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NFC South Q&A: Does Brandin Cooks merit coverage from top cornerbacks?

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Facing Brandin Cooks (1:03)

NFL Insider Dan Graziano talks about what makes Brandin Cooks such a special player. (1:03)

Today's question: The Saints' Brandin Cooks has emerged as one of the NFL's top young receivers, with eight touchdowns over his last nine games. And he is one of the NFC South's most versatile playmakers because of his dynamic speed. The 5-foot-10, 189-pounder is both a deep threat and an elusive open-field runner on shorter throws. How does your team match up against Cooks' skill set, and will they shadow him with a top cornerback?

Jenna Laine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter: In Week 2 last season against the Bucs, Cooks caught five passes for 62 yards against Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner, with Sterling Moore lined up at nickel back and no one truly shadowing Cooks. By Week 14, the secondary Cooks faced looked much different, with Moore starting opposite Jude Adjei-Barimah and shadowing Cooks. He was held to three catches for 29 receiving yards. The Bucs had employed this same strategy against the Falcons, Cowboys and Giants, with Moore shadowing Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham, Jr. in the second half. But Moore isn't there anymore and the Bucs' cornerback group has changed considerably. If defensive coordinator Mike Smith opts to go the shadow route, free-agent addition Brent Grimes would be the likely choice. Size-wise, it's a decent matchup, with both players measuring 5-10, although Grimes has shown he can hang with taller, bigger receivers. Can he keep up with Cooks' 4.33 speed at age 32? Last month, Smith called Grimes "one the fastest and quickest defensive backs I've ever been around."

Vaughn McClure, Atlanta Falcons reporter: I haven't watched a lot of Cooks but from what I've observed, he's a tremendous young talent. So I asked for a little help on this question from Falcons secondary coach Marquand Manuel, who obviously has a better read on the situation than I do. "He's got multiple talents," Manuel said. He can play inside. He can play outside. He's got top-end speed. He can run routes. He's a combination, man. He's like a Percy Harvin on their offense, and you know they're pass-happy. You put him in different positions. You give him the ball on a jailbreak screen. You get him the ball straight down the field. I think he's one of those guys that you always make sure that you focus on." So would Manuel put Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant on Cooks? "Without a doubt," Manuel said. "But I've also got a guy in Robert Alford who can do the same thing." Cooks had nine catches for 63 yards, with one catch over 20 yards, in two games against the Falcons last season. We'll see if Trufant and Alford make life miserable for Cooks in 2016.

David Newton, Carolina Panthers reporter: Cooks was a player the Panthers coveted as a potential pick in 2014 because they considered him one of the best route runners and one of the most complete receivers in the draft. That being said, Carolina plays a lot of zone defense and won't sway from that to commit one player on Cooks at all times. That the secondary will be rebuilt with 2015 Pro Bowl corner Josh Norman gone lessens the likelihood a player will be committed to Cooks. Carolina was in zone coverage when Norman made the amazing interception on a pass to Cooks in the end zone to save a win in Charlotte last season. Carolina's philosophy is to disrupt the passing game with pressure on the quarterback. If Drew Brees doesn't have time to throw or a good pocket to step into, it doesn't matter how good Cooks is -- it'll be tough for the two to connect. Cooks had 13 catches for 183 yards in two games against the Panthers last season, but no touchdowns. The approach won't change.