Film review: Cooks gives Patriots versatile big-play threat

Film review: Cooks gives Patriots versatile big-play threat

Brandin Cooks sounded like a player who felt he wasn't being used to his full potential.

Nearly four months after he wasn't targeted in a Saints win over the Rams and told NOLA.com that "closed mouths don't get fed," Cooks spoke to members of the New England media on a conference call and indicated that he could've been used differently in New Orleans.

"As a young guy, I think there were some things that I would’ve liked to have done more," the newest Patriots receiver said. "Not like I wasn’t able to do them. We just had great guys doing those other things so if it’s not broken why fix it?

"But coming to New England it seems like it’s an offense that guys do a bunch of different things and I’m looking forward to being able to do some things that I didn’t necessarily have to do in New Orleans, hopefully to get the chance here and do it here."

When pressed for specifics on what he wished he could have done with the Saints, Cooks said that he didn't want to get into details.

That Cooks was at all frustrated with his role -- barring that one target-less game last season -- is noteworthy because he has been on a historically-productive pace over the course of the last two seasons.

Only three players in each of the last two years have recorded 75 catches, 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns. Cooks was one of them, joining Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.

Perhaps the best window into Cooks' feelings last year came courtesy of this piece from ESPN's Mike Triplett in November. In it, Cooks pointed out that he wanted to show the Saints coaching staff that he can be more than a deep threat.

“I know that’s what I can do,” Cooks said. “It’s just a matter of having the opportunities to do it, and when they present themselves, taking advantage of it, to be able to put that on film for the coaches.

“To get them to understand -- which I think they already do -- that I’m a tough player, and I’m gonna continue to work at that, to not just be one-dimensional. And as I continue to remind them, I feel like they trust me and they will continue to put me in those positions when the time comes.”

Cooks may have been disappointed in the number of opportunities he was asked to serve in certain roles, but a review of his tape from 2016 reveals that he was actually anything but one-dimensional in New Orleans.

For a glimpse at what he may be asked to in New England -- where the long-standing mantra has been "the more you can do..." -- let's have a look at the variety of ways in which he was used while with the Saints.

DEEP THREAT
Cooks didn't want to be put in a box as strictly a down-the-field target in New Orleans, and he wasn't. (Per Pro Football Focus, 21.2 percent of passes sent his way were "deep passes," meaning they traveled 20 yards or more down the field.)

Had he been? He still would've been one of the league's top game-breaking threats.

Only five wideouts caught more deep targets than Cooks (11), and only DeSean Jackson -- who caught five more deep passes than Cooks -- picked up more total yardage on those types of passes. Cooks didn't drop a single deep attempt.

Cooks ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, and his speed stresses corners and safeties alike. During his 98-yard score against the Raiders in Week 1 of the regular season, he was checked at the line of scrimmage by corner Sean Smith with safety Reggie Nelson shaded over the top. Cooks quickly beat Smith at the line, and he simply ran by Nelson's help despite the fact that Nelson was cheating in that direction.



The speed with which Cooks gets on top of defenders and his quickness in and out of his breaks also makes him a double-move demon. Post-corners, stop-and-gos, out-and-ups all gave opposing defensive backs fits with Cooks bearing down on them.

He burned the Broncos twice in Week 10 on long-developing plays, hitting them for a 37-yard gain on an out-and-up and a 32-yard touchdown when he sold a post and then headed straight up-field past a flat-footed TJ Ward.



In Week 14, Cooks victimized the Bucs with a stop-and-go move out of the slot that allowed him to beat both corners in the area. It also subjected him to a massive hit from the on-coming safety, but as he did at the end of both big plays against the Broncos, he protected the football and finished the catch. 



In his quote to ESPN back in November he alluded to the fact that he wanted to prove to coaches that he was a tough player. Hanging on in those types of situations should have done just that.

SLOT WORK
Cooks isn't considered a slot receiver, but according to PFF, more than a third of his routes came from inside. 

He ran a variety of patterns from that spot -- including quick-outs, slants, stops and shallow crosses -- and was targeted often in the short-to-intermediate passing game upon which the Patriots offense has relied for years under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. 

