shifty moves to make plays.

“And to add on to that, speed skills,” Cooks said. “I’m looking to put down a 4.3 (in the 40). We’re going to see at the combine.”

Jeff Sperbeck, Cooks’ agent, said Cooks’ muscled frame makes him seem bigger than he is. Regardless of his size, Cooks stands out on the field, according to Sperbeck.

“He just explodes off the screen any time you put on one of their games. Anyone who catches 120 balls, you’re going to see him a lot,” Sperbeck said. “His balance really makes an impression and his toughness and his ability to go up and get after the ball. He looks at it like every ball is his, and that’s how he attacks them.”

Cooks seems to attack everything. He’s in the process of establishing a charitable foundation called Worth Living, which was named for his father and will raise money and awareness for heart disease, among other health issues.

Cooks has matching angel wings tattooed on the inside of each of his biceps, along with the inscription, “RIP Dad.”

With the foundation and his commitment to finishing his degree, Cooks said he’s setting an example for his brothers’ children.

“I’m setting the standard for my nieces and nephews,” he said.

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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