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...

PODCAST: Dan Wetzel on the Aaron Hernandez double-murder trial

patriots_aaron_hernandez_020315.jpg

PODCAST: Dan Wetzel on the Aaron Hernandez double-murder trial

Tom E. Curran has Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports as a guest to discuss the Aaron Hernandez double homicide trial. Wetzel has been in the courtroom, and wrote this piece about the day Hernandez’s former friend Alexander Bradley testified in court. 

After speaking with Wetzel, Curran has Tim Rohan of MMQB.com on to discuss his day with ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

SUBSCRIBE iTunes | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | AudioBoom

Quick Slants The Podcast is presented by Papa Gino’s.

Belichick, Patricia observe huge draft-eligible crowd at Michigan pro day

peppers-2.jpg

Belichick, Patricia observe huge draft-eligible crowd at Michigan pro day

There are so many players coming out of Michigan this year who could be drafted that it made sense for the Patriots to send two of their top football minds to take in the proceedings.

Both Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia were in Ann Arbor to watch coach Jim Harbaugh's massive crowd of draft-eligible prospects, acording to NFL Network. Between draftees and undrafted rookies there could be as many as 24 Wolverines on training camp rosters this summer, according to NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, and the school has a chance to best Ohio State's whopping 12 players drafted last year. 

It's already been a busy week for the Patriots when it comes to the pro-day circuit. Belichick was at Ohio State on Thursday, while Patricia was at Notre Dame. The team also had representatives at Stanford, Utah and Missouri. 

Here's a quick look at some of the top players Belichick and Patricia were watching Friday...

Jabrill Peppers, LB/S:  A Swiss Army knife type who at the next level could play as a linebacker/safety hybrid, compete in the slot and return kicks, Peppers is one of the more dynamic athletes in the draft. At 5-foot-11, 213 pounds he may fit best with the Patriots as a box safety.

Taco Charlton, DE: Strength, length and athleticism . . . Charlton -- who has drawn comparisons to Chandler Jones -- has all the tools necessary to become a game-changing edge defender at the next level. If there's a team out there who thinks they can get his best effort on a snap-to-snap basis, he'll easily be worthy of a first-round pick. 

Jake Butt, TE: Projected as one of the top tight ends in the draft class until he tore his ACL in late December, Butt still has a chance to be selected on Day 2. He told NFL Network's Mike Mayock that he believes he'll be ready to play by mid-July. Should the Patriots want some depth behind Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, Butt may represent good value if he's still available in the third round. 

Chris Wormley, DE: A three-year starter who has an NFL-ready build (6-5, 298 pounds, 34-inch arms, 10.5-inch hands), he looks like a strong edge-setter who could rush from the interior in sub situations. 

Jourdan Lewis, CB: Quick, competitive and another three-year starter, Lewis is just one of many talented corners available in this draft. Teams at Michigan's pro day will undoubtedly want to meet with Lewis in order to ask him about an incident that led to a misdemeanor domestic assault charge. He has a pretrial hearing scheduled on April 12. 

Ryan Glasgow, DT: For teams interested in tough, physical, early-down defensive tackles to hold up against the run, Glasgow could be worth a mid-round selecton. He measured in at 6-3, 302 pounds with 33-inch arms at the combine. 

Ben Gedeon, LB: Gedeon may not hear his name called until Day 3, but he has the feel of a prototypical Patriots draft pick. He had very good production in a good conference (106 tackles, 15.5 for a loss), and though he may not be the kind of athlete Belichick wants playing three downs in the middle of the field, he looks like someone who could contribute immediately on -- you guessed it -- kick-coverage teams.