He was targeted 48 times (out of 113) in the area between zero and nine yards from the line of scrimmage. Twenty-seven of his targets, and three of his eight touchdowns, came over the middle of the field between the numbers from the area between the line of scrimmage and 19 yards down the field. 

Cooks isn't always used inside -- perhaps in part because he's not as prone to forcing missed tackles (three last season) as someone like Julian Edelman (14) -- but his short-area quickness allows him to find small openings quickly when things get crowded.

"I definitely think I can do that at a high level," he said of playing in the slot. "It’ll be all about what coach [Bill] Belichick and the offense think I can fit well at and just doing my job the best that I can."

Cooks also has the rare ability to catch a pass close to the line of scrimmage and turn it into an explosive gain.

In Week 15 against the Cardinals, Cooks emerged from the bunch formation on the left side of the line of scrimmage and broke over the middle with Tyrann Mathieu trailing in coverage. Once Drew Brees' pass found its mark, Cooks turned up the field and out-ran the rest of the Arizona secondary.



SWISS-ARMY SPEEDSTER
Though the Saints had plenty of other offensive weapons, they tried to find creative ways to get Cooks the football -- or fake getting him the football while opposing defenses were zeroed-in on his speed. 

As the Patriots often do with all of their receivers, big or small, Cooks was used in the screen game and was targeted eight times behind the line of scrimmage. 



He was also used out of the backfield as a receiver, catching one of his touchdowns when aligned next to Brees out of the shotgun with a 49ers linebacker on him in coverage. His wheel route up the right sideline was easy pickings. 



Cooks was also used on a half-dozen jet sweeps last season. He never broke one for a gain of longer than 11 yards, but he posed a problem for back-side defenders forced to stay home and honor his speed. Saints coach Sean Payton often asked Cooks to serve as a decoy, dialing up fake jet-sweep handoffs when the ball was headed in the opposite direction.  



Cooks has rare tools that will allow the Patriots to deploy him in whatever manner they deem fit based on the opponent or the situation. Need someone to stretch the field and take a safety with him? He can do that. Need someone to work the slot in the red zone and take advantage of a small opening in coverage? He's done it. Need someone to provide the occasional gadget play out of the backfield? No problem. 

It may not have been a lack in variety of roles that had Cooks less than pleased in New Orleans -- he did damn near everything but run the triple-option. It may have been the frequency with which, or lack thereof, he was used creatively that bothered him. 

It's unclear exactly how the Patriots will use Cooks, but if history is any indication the coaching staff in New England won't hesitate to exploit the versatility of its newly-acquired 23-year-old dynamo. The more you can do...

Rob Gronkowski to Bruins: 'Keep your heads up'

Rob Gronkowski to Bruins: 'Keep your heads up'

Rob Gronkowski tweeted some consolation for the Boston Bruins Sunday.

The Bruins lost, 3-2, to the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of their playoff series.

The game ended the Bruins' season, as Ottawa advanced to face off against the New York Rangers in the next round.

"Hats off to the @NHLBruins . Played there tails off. Keep your heads up. Playoff hockey is the best," Gronkowski wrote.

The New England Patriots tight end attended the game. He appeared on the NBC Sports broadcast in a box with friends just before the Bruins tied up the game, 2-2, in the third period.

However, the Bruins let up a power play goal from Clarke MacArthur in overtime, which put the Senators past the Bruins.

Prototypical Patriots: Garcia an athletic option at offensive tackle

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Prototypical Patriots: Garcia an athletic option at offensive tackle

No one's clamoring for additions to the Patriots offense in this year's draft class. They had the third-best scoring unit in the NFL last season, and they were fourth-best in the league in terms of yards per game in the regular season. 

PHIL PERRY'S PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS DRAFT PREVIEW

There's not a whole heck of a lot of room for improvement, and most of last year's group is back for another run. With a major upgrade sprinkled in.

The quarterbacks and the starting offensive line seem set to return. The tight ends lost Martellus Bennett but added Dwayne Allen via trade. The running backs lost LeGarrette Blount but added Rex Burkhead and are primed to add Mike Gillislee. The receivers lost Michael Floyd but picked up one of the most explosive receivers in the league with the addition of Brandin Cooks.

On paper, this is among the best supporting casts Tom Brady has ever had. 

