FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots faced one of the NFL’s fastest wide receivers last weekend in Tyreek Hill, whom they largely neutralized in the AFC Championship Game.
They’ll see another on Sunday Bowl Sunday. And he’s one they know very well.
Brandin Cooks, whom the Patriots traded away last April, has been one of the Los Angeles Rams’ top offensive weapons this season, using his 4.33 speed to burn opposing defenses to the tune of 80 catches, a career-high 1,204 yards and five touchdowns.
New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore saw that speed on a daily basis in 2017.
“He’s got elite speed,” Gilmore said Friday. “He’s one of the fastest guys in the league. He’s where he’s at for a reason. He’s been putting in the hard work, and he’s had a good season.”
It remains to be seen whether Gilmore will personally cover Cooks in Super Bowl LIII — he could be matched up against another ex-teammate, Robert Woods, with whom he played in Buffalo — but he’s confident in his ability to keep pace with the former Pats speedster.
“I feel like I can run with everybody,” said Gilmore, who ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.
Gilmore, a first-team All-Pro, spent most of the AFC title game on Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins before switching onto tight end Travis Kelce during the second half. Though Watkins was able to beat him for one 54-yard gain, Gilmore has locked down several top-flight receivers this season, including Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Allen Robinson and Antonio Brown.
“He does his talking on the field, and it’s very, very loud,” fellow corner Jason McCourty said of the soft-spoken Gilmore. “As you can see throughout the course of this season, as a defense, we’ve leaned on him a lot to do a lot. He’s shown up each and every Thursday, Monday or Sunday — whichever day — and has performed at peak levels. …
“He doesn’t even let guys catch the ball in walkthrough. That’s kind of his mindset and his demeanor. He goes out there, he takes the field, and his one job is to shut whoever he’s guarding down, and that’s something that he’s done on a week-in, week-out basis for us this season.”