- Rich Cimini, ESPN New York Jets reporter
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Sammy Watkins? No.
Mike Evans? No.
It's Brandin Cooks, according to Brandin Cooks.
"I feel like I'm the best receiver in this draft," the former Oregon State star told ESPNNewYork.com. "I feel like the only thing knocking me, in some people's eyes, is my height [5-foot-10]. Other than that, I've got great routes, I'm versatile and I can do a lot of things some of the guys in this class can't. It only takes one team to believe in me and, whoever that one is, it's getting the No. 1 receiver in this draft."
There's a good chance Cooks will be available when the Jets pick in the first round (18th), and he has to be oh-so-tempting for a team determined to improve its explosiveness and overall speed. He ran one of the fastest 40-yard dashes in scouting combine history (4.33 seconds), and if you put him on the same field as Chris Johnson -- a 4.24 in 2008 -- it would change everything about the Jets' offense. It would be like going from an old-fashioned coin tollbooth to E-ZPass Express. Or this:
"It's going to be like a 4x100 relay," Cooks said with a laugh, imagining for a moment he's wearing green and white.
Cooks may sound cocky, but he's really not. He's a grounded 20-year-old who endured a tough upbringing in Stockton, California. He was only 6 when his father died of a heart attack in the family's living room, cradled in the arms of his grief-stricken wife, Andrea. Worth Cooks Sr., a former Marine, was only 48. Only days earlier, he had agreed to have surgery to repair a heart problem.
Brandin's earliest football memory is playing catch with his dad on the sideline of his older brothers' Pop Warner games. His father never got a chance to see him play organized football, but Brandin felt it was his duty to play for his memory -- and for the well-being of the family.
Even though he's the youngest, Brandin was the glue, the inspiration for a family that endured plenty of adversity. Two of his three older brothers got into trouble -- the oldest, Andre, has spent time in prison -- and his mother worked 11 hours a day to provide. During the toughest times, they ate a lot of beans and bread.
To this day, Andrea Cooks works in a warehouse for Dorfman Pacific, a wholesaler for men's and women's hats and accessories. She packs designer hats and scarves into boxes, leaving her house at 5 a.m. and returning at 4:30 p.m. Her job is to help other people look good. That's about to change.
"My life is going to change overnight, and so is hers," Cooks said. "I remember telling her, 'Sooner or later, I'm going to retire you.' That's the beauty of it. She's been working for too many years. It's her time to relax."
She will be able to slow down because her youngest son is so fast. Nicknamed "Sonic Boom" as a high school star in Stockton, Cooks took his game to Oregon State, where he played in Mike Riley's pro-style offense. He won the Biletnikoff Award last season as the nation's top receiver, amassing video-game numbers -- 128 receptions for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. Obviously, statistics get skewed in the pass-happy college ranks, but he also produced in 2012 -- 67, 1,151 and eight. He wasn't a one-year wonder.
Scouts say Cooks is tough, durable, smart and mature. He's always a scoring threat with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his yards-after-the-catch production -- 1,215 yards over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. When was the last time the Jets had a receiver who could make magic out of a 5-yard hitch?
"He's an exceptional athlete, both quick and fast, with the ability to eat up space, then run past defenders and also outmaneuver them underneath," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "That makes him precisely the kind of matchup the Jets need to add to the passing game. If Mike Vick ends up starting, Cooks is the kind of option they would love to have because of his ability to create space."
The Jets have done a lot of homework on Cooks. They dispatched offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to his pro day, and they brought him to Florham Park for a pre-draft visit. Mornhinweg, too, is from Northern California, and it turns out that he and Cooks share some common acquaintances.
"I felt like we clicked really well," Cooks said, recalling his Jets visit. "I walked out of there pretty confident with how my meeting went with them."
Because of their similar size and speed, Cooks has been compared to one of Mornhinweg's former receivers, DeSean Jackson, whom he coached with the Philadelphia Eagles. Cooks created headlines recently when he said of Jackson, "I can do it like him and do it better." Bold words, for sure. He didn't back down from the statement.
"To be a great player, you have to do it better than the guy that comes before you, the guy people compare you to," Cooks said. "That's my competitive nature. I know my work ethic and my IQ for the game. They've put me in the right situation, and I feel like I can thrive just like [Jackson]."
Cooks has no idea where he'll get drafted, but he knows this: His mother's days at Dorfman Pacific are almost over. Soon, perhaps, she'll be opening the boxes in her home instead of packing them in a factory.
The New York Jets signed the top-rated wide receiver in free agency, Eric Decker. Now they have a chance to draft the premier receiver.Sammy Watkins?