Hannable: Is it possible for a 1,000-yard receiving season to not meet expectations?

Ryan Hannable
January 04, 2018 - 2:46 pm

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

FOXBORO — It was an interesting first season in New England for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

Expectations were high, as the Patriots traded a first-round pick to the Saints in exchange for the 24-year-old last March. Cooks has a team option for 2018, which the team picked up, so essentially it traded a first-round pick for at least two years of the receiver.

Cooks finished the year with 65 catches for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. His 1,082 yards were 11th in the league, while his 65 catches were tied for 29th. It was also the 24th 1,000-yard receiving season in franchise history and he was only the third receiver to have over 1,000 yards receiving in their first year working with Tom Brady.

Certainly based on the stats it was a good year for the former member of the Saints, but a case could be made he didn’t meet expectations as a No. 1 receiver with the Patriots.

When Julian Edelman was lost for the season with a torn ACL in the preseason, many assumed Cooks could step in and fill some of his void, especially with some routes out of the slot. That hasn’t been the case, as following 16 games it appears Cooks can only do one thing well, but very well at that.

Cooks is one of the best deep threats in the game, but other than routes that have him go down the field, he hasn’t really been able to get on the same page as Brady. 

Sunday’s 26-6 win over the Jets was a perfect example. 

On the second drive of the game for the Patriots, Brady appeared to have Cooks for a long touchdown, but the receiver stopped running his route and the pass fell incomplete. A few plays later, Cooks dropped a wide receiver screen that appeared set up for a big gain.

With Brady and Cooks working together since the spring, these things probably shouldn’t still be happening in Week 17.

“I think there’s things like that — you learn every time you take the field,” Brady said Wednesday on Kirk & Callahan when asked about the miscommunications in the Jets game. “Julian [Edelman] and I have been playing together for a long time. I played with Wes Welker for a long time. I played with Deion Branch, I played with Troy Brown for a long time. Things come up that maybe you haven’t talked about, that never come up in practice. That is part of football. … All those things are positives as long as you learn from them. It is football, so nothing really goes to plan. That is part of playing. 

“We’re happy that we’re 13-3. We’re happy we have done a good job to put ourselves in this position, but as we move forward all we want to be on the same page on every play because you don’t know which play is going to cost you. When you are in a single-elimination tournament, there’s a lot at stake for everybody. Everybody has worked hard to get to this point. Hopefully we can really narrow down what we are good at and maybe understand what we’re maybe not as good at and try and just do our very best to execute at our highest level.”

Overall, Cooks had a 57 percent catch percentage this season, which was the worst of his career. His previous low was 65 percent in 2015. Furthermore, in the last four games Brady was just 12-for-30 when targeting him and the Patriots needed him more than ever with Rob Gronkowski missing one of these games, Chris Hogan missing three and never having a full compliment of running backs.

Granted, it needs to be taken into account he was in New Orleans the first three years and playing in a dome. Now, he’s playing in the cold, windy weather in the northeast. By way of comparison, Deion Branch, who is pretty similar to Cooks, had a 60 percent catch percentage in his time in New England, so Cooks isn’t that far off.

Granted he’s a different player and his strength is catching the deep ball, but Cooks hasn’t been like past No. 1 wideouts when it comes to being dependable on third down. When targeted on third down this season, Cooks has caught just seven of 26 passes for 157 yards. Danny Amendola has been targeted 30 times and has 18 catches, while Gronkowski has been targeted 25 times and has eight catches. 

Again, Cooks’ numbers go down since he’s primarily running deep routes, but past No. 1 receivers have been more dependable for Brady when he needs them most.

Certainly, we’re not saying Cooks had a bad season by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was a really good season, just when the expectations were him being a No. 1 receiver and the Patriots giving up a first-round pick for him, many didn’t imagine him only being able to do one thing well and still having communication issues as the playoffs approach.

Therefore, while it might be a stretch to say Cooks’ season was a disappointment, it is not a stretch to say he didn’t fully meet expectations.

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