Analysis: With Cooks gone, how are the Patriots going to replace his explosive dimension?

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(Adam Richins for BSJ)

When the Patriots acquired Brandin Cooks last offseason, it wasn't difficult to see the reasoning behind the move. The Patriots may have been great on offense in 2016 (fourth in yards, third in points on the way to winning a Super Bowl) but there was something missing at times. The issue didn't show up during most weeks, but it did against good tackling teams and good defenses in general: New England wasn't as explosive as it had been.

As I wrote before the season:

The No. 1 reason why the Patriots acquired Cooks — and this opinion was shared by two observers that know the system intimately — was to diversify their ability to get chunk plays (runs over 10 yards, passes more than 25). Despite being largely terrific on offense last season, the Patriots ranked “only” 12th with a big-play percentage of 8.05. Most of the Patriots’ chunk plays are either due to yards after the catch, or Rob Gronkowski (when he’s on the field) wreaking havoc. And when the Patriots encountered good-tackling teams without Gronkowski (Texans, Falcons) in the postseason, New England showed some mortality. Certainly, Chris Hogan showed some ability to make big plays last season, but he’s not Cooks. His addition gives the Patriots another way to get yards in a hurry.

And that's exactly what happened. The Patriots inserted Cooks into the equation and the passing offense was more efficient and explosive:

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Remember, that was done without Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell, and Chris Hogan only played nine games. Now, obviously, it helps that Rob Gronkowski went from eight games to 14, but Cooks' impact was profound. Consider