We have entered the deepest depths of the NFL offseason. Free agency and the draft are behind us, while minicamp and training camp won't start until early June and late July, respectively. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
After all, until the late-August's roster cuts, players need to have secured their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 89 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we’ll continue the series with the team’s biggest offseason addition.
Name: Brandin Cooks
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 14
Opening day age: 23
Size: 5’10, 190 lbs.
2016 review: Entering his third season with the New Orleans Saints, expectations were high for Brandin Cooks, who led the team in every important receiving category in 2015. Just like he did back then, the former first round pick has had a very successful campaign in 2016: Appearing in all 16 of the Saints’ games, he caught 78 passes for a team-high 1,173 yards as well as eight touchdowns.
Throughout the season, Cooks was a reliable target for quarterback Drew Brees. He caught five or more passes in 10 games and had three 100-yard performances. His best game of the season came in week 15 against the Arizona Cardinals, when Cooks registered seven catches for 186 yards and a pair of scores.
While he was once again among the NFL’s most electrifying young receivers, not all was well. Just three weeks prior to the best statistical game of his professional career, Cooks was held without a target for the first time since getting drafted. After the game against the Los Angeles Rams, he raised questions about how the Saints used his talents.
Given his productivity and athleticism, Cooks became the main focus of opposing defenses – and the Saints tried to take advantage of this as it created space for fellow wideout Michael Thomas. As a result, the rookie took over as Drew Brees’ number one target even though Cooks played a slightly higher number of snaps (880 of 1,151; 76.5%).
With two potential number one receivers on the roster, New Orleans decided to keep the less experienced but older player in Thomas, while putting Cooks on the trading block. The Patriots called and Cooks joined the team on March 10 for a 2017 first round pick (#32) as well as a swap of mid-rounders – New England’s third round selection (#103) for New Orleans’ fourth round pick (#118).
2017 preview: Given the combination of what the Patriots gave up to acquire Cooks plus his skill-set and current salary cap hit ($1.56 million; 27th highest on the team), he is a sure-fire lock to make the team’s roster. The question therefore becomes how productive of a weapon the 23-year old will be in his first season as part of New England’s offense.
Purely judging by his athleticism, he will be quite productive. Cooks brings an elite blend of speed, quickness and route running ability to the table. The 5’10 receiver thus has all the physical tools to be a successful cog in the Patriots’ offensive machinery; a high-quality weapon for quarterback Tom Brady to work with, capable of burning defenses both deep and underneath.
Athleticism alone does not make a successful player, though. What might ultimately define Cooks' impact in New England, will be how quickly he can adapt to New England’s offensive scheme. After all, he has spent his entire career in a Saints offense based on the principles of the West Coast offense. And while he has developed excellent chemistry with Drew Brees on the scheme's timing patterns, there is no guarantee that he will get on the same page with Brady as well.
In New England's option-based offense both receiver and quarterback have to read defenses the same way; picking the future Hall of Famer's brain over the course of the summer will be key for Cooks. Given his standing on the roster as one of the team's top wideouts, he will get every chance to do that – and thus be put in a position to succeed.
Consequently, seeing Cooks emerge as the Patriots' number one wideout in terms of statistics and playing time would not be a surprise. While he will likely not challenge Randy Moss' 2007 season as the gold standard of offseason wide receiver additions, he is projected to have a big impact on an offense that is already among the best in the NFL.