Allen Park — Lions wide receiver Lance Moore was a part of Saints teams that often featured similar offensive pieces.
Typically under coach Sean Payton, New Orleans had a fast deep threat like Devery Henderson or Robert Meachem and a quick running back — Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles — who could hurt teams underneath.
In wide receiver Brandin Cooks, Moore sees someone who can beat teams both ways.
“You combine a Devery Henderson with a Darren Sproles, and that’s kind of what you have,” Moore said of Cooks. “Definitely a fun guy to watch — not this weekend.”
When the Lions visit the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Monday night (8:30 p.m., ESPN), limiting Cooks will be among their top priorities.
The 20th overall pick in 2014, Cooks has become the favorite receiver of quarterback Drew Brees. Cooks leads the Saints with 103 targets, 64 receptions, 869 yards and seven receiving touchdowns, and his talent pops out on tape.
“First of all, he’s got tremendous speed, downfield speed,” Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “He can split the defense, take the top off and run right by you.”
At just 5-foot-10, 189 pounds, Cooks doesn’t look like a typical NFL deep threat. Many of the top big-play guys are bigger so they can out-jump defenders, but Cooks has proven his size isn’t an issue as he has 13 plays of 20-plus yards this year.
“When you get separation and distance between you and the defender, you don’t have to worry about battling in a crowd very often,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.
Caldwell also praised Cooks for being a player that’s both quick and fast. Some guys need just one trait to succeed in the NFL, but Cooks having both makes him a threat on short and long plays.
Austin even invoked Antonio Brown’s name in discussing Cooks, comparing him to the Steelers star receiver because they don’t look like traditional No. 1 receivers even if they can produce like one.
In addition to Cooks being able to run quickly, Saints coach Sean Payton explained that the receiver can run a lot, too. Like many teams, New Orleans started using tracking devices to study their players’ movement. Payton said offensive linemen move about two miles throughout the day, receivers are closer to six miles and one time Cooks was at 8.2 miles.
“He’ll go 100 miles an hour on every play if you’re not careful,” Payton said.
Cooks might not be quite that fast, but he was the fastest receiver in his draft class, running a 4.33-second 40-yard dash.
Tight end Eric Ebron, the Lions’ first-round pick that year, has a couple nicknames for Cooks, including “Speedy Gone Gone.”
“He’s just explosive, man,” Ebron said.
Ebron and Lions coaches also praised Cooks’ route-running as something that’s helped him adapt to the NFL quickly. Before a broken thumb cut his rookie year short, Cooks had 53 catches for 550 yards in 10 games.
“I felt like I’ve adjusted pretty well,” he said. “I’m still learning. It’s only my second year, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve made a big jump from where I was last year to where I’m at now.”
The Lions have some options with how to cover Cooks, but their best bet might be having top cornerback Darius Slay travel with him. In addition to displaying strong coverage skills this season, the third-year Slay can match Cooks’ speed as he ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the 2013 combine.
After the Saints drafted Cooks, he spent part of the 2014 offseason working out with Moore, Brees, Sproles and others in San Diego, and Moore remembers him working hard and looking “super-fast” during the sessions.
“It was an intense workout,” Cooks said. “(Moore is) a competitive guy, but besides the fact that I was able to learn a lot of stuff from him. And playing with Drew for a while, you get to pick up a little tendencies that they had and try to get on the same page they were on.”
And on Monday night, the Lions will try to ensure Cooks and Brees don’t get on the same page.