When the New England Patriots acquired WR Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints, team owner Robert Kraft declared, “Since I've owned, the team the only player that could make an impact like [Cooks] at wide receiver was Randy Moss.”
Moss set all sorts of records in his inaugural season with the Patriots in 2007 and that clearly set an extremely high bar for Cooks. While Moss didn’t comment on Kraft’s reaction to the Cooks signing, he doesn’t believe that Cooks will post a similar production to his own 2007 season- and Cooks himself revealed what Moss told Cooks about being a successful wide receiver over a year ago.
Moss hesitated to predict a huge statistical season for Cooks, not due to ability, but due to supporting cast. Moss believes that the 2017 Patriots have more talent- Cooks, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, James White- than what he played alongside in the 2007 version.
"With all those players playing at a high level, I don't think [a 1,500-yard season] is reachable for any player in that Patriots system," Moss told Bleacher Report’s Dan Pompei about Cooks. Pompei notes that Moss pencils Cooks in for a 1,000-yard season.
Moss (1,493 receiving yards) had to compete with Wes Welker (1,175) for targets, with Donte Stallworth (697), Jabar Gaffney (449), Ben Watson (389), and Kevin Faulk (383) further down the list of reads.
"I think within the Patriots offense, they are going to use [Cooks] short, intermediate and deep," Moss told Pompei. "If he's able to make teams honor his intermediate and his short game, the deep stuff will come, and it will come very easy for him. But the thing he can't do is focus and concentrate on the deep stuff, and then when it comes time for the short and intermediate stuff, catch the ball, fall down.
"He has to take the short and intermediate and the deep ball and work on all three of those. In that Patriots offense, if he's able to do that, man, the sky's the limit for him, the sky's the limit for that offense. With all the weapons they have, you just pick where to throw the ball. Tom [Brady] will find the open man."
Cooks also spoke with Pompei and shared some insight that Moss had for Cooks “a little over a year ago.”
"The biggest thing I took from him was to work at being a route-runner and not just focusing on speed," Cooks says. "He talked to me about really learning how to run routes so you are not just stuck to one thing and corners can't predict what you are doing. Learn the route tree and expand your game."
Cooks expressed his displeasure in the Saints offense because they kept him as a one-trick pony; as a pure speed threat when Cooks felt like he had much more to offer across the middle of the field and after the catch on short passes. Cooks said that his desire for an expanded role was because he wanted to offer more to the Saints offense than how he was being utilized.
In the Patriots offense, Cooks will have to be much more than a deep threat. If that was all that the team envisioned for Cooks, he would be redundant with Chris Hogan, who proved to be one of the best deep threats in the NFL in 2016.
But even with an expanded role, Cooks will have a hard time posting Moss-level production. Barring injury, Gronkowski and Edelman are already two targets looking at a 1,000-yard floor of production. Having Cooks crack that 1,000-yard season would be rare.
There have been just five teams in NFL history with three 1,000+ yard receivers: 1980 Chargers, 1989 Washington, 1995 Falcons, 2004 Colts, and 2008 Cardinals. Of the fifteen receivers across those five teams, just two exceeded 1,300 yards: 1980 John Jefferson (1,340) and 2008 Larry Fitzgerald (1,431).
And those 1980 Chargers and 2008 Cardinals squads didn’t boast the depth of talent that the 2017 Patriots present. No other member of the 1980 Chargers exceeded 300 receiving yards on the year, while Cardinals WR Jerheme Urban (448 yards) was the only one to accomplish the feat in Arizona.
The Patriots have many more mouths to feed with Hogan and White and Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola and Dwayne Allen and Dion Lewis. They won’t all exceed 300 receiving yards, but it would be a shock if Hogan didn’t exceed that mark and Patriots running backs have averaged over 750 receiving yards per year over the past three seasons.
The 2014 Patriots are possibly the best comparison for the team’s goal of spreading the ball, when the trio of Gronkowski, Edelman, and Brandon LaFell exceeded 900 yards apiece. The 2017 offense should be even better- the 2014 rushing attack was awful and led by Jonas Gray’s 412 rushing yards, Tom Brady’s average of 257 passing yards per game was his second-lowest of the past decade- and so perhaps the Cooks-Gronkowski-Edelman trio will exceed 1,000 yards each.
But to expect Cooks to post a Moss-like 1,500 yards is just unrealistic so long as every player on the offense remains healthy and would just provide unnecessary disappointment for what should be an electric offense.