The New England Patriots will enter the 2017 season as the defending Super Bowl Champion for the fifth time since 2000. In order to defend the crown, Bill Belichick did something uncharacteristic of the Patriots way; He made aggressive moves during the offseason. One of the most aggressive and shocking moves he made was trading for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks’ addition to the Patriots current wide receiving corps begs the question: Is this wide receiving corps better than the Patriots record-setting 2007 wide receiver corps?
New England has had many talented wide receivers come through Foxboro, but none quite like the group they had in 2007. The 2007 Patriots picked up Wes Welker via trade from the Miami Dolphins, Randy Moss via trade from the Oakland Raiders, and Donte Stallworth via free agency. These three joined Jabar Gaffney to round out the top four wide receivers on the depth chart.
Heading into the 2007 season, not many knew what to expect from the Patriots wide receivers. Moss, an All-Pro during his time with the Minnesota Vikings, had seen a significant drop off in performance in Oakland. He caught a total of 102 passes in his two seasons in Oakland, which was nine less than his single season career high with the Vikings. This production drop, couple with an attitude problem, led many to believe Moss’ days in the NFL were numbered. Welker was coming off a career high 67 catch season with Miami, but his small stature had Patriots fans questioning the contribution he could make to the team. Stallworth was coming off a lackluster season for the Philadelphia Eagles, where he only caught 38 passes, his lowest mark since 2003. Finally, Gaffney, who was a member of the Patriots the season prior, had only 11 catches and 142 yards on the season.
While many were optimistic that the wide receivers could turn it around, nobody could have predicted the actual results that they put up. Moss went through a rejuvenation playing with quarterback Tom Brady, as he managed to make 98 catches and set an NFL single-season record with 23 touchdowns during the regular season. Welker had 112 catches, the first of five 100+ catch seasons with the Patriots. Stallworth and Gaffney each contributed as well, combining for 82 catches, 1,146 yards, and eight touchdowns. In addition to the personal achievements, this wide receiver corps helped the Patriots set NFL records, including most wins in a season (18), most points scored in a season (589; since passed by the 2013 Denver Broncos), and highest point differential in a season (+315).
The way that the 2007 Patriots offense operated has had a significant impact on the way they have developed their current receiving corps. For starters, Julian Edelman is the longest tenured wide receiver, having been drafted by the Patriots in 2009. The progress of his career followed the same track as Welker’s did, with Edelman being groomed to be Welker’s replacement following the 2012 season. Following Edelman, the Patriots also signed Danny Amendola to a four-year contract. Amendola had drawn comparisons to Wes Welker early in his career, but injury troubles had many doubting his production capacity. Heading in to the 2016 season, the Patriots added Malcolm Mitchell through the NFL Draft and signed Chris Hogan away from the Buffalo Bills.
That group of four, in addition to tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, were able to help the propel the Patriots to a 14-win regular season. Edelman and Amendola were dangerous weapons as slot receivers, while Hogan and Mitchell were able to stretch the field. While this group was impressive in their own right, the Patriots were still lacking the explosive, game-changing wide receiver.
Bill Belichick then made his most aggressive wide receiver-based trade, since the trade for Moss, by trading the Patriots first round draft pick in 2017 to New Orleans for Brandin Cooks. Now Cooks does not have anywhere near the same attributes that Moss had, but he is a proven NFL talent with two 1,000+ yards seasons and 17 touchdown catches over the last two years. Adding Cooks to a group with Edelman, Amendola, Hogan, and Mitchell can create matchup nightmares for defenses across the league. That is not even factoring in New England’s most potent threat, Rob Gronkowski. Belichick put this corps together to give Tom Brady the most weapons at his disposal, in an effort to win a sixth ring this season.
Obviously, the new group has yet to play a game and still has to prove they are the best, but for now we can only sit back and debate. The true benchmark that many will value them on, is whether the 2017 team can win the ring that the 2007 team could not.
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