News & Analysis

Tom Brady has a new weapon in Brandin Cooks

Brandin Cooks is leaving one future Hall of Fame quarterback and joining another. The Saints packaged Cooks and a fourth-round pick to New England in exchange for the Patriots’ first- and third-round picks in this year’s draft.

Wow. It’s quite the get for the Patriots, as Cooks is coming off a career-high 1,173 receiving yards and is just 23 years old. Cooks has finished inside the top-12 fantasy receivers over the last two seasons, and since entering the league as a 2014 first-round pick, he has averaged 82 catches, 1090 yards, and eight touchdowns per 16 games. Of course, Tom Brady has squeezed career-best production out of ordinary receivers throughout his career, let alone a proven playmaker with 4.33 speed.

If there is one concern, it’s that Cooks is going from the comfy confines of the Superdome to the wintry elements in Foxborough. We’ve seen Kenny Stills lose some steam after leaving New Orleans, and that was in sunny Miami. For his career, Cooks averages just 58.0 receiving yards per game on the road, compared to 78.2 on the road. That is a 25-percent dip in production.

Still, it’s tough to find fault with the move for both parties. Cooks had voiced displeasure with his role in the Saints’ offense after drawing zero targets in Week 12. As with Drew Brees, Brady does like to spread the ball around, although he’ll certainly look to use his new toy. Brady continues to defy age, and in fact he just earned the highest PFF QB grade ever in 2016. He has made significant improvement in extending plays (second-best passer rating on plays lasting at least 2.6 seconds), and that’s a dangerous element when combined with Cooks’ speed.

He’ll most often line up opposite Chris Hogan on the outside, with Julian Edelman perhaps kicking into the slot more often. In 2016, Edelman ran 53.5 percent of his routes from the slot, which was about the same as the previous season. Meanwhile, Cooks lined up on the outside 63 percent of the time this past season.

As for the Saints, Michael Thomas now becomes the clear-cut No. 1 WR, although for all intent and purpose he had already assumed that role last season. Thomas just posted the third-best fantasy season by a rookie receiver in the last decade. Willie Snead also figures to see an uptick in targets from Brees, who should emerge just fine after all is said and done.

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