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Stacking up the 2016 production of Patriots wide receivers Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks

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A numbers glance at the 2016 seasons of New England’s two No. 1 receivers entering 2017.

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The title of No. 1 wideout has been a feather in the caps of Julian Edelman and Brandin Cooks. But as they enter 2017 in the same New England Patriots offense, it is far from a be-all, end-all. It is far from a point of contention.

Both figure to get their share of first reads, first downs, touchdowns, and everything in between.

That was once again the case last regular season, albeit in different huddles. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Edelman appeared in all 16 games for the second time in his eight-year career with New England, and the 5-foot-10, 189-pound Cooks did the same for the second time in his three-year career with the New Orleans Saints. Neither looked the part of a true ‘X’ receiver in the process – and neither ever will – but the production that followed illustrated why that didn’t matter.

They combined for 176 catches, 2,279 yards and 11 scores.

With the help of NFL.com, Pro Football Reference and Sporting Charts, here’s a by-the-numbers glance at how Edelman and Cooks stacked up in 2016, against each other and the rest of the league.

OFFENSIVE SNAPS

  • Cooks: 883 – sixth on Saints
  • Edelman: 874 – sixth on Patriots

Cooks got the ever-slight edge in snaps from the 2016 regular season, as the Saints ran a total of 1,154 plays. His 883 ranked sixth on the Saints behind four offensive linemen as well as ironman quarterback Drew Brees. As for Edelman, he also ranked sixth on his own team, and was on the field for a higher percentage of New England’s plays despite the offense logging 40 fewer.

TARGETS

  • Edelman: 158 – third in NFL
  • Cooks: 117 – tied for 28th in NFL

In his age-30 season, Edelman placed third in the league behind only Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans in targets, garnering a total of 158 from quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett and Tom Brady. The 23-year-old Cooks, meanwhile, tied for 28th leaguewide and stood in second on the Saints behind rookie Michael Thomas’ 122.

RECEPTIONS

  • Edelman: 98 – fourth in NFL
  • Cooks: 78 – tied for 24th in NFL

More targets netted more receptions for Edelman, whose 98 checked in after only Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown and Larry Fitzgerald. Cooks finished 20 catches behind, matching the season-long tallies of Zach Ertz and DeAndre Hopkins with 78, tying for 24th in the league.

RECEIVING YARDS

  • Cooks: 1,173 – seventh in NFL
  • Edelman: 1,106 – 13th in NFL

Despite fewer looks, Cooks’ home-run hitting was felt in the Saints’ attack and saw him rank seventh in the league in receiving yards. In contrast, Edelman’s high volume of quick-out and underneath work went on to land 13th. It added up, just a little more methodically.

YARDS PER RECEPTION

  • Cooks: 15.0 – 14th in NFL
  • Edelman: 11.3 – 82nd in NFL

As indicated by their differing skillsets and usage, Cooks had Edelman beat by nearly four yards per reception last season, ranking 14th overall among qualifying pass-catchers. Edelman’s 11.3-yard clip ranked fifth on the Patriots – an inevitable byproduct of the amount of throws sent his way and the high-percentage routes he ran to draw them.

RECEIVING YARDS PER GAME

  • Cooks: 73.3 – ninth in NFL
  • Edelman: 69.1 – 15th in NFL

Cooks and his Saints teammate, Thomas, ranked ninth and eighth in the NFL, respectively, when it came to receiving yards per contest. Edelman’s 69.1-yard per-game clip stood between Stefon Diggs and Alshon Jeffery for 15th in the league. A four-yard difference.

YARDS AFTER CATCH

  • Edelman: 385 – 26th in NFL
  • Cooks: 374 – 27th in NFL

With regards to making ground on their own, Edelman and Cooks finished neck-and-neck. Edelman’s 385 yards after the catch ranked 26th, and only 11 yards beneath him was Cooks for 27th. Eleven wide receivers were among those ahead of Edelman and Cooks in terms of YAC last year.

RECEIVING TOUCHDOWNS

  • Cooks: Eight – tied for ninth in NFL
  • Edelman: Three – tied for 84th in NFL

While the Saints’ Thomas notched a team-high nine touchdown catches last season, Cooks was only one trip to the end zone behind him, placing ninth in the league. Edelman, on the other end, tied for 84th just one season after he reached a career-best seven in only nine appearances.

RED-ZONE RECEPTIONS

  • Cooks: 10 – tied for sixth in NFL
  • Edelman: Six – tied for 10th in NFL

Cooks and Edelman are not exclusive to between-the-20s targets. Cooks had 11 in the red zone last season, and converted 10 into completions. Edelman’s impact in that area was less efficient, as he managed to turn 15 throws into six completions inside the 20. Danny Amendola, who played 23 percent of the Patriots’ offensive snaps in 2016, netted seven red-zone receptions.

CATCHES OF 20-PLUS YARDS

  • Cooks: 15 – tied for 16th in NFL
  • Edelman: 11 – tied for 36th in NFL

As far as catches for over 20 yards go, last season’s gap between Cooks and Edelman wasn’t as wide as one might expect. Cooks’ 15 catches of such a variety tied him with A.J. Green, Pierre Garcon, Kenny Britt and Evans. Meanwhile, Edelman’s 11 put him in a 10-man tie for 36th in the NFL.

CATCHES OF 40-PLUS YARDS

  • Cooks: Six – tied for first in NFL
  • Edelman: One – tied for 68th in NFL

The 20-plus category was only an appetizer for Cooks, who broke free for six receptions of 40-plus yards en route to tying for first in the league with Tyrell Williams, Sammie Coates, Travis Benjamin, Green and Beckham Jr. Edelman’s lone catch of 40-plus transpired against the Miami Dolphins in the final game of the regular season.

LONGEST RECEPTION

  • Cooks: 98 – first in NFL
  • Edelman: 77 – 12th in NFL

No player in the league eclipsed Cooks’ 98-yard touchdown in last season’s opener versus the Oakland Raiders – the second-longest by year’s end was Mike Wallace’s 95-yarder. As for Edelman, his longest catch of the season was the aforementioned one, which went for a career-best 77-yard touchdown with a de-cleating assist from then-Patriot Michael Floyd.

FIRST-DOWN RECEPTIONS

  • Edelman: 55 – tied for 11th in NFL
  • Cooks: 45 – tied for 30th in NFL

When it came to moving the chains, Edelman and Cooks concluded the 2016 regular season 10 first-down catches apart. Edelman’s 55 tied him with Travis Kelce for 11th in the NFL, while Cooks’ 45 tied him with Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham for 30th. But if weighing that seating by total receptions, 57.7 percent of Cooks’ catches went for firsts while 56.1 of Edelman’s did.


With 2017 looming, it is clear where Edelman and Cooks make their marks. The dichotomy was perhaps clearest in 2016.

Despite it being a virtual push in snaps and yards after catch, Edelman had the advantage in targets, catches and first downs, while Cooks had the advantage in receiving yards, touchdowns, red-zone receptions and all categorized explosive plays.

Both, though, are No. 1 wideouts. They’re 1-A and 1-B in Foxborough now. And with only one ball to go around, it’ll be up to opposing secondaries to decide which one can be cost-effectively taken away.

There may not be a right answer.

Edelman and Cooks win in their own ways.