When the New England Patriots traded a first-round draft pick to the New Orleans Saints to get Brandin Cooks, they acquired one of the NFL's better deep-field wide receivers – a player whose speed and agility make him a weapon on long pass plays. Throughout his first year in New England, Cooks was able to display those abilities on multiple occasions and in total caught 12 passes that gained more than 30 yards.
Overall, the wide receiver finished his 2017 campaign with 75 receptions for 1,237 yards (and 41 additional yards on 10 rushing attempts). Safe to say, those are outstanding numbers for a player in his first year in the Patriots' offensive system. But Cooks' impact goes beyond what the stat sheet shows: He also displayed an impressive ability to gain “hidden yards” for his team.
During the regular season, the 24-year old drew five defensive pass interference penalties for a combined 141 yards – the fourth-highest penalty yardage drawn in the league, according to NFL Research. Cooks also added 68 yards on two interference calls during the playoffs, both happening during the Patriots' AFC Championship Game victory over the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.
All in all, the former Saint helped the Patriots gain a total of 1,446 yards during the season – and a substantial percentage of this yardage came via penalty flags: 14.45%. When it comes to penalties, of course, it takes two to tango: the defensive backs also need to play their part of flags to fly. Nevertheless, Cooks is an ideal candidate to be interfered with due to his combination of speed, route running and slightly smaller build.
Players like this draw flags, which add up to considerable yardage numbers – at least under the current set of rules. If it goes according to the New York Jets and their recent rule change proposal, however, Cooks' penalty yardage could be drastically reduced next season. The team wants to change the enforcement of defensive pass interference penalties by proposing the following language:
For pass interference by the defense: First down for the offensive team and 15-yard penalty from the previous spot. In the event of an intentional and egregious foul, first down for the offensive team at the spot of the foul. If the interference is also a personal foul (12-2), the 15-yard penalty for such a foul is also enforced, either from the spot of the foul (for interference), or from the end of the run if the foul for pass interference is declined. If the interference is behind the defensive goal line, it is first down for the offensive team on the defense’s one-yard line, or, if the previous spot was inside the two-yard line, halfway between the previous spot and the goal line.
The defensive pass interference penalty as it is currently called is controversial because of a) its ability as a spot foul to completely change field position and b) its comparatively subjective nature. The Jets' proposal would address the first of the two issues but would add even more subjectivity to the ruling due to the introduction of the “intentional and egregious” language into the rule book.
Subjectivity aside, the ruling would likely have a big impact on the Patriots and especially Brandin Cooks. Take one of the two penalties he drew during the above-mentioned game against the Jaguars: Cornerback A.J. Bouye was flagged for interference late in the first half after the officials ruled that the defender using both hands to gain an advantage constituted pass interference. The football was placed on the spot of the foul, 32-yard gain.
It was a tough but correct call. But was it an intentional or egregious act on the defenders' part? That is tough to gauge when two players are fighting for positioning on a deep pass. Under the Jets' proposal, it would not have been a surprise to see 17 of New England's 32 yards gained through the flag be erased again – something that could have happened on a lot of Cooks' other 11 drawn penalties as well.
Much like the catch rule, pass interference is a difficult and oft-discussed topic; a discussion, for which a clear answer that satisfies all parties involved is hard to come by. But no matter what happens or if New York's plan gets the necessary approval of 24 clubs, it is certainly a story worth closely watching.
Do you like the Jets' pass interference proposal?
This poll is closed