BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Listen to what the New England Patriots are saying about Brandin Cooks.
The voices are impressive, but what they are saying is even more so.
Cooks figures to be one of the headaches for the Eagles defense when the two teams meet in Super Bowl LII on Sunday. No player scares a defense like one who can stretch the field to its limit. And that is what Cooks does.
Cooks couldn’t have made a more favorable impression in his first year with the Patriots after three strong seasons with the New Orleans Saints.
This season, Cooks had 65 catches for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 16.6 yards per reception, which was seventh in the NFL and the best in his career. He had 15 catches of 25 or more yards, which tied for third in the NFL. Cooks had six catches for 100 yards in the Patriots’ 24-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC title game.
All this is impressive, but to understand the true value of Cooks, just listen to others.
“Brandon Cooks has been an incredible player for us since he got here,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “His attitude, approach to the game for a young player, his maturity is what really stuck with me.”
That is the other thing about Cooks: He is young but plays beyond his years — he won’t turn 25 until September.
“He is one of the last guys off the field every day,” Brady said. “He is always working on catching technique, tracking the ball so he can improve.”
Normally that would be enough insight on Cooks as a player, but Brady couldn’t stop himself.
“What he has done for our team in one year is really incredible,” Brady said. “I haven’t seen anybody come in and make the contributions he made.”
This is Tom Brady, owner of five championship rings and ready to compete in his eighth Super Bowl. He isn’t impressed easily and has always respected people who have the same relentless work ethic that he has displayed in his Hall of Fame career.
“I love his spirit, his attitude, his will and determination, and love his leadership, and we are very lucky to play with him and hopefully for a lot of years,” Brady said.
The word out of New Orleans before the trade was that Cooks wanted the ball more. That’s no mortal sin for a wide receiver. The Patriots haven’t heard such a complaint in his first year in New England.
“I think one of the great traits of a receiver is when you don’t get the football early in the game that you don’t say anything and you keep playing,” Patriots receivers coach Chad O’Shea said. “He is a team guy first who doesn’t say a word about not getting the football. He just keeps doing the best job he can.”
Cooks said his supporting cast made his transition smooth.
“Having great teammates and coaches to help me get through the process and learn the system fast as I can was huge,” Cooks said.
“The guy is just a really good teammate, consummate professional, always working on his craft” said Patriots fullback James Develin. “He is really meticulous in what he needs to do, and I am happy and proud to see he has had so much success.”
Cooks, who hasn’t missed a game the last three years, has been in the enviable position of working with two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Before Brady, there was Drew Brees, in New Orleans.
“To come here after playing with Drew and now having TB, it is a blessing,” Cooks said.
Just don’t ask him to compare the two. That is something he refuses to, showing deference for both icons.
While teams try to stop tight end Rob Gronkowski first, Cooks figures prominently into the opponent’s defensive game plan.
“He is a guy who helps stretch the field, and in any good offense you have a guy who can do that, and that is the type of players he is,” said Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills.
Characterizing Cooks as only a deep threat is selling him short, though, Mills said.
“He’s a route runner,” Mills said. “Having the ability to be a deep threat and also the ability to run good routes is a blessing.”
Cooks has similar respect for the Eagles secondary.
“That group has been playing at a high level all year,” he said.
Cooks is the Patriots’ best deep threat since Randy Moss in 2009. In his first three full seasons in New England, Moss averaged 15.1 yards per catch and caught 47 touchdown passes.
“He doesn’t miss practice, he doesn’t miss training sessions,” O’Shea said. “He rarely misses a play in practice, much less a game,” O’Shea said.
In one year, Cooks has earned the overwhelming admiration of his teammates and coaches.
“Guys respect him, the coaches respect him for what he stands for: high character, very hardworking and detailed. He is a team guy,” O’Shea said.
The voices are beginning to sound the same.