The Oregon State receiver may be a headliner, but Cooks was upstaged in this game in resounding fashion by a fellow junior with a higher draft stock that has chosen to stay in school.
Futures: WR Brandin Cooks vs. Ifo Ekpre-Olumu
On most Saturdays where he treads his feet, Oregon State junior Brandin Cooks is the most dangerous athlete on any college football field. The 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner has earned comparisons to a slightly bigger, slightly slower Tavon Austin with flashes of playmaking that have some comparing Cooks to Steve Smith.
I recognize that Cooks is a marquee name who possesses the big-play potential and the athleticism to develop into a mainstay with an NFL offense. Yet that’s not as much of a foregone conclusion as many want to think.
Cooks may be a headliner, but there was a game this year where Cooks was upstaged in such resounding fashion that the receiver looked like a pedestrian player by comparison. The player who stole the spotlight from Cooks was Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Like Cooks, Ekpre-Olomu is a junior. The Oregon cornerback is also considered one of the top prospects at his position.
Unlike Cooks, the second team All-American corner is returning to school for his senior year to get his degree.
I like to watch players get tested in ways where the right answers are not the numbers in the box score, but the techniques, concepts, and athleticism that show up regardless of the data. One of the most compelling dramas on the field is a wide receiver-cornerback matchup.
Earlier this year, I watched Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby and couldn’t take my eyes off Wisconsin Jared Abbrederis, who won their September matchup. It was a similar dynamic with Cooks and Ekpre-Olomu, except this time it was the cornerback’s performance that was far more compelling.
This matchup with Ekpre-Olomu is a good indicator of the challenges Cooks will need to overcome for his game to translate to the NFL. Unless Ekpre-Olomu is a special player with a future as one of the top shutdown corners in the NFL, the Oregon corner offers a challenge that will be the norm for a player like Cooks when he sets foot on Sunday grass.
Ekpre-Olomu exposed flaws with Cooks’ route skills, tested Cooks’ strength in space, and revealed the limits of Cooks’ speed. Cooks’ best moments came against the Oregon’s other corner Terrance Mitchell. The Ducks’ other junior corner is one of the top defenders in his conference, but not in the same league as Olomu. Even those plays Cooks had against Mitchell weren’t all that impressive.
In contrast, it often appeared that Ekpre-Olomu was baiting Cooks when matched in single coverage. Ekpre-Olomu had the confidence that he could match the receiver’s athleticism and stay a step ahead of Cooks.
Ekpre-Olomu was one of the most impressive defenders I’ve seen in college football this year. Today you’re going to see how he made Cooks look ordinary.