When it comes to this year's draft class, then, any picks made on the offensive side of the ball will seem like they're made with an eye toward 2018 and beyond. We covered a series of those types of contingency-plan picks in this week's mock draft, and in the third round we had the Patriots taking a offensive tackle.

The reasoning? With Nate Solder headed into a contract year, and with only LaAdrian Waddle behind Solder and Marcus Cannon as the team's backup tackle, having a high-upside edge-protector added to the mix could prove beneficial. 

So what do the Patriots typically look for at that position? 

Length, for one. Just looking at their last four early-to-mid-round tackles selected -- Solder, Cannon, Cameron Fleming and Sebastian Vollmer -- all measured 6-foot-5 or taller with 33-inch arms or longer. Weight seems to be less of a factor at this spot as the members of the above foursome ranged from 358 pounds (Cannon) to 312 pounds (Vollmer). 

Athleticism matters, too. All four ran sub-5.3-second 40-yard dashes, while Solder and Vollmer ran three-cones in the 7.5-second range. Cannon, Solder and Vollmer each broad-jumped over 107 inches and surpassed the 30-inch mark in the vertical at their respective combines. 

Taking all of those measurements into account, and keeping in mind some of the other factors the Patriots might appreciate -- college level of competition, experience in a diverse offensive scheme, intelligence, toughness -- here are a few of the names of offensive tackles we'll be keeping an eye on next weekend. 

Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin, 6-foot-6, 310 pounds: This was one of the more head-scratching visits made to the Patriots facilities during the pre-draft process. Ramczyk is widely considered a first-round prospect and arguably the top tackle in the draft . . . yet the Patriots aren't scheduled to pick until the third round. One reason for the extra homework done on the former Badger may have been that he was forced to have hip surgery after last season. He wasn't able to test at the combine, but he's considered one of the better athletes at the position in this draft class. 

Taylor Moton, Western Michigan, 6-foot-5, 319 pounds: Some experts have Moton pegged as a guard moving forward but his arm length (34 inches), hand size (10.5 inches) and athleticism (30.5-inch vertical, 109-inch broad jump, 4.58-second three-cone drill) could make him a fit on the outside. Regardless of where he ends up at the NFL level, the Patriots may need a second-round pick in order to have the opportunity to draft him. 

Antonio Garcia, Troy, 6-foot-6, 300 pounds: The Patriots have taken projects at tackle in the past. Vollmer entered college as a 250-pound tight end who eventually made the move to tackle, but even then rarely had his hand on the ground in Houston's pass-happy offense. Garcia may be seen in a similar light as showed great athleticism to mirror pass-rushers in college -- he did not allow a sack in 2016, per Pro Football Focus -- but is still raw as a run-blocker. Athletically he seems to meet New England's requirements with a 5.15 40-yard dash, a 31-inch vertical and a 108-inch broad jump. He visited the Patriots late in the run-up to the draft, and we highlighted him in our most recent mock.

Julie'n Davenport, Bucknell, 6-foot-7, 318 pounds: In what's thought to be a weak draft class at the position, Davenport's long arms (36.5 inches) and agility (7.57 seconds) may get him selected early on Day 3. If the Patriots feel comfortable giving him what amounts to a red-shirt year in order to clean up his technique and get him acclimated to a new level of competition, they may be willing to bite in the fourth or fifth round. 

Roderick Johnson, Florida State, 6-foot-7, 298 pounds: A durable full-time starter since the middle of the 2014 season, Johnson's tremendous length (36-inch arms) and power allowed him to be named a first-team All-ACC selection each of the last two years. The Patriots have long held an affinity for Seminoles who've worked under offensive line coach Rick Trickett (Bryan Stork, Tre' Jackson), and Johnson could be the latest to make his way to Foxboro if he's available in the middle rounds.

Conor McDermott, UCLA, 6-foot-8, 307 pounds: Maybe the ideal candidate to man one of the edges when it comes to his physical profile, McDermott has nearly 35-inch arms and 11-inch hands. He also ran a 5.18-second 40 and clocked standout times in the three-cone drill (7.52 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.58 seconds). He could afford to get stronger, but in an offense where he won't be pressed into action as a rookie unless there's an injury, he could spend his first pro season focusing his time on developing his power.