Why Bill Belichick Traded A First Round Pick For Brandin Cooks

The Patriots sending the 32nd overall pick to the New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks is easily the most shocking move of Bill Belichick’s Patriots career.

This is the first time that Belichick traded a first rounder for a veteran player in his time in New England as the Patriots continue their unprecedented offseason.

So what does Belichick see in Cooks?

The answer is that Cooks is what I like to call a professional fast man. His 4.3 speed is what stands out the most, but he has the ability to use that speed in a multitude of ways and out of a number of different formations. The ability to line up both inside and outside as well as attacking all three parts of the field should have Patriots fans excited about the move.

One knock on Cooks from last season was that two of his biggest games came against the Raiders (24th vs the pass) and Panthers (29th), but I’m only going to show you plays against Seattle, Denver, Arizona, and Tampa Bay.

Here are some examples from this past season of how the Patriots will use Cooks in 2017.

Some of Cooks’ best work comes when he uses his blazing fast speed to setup cornerbacks on comeback and stop routes. Here, Cooks is matched up against Seahawks corner DeShawn Shead. He does a nice job of selling a possible fade route up the sideline and then stops on a dime to create separation. Despite measuring it at 5’10”, Cooks actually shows some ability to go up and make catches on passes over his head, and take a hit after he hauls it in. Cooks also does a great job of hand catching at all times, and is constantly snatching at the ball when its in the air.

Here’s another one of those setup plays from Cooks. Cardinals CB Marcus Cooper gives Cooks a ton of cushion on this play respecting his speed, and Cooks sells the go route and cuts it off towards the sideline for an easy grab. It’s easy pickings for Brees, and we all know that Tom Brady will treat this situation similarly. If teams play this far off of Cooks, Brady will have no issues getting the ball out to his speedy wide receiver to make a play. Brees took this all day against teams during Cooks’ time in New Orleans, and Brady will do the same.

Later in the Arizona game we see Cooks show off his versatility, this time beating his man from the slot. This play from the Saints is a staple in the Patriots offense. Bunch formation to the quarterbacks left and with man coverage they run two crossing patterns over the middle of the field. Cooks is too fast coming across the middle even for Cardinals All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu. The Patriots will certainly use Cooks in a similar way in order to use his speed to get yards after the catch. Cooks is a vertical receiver, but for the most part the Patriots aren’t a vertical offense. Crossers and underneath routes that are designed to give Cooks space to run into will be on repeat in 2017.

There are highlights all over the place for Cooks in this Arizona game, which in fairness to the Cardinals secondary ended up being a shout out. Cooks comes across the formation pre-snap on this play which tips off Drew Brees that it’s zone coverage. In this case, it’s cover-2, and the corner at the line of scrimmage let’s Cooks run right by him with no resistance. This leaves Cardinals safety D.J. Swearinger as the last line of defense with Cooks running full speed at him, no chance.

The Saints run another play here that’s straight from the Patriots playbook. Cooks starts in the slot with a receiver outside of him. He runs the out and up down the sideline and Saints receiver Michael Thomas takes the safety with him. Cooks has a number of subtle fakes that he’ll throw at defensive backs to make them think he’s cutting the route off early, and then blow by them with his speed. That’s exactly what he does to Broncos corner Bradley Roby on this play, and he takes a huge hit from T.J. Ward and still manages to hang onto the ball.

As I mentioned earlier Cooks runs a number of different comebacks and stop routes that he sets up with his downfield speed. That allows him later in games to use those little tricks to get over the top. Here’s a perfect example of that:

Against Tampa Bay Brandin Cooks dominated Tampa’s 2016 first round pick Vernon Hargreaves. Sometimes its really not fair for defensive backs in coverage against Cooks. Hargreaves starts well off the line and you see him get into his back pedal instantly. On this play late in the second quarter, Cooks sells the go route and then slams on the breaks. He completely loses Hargreaves who keeps running by and gets turned around.

Later in the game we have the same matchup, this time at the top of the screen. Hargreaves has the same approach to start, but this time the possibility of Cooks cutting the route off same as before is in his head. When Cooks shows a little fake that he might do just that, Hargreaves falls for it just enough where he can’t turn his hips in time to catch up to Cooks. It doesn’t take long for Cooks to run by most corners in this league. All it takes is a moments hesitation and Cooks already has you beat for a big play.

From breaking down Cooks’ tape in 2016 this much is clear: if you don’t get hands on him early it’s game over. The book is out on Cooks that if you jam him at the line you have a better chance of slowing him down, but in 2016 he was better at beating press coverage than earlier on in his career.

Josh McDaniels will scheme all sorts of ways to get Cooks into space. We will see a lot of him in the slot where he can use his speed to get yards after the catch over the middle, and outside where he can play that cat and mouse game with defensive backs downfield.

With a healthy Rob Gronkowski in the mix the Patriots offense will be unstoppable in 2017.