A few months after acquiring Cooks from the Saints, the Patriots traded backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett for former first-round pick Phillip Dorsett.
However, Dorsett’s first season with the Pats didn’t go as planned.
The speedy wideout hauled in just 12 receptions for 194 yards last season, the fifth-fewest for a wide receiver that played at least 370 offensive snaps in 2017.
Dorsett’s career statistics pale in comparison to Cooks’ prolific start to his career.
But there’s reason to believe that Dorsett can fill a similar role to Cooks that will allow the Patriots to run some of the successful concepts that helped them get back to the Super Bowl last season.
That’s not to say that Dorsett will become a 1,000-yard receiver because of Cooks’ departure, but it’s easy to see that the two wideouts have similar skill sets that lend themselves to similar route trees.
Below, I’ll take you through a few of Dorsett’s receptions from last season that illustrate his fit as a deep threat in the Patriots’ offense, and will also touch on some areas of needed improvement:
One of the staples of the Patriots’ vertical passing scheme last season was the Yankee concept, a deep crossing combination that the Pats love to run off of play action.
The Yankee concept is typically looked at as a zone coverage beater and is the bread and butter of speedy receivers like Dorsett and Cooks.
Here, the Patriots catch the Dolphins in cover-3 with both Cooks and Dorsett on the field. Dorsett does an excellent job of selling a vertical release before cutting his route across the field. That little bit of disguise coupled with Cooks running a deep post across the field leaves Dorsett wide open for a huge gain. The Patriots carved up defenses for chunk plays multiple times on this concept last season, and it’s one that fits Dorsett’s skill set well just like it did with Cooks.
Vertical Routes From the Slot
Another way the Patriots love to attack defenses is by sending receivers downfield from in the slot. Defenses don’t typically see slot receivers and tight ends stretch the field vertically from inside the numbers, so this often catches them by surprise.
On this play, Dorsett’s route stem is terrific. Dorsett presses inside getting the defensive back to commit and turn his hips, which allows him to clear his hands and stretch the field vertically. Dorsett’s technique with his hands is a bit sloppy and aggressive which gets him off-balance but his feet/setup on the release are perfect. Then, he turns on the jets and gets vertical, but before finishing the play with a nice catch in traffic, he adds another subtle element to his route. He makes this route appear to be a straight go once he releases upfield, but it’s a corner route. Dorsett does an excellent job of disguising the route throughout his release and adds a good shoulder/head fake to finish the job. Many have brought up concerns with Dorsett’s ability to catch in traffic, and although it’s not necessarily a strength of his, when put in those situations he did well for a smaller receiver (h/t Brad Kelly for added insight).
Shallow or Medium Crossers
The Patriots love to stretch the field horizontally causing the defense to cover every inch of the field, and one of their favorite schemes for doing so is shallow or medium crosser.
In last year’s AFC Championship Game, Dorsett’s lone catch of the day often gets overlooked. The Patriots add the element of a flea flicker to a standard mesh concept over the middle of the field (two crossing patterns aimed to create traffic in the middle of the defense). Dorsett does an excellent job of selling the flea flicker by dummy blocking the defensive back lined up across from him. He then releases into his route and shows impressive acceleration to find himself running free of the defense. However, as we know, Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack was able to recover underneath Dorsett’s route in unbelievable fashion. Luckily for the Pats, Dorsett was able to reach over Jack to haul in the pass from Brady. Another example of him pulling in a contested catch.
Believe it or not, Dorsett only had one rush attempt all of last season, but his skill set suggests that he may be used in that role more often without Cooks in the fold.
Here, Dorsett shows off his speed to get to the edge around Saints Pro Bowler Cam Jordan. You’d like to see him stay in bounds to fight for the first down, but the Patriots will take a seven-yard gain on first down. Regardless of the finish to the play, Dorsett shows off the necessary speed and takes the most direct path possible to the edge, which isn’t always a given for receivers when carrying the football.
Weakness: Footwork/Deceleration at the Top of Routes
One area of Dorsett’s game that needs work is his footwork and ability to stop his forward momentum at the top of his route.
Every deep threat receiver needs to be able to run a comeback route to keep the corners on the outside honest. On this play from the Super Bowl, Dorsett does a good job of selling a go route downfield both with his route stem and body language. However, focus on his feet when he breaks down to cut this route off back to the quarterback. He has trouble slowing himself down and false steps a few times before turning back to the quarterback. That causes him to be late on the play, and to miss his mark, and he has to go down to dig out what should be an easy completion.
Dorsett has all the physical tools to be an NFL wideout, but it’s concerning to see him false stepping out of his breaks and struggle to slow himself down at this stage of his career.
The Patriots have plenty of options entering training camp to replace Brandin Cooks’ 1,082 receiving yards and seven touchdowns from last season.
With Julian Edelman back in the mix starting in Week 5, and loads of depth at the wide receiver position behind him, New England shouldn’t feel the loss of Cooks all that much on the field.
However, the Patriots’ passing attack added significantly more vertical passing concepts in recent years, even before Cooks’ arrival, and those concepts led to plenty of chunk plays for Tom Brady and company.
To keep that rolling, the Pats might turn to Dorsett, a player that has shown the ability to get open when aided by the scheme and can clear space for other receivers with his speed.
Dorsett isn’t the same down-to-down threat as Cooks, who commanded double-teams and got open outside the scheme, but he could provide a subdued version of the game-breaking speed that Cooks brought to the Patriots’ offense last season.