The St. Louis Rams bet $16 million in guaranteed money that Jared Cook's world of potential will start turning into production in 2013. Standing 6-6 and possessing athleticism most tight ends can only dream of, Cook's potential is well documented. It's also the only reason an NFL team would wager that type of money on a fifth-year tight end that's never finished in the top 12 at his position. Heading into 2012, Cook's career arc looked like a player that was about ready to bust into fantasy stardom. That talk was further buoyed by the fact that he posted 21 receptions for 335 yards in his final three games of 2011.
Unfortunately for Cook (and anyone who jumped on his bandwagon last preseason), 2012 was not the year many predicted it to be. After an inconsistent start to the year, Cook all but disappeared midseason and then missed the final three games of the season with a shoulder injury. Much of the blame can be heaped on poor quarterback play and questionable play calling, but tight ends that have elite potential can generally overcome those factors to at least post respectable numbers.
In St. Louis, Jared Cook will be reunited with head coach Jeff Fisher, who expects Cook to create matchup problems all over the field. In theory, Cook's rare combination of size and athleticism should make him a nightmare to game plan for and the Rams are planning on taking full advantage of that. Expectations are that he will be moved around to force matchup problems with both linebackers and safeties. In fact, there's a lot of noise that Cook may spend as much (if not more) time in the slot as he does on the line of scrimmage. If this is the case, he could be a monster in the red zone.
No matter where he plays it's hard to imagine that Cook won't see a lot of playing time. Teams don't give out this kind of money to tight ends without expecting them to be very involved. Of course we've seen a couple of these deals lately where the player didn't meet the team's expectations, but if Cook fails to produce TE1 numbers in St. Louis it won't be from lack of opportunity.
While some may question whether Sam Bradford likes to throw to tight ends, he's never had a tight end as gifted as Cook. I haven't heard anyone argue that Cook didn't inherit a massive upgrade at QB with his move to St. Louis, but there do seem to be some questions about Bradford's tendency to avoid the tight end. Before assuming that Bradford doesn't like tight ends, it's important to remember that the team drafted Lance Kendricks two years ago because they had such a dearth of talent at the position. Kendricks is a fine replacement-level player, but he's no Jared Cook. It's very possible that Sam Bradford would love to throw to the tight end more, he just hasn't had anyone there he can trust.
Speaking of trust, that's something Cook himself will have to build...but there's very little in his way. The Rams boast a ton of potential in their receiving corps, but no one that has done enough to cement himself as Bradford's go to guy. That position is there for the taking and if Cook earned the designation he could legitimately be looking at a 30-40% increase in targets. Having averaged a little over one fantasy point per target the past two seasons, that type of increase would move Cook into TE1 consideration by itself.
- Cook has TE1 potential, size and athleticism. If he lives up to those he'll be a bargain on draft day
- Sam Bradford is a far better quarterback than Jake Locker, so even if Cook doesn't improve he should see an increase in production
- With the money the Rams have invested and the lack of experience in the receiving corps, Cook has an opportunity to become the go-to guy for Bradford, especially in the red zone
- Despite all of that potential, Cook has never posted TE1 numbers in his four previous seasons
- Like Cook, the Rams offense has a lot of potential, but very little past production to base predictions of success on. If this offense struggles to enter the red zone he'll continue to post disappointing touchdown production
- Jared Cook has faced questions about his consistency