FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots enjoyed remarkable injury luck in 2016. That hasn’t been the case this season.
The list of Patriots players who have missed games due to injury in 2017 includes nearly every offensive skill player: Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell.
Of the various wide receivers, tight ends and running backs quarterback Tom Brady has at his disposal, just three have played in every game so far this season: Dion Lewis, Dwayne Allen and Brandin Cooks. (We’re not including Brandon Bolden here, whose primary role is on special teams.)
Lewis’ rise to prominence has been extensively covered, but Cooks, one of the team’s marquee offseason additions, has received considerably less recognition despite ranking second on the team behind Gronkowski in catches (65), receiving yards (1,082) and receiving touchdowns (seven).
Cooks is not a perfect player — he struggles to make contested catches, for example, which limited his production late in the regular season — but Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been thoroughly impressed with his durability and availability. The 24-year-old deep threat has played 92.7 percent of New England’s offensive snaps this season, good for fifth on the team behind Brady, tackle Nate Solder and guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason.
“He’s a hard-working kid,” Belichick said in his Thursday morning news conference. “He’s very coachable. He’s out there every day.”
And he does mean every day.
Not only has Cooks played in every game this season, but he also hasn’t missed or even been limited in a single practice. He’s never appeared on the Patriots’ injury report.
“I don’t think he’s even missed a play (in practice),” Belichick said. “He runs 60 yards downfield, comes back, gets in the huddle and runs another one. He’s got great stamina.”
Belichick had an idea of Cooks’ makeup from watching him in New Orleans — where he banked back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons for the Saints, playing in all 16 games in each — but said his appreciation for the young wideout has grown exponentially since the Patriots acquired Cooks last March.
“It’s probably more impressive once you’re actually around him every day and you see those kind of plays strung together,” Belichick said. “I felt that that’s what he was, but it’s been impressive. It’s definitely been impressive.”
Cooks will make his postseason debut Saturday night when the Patriots host the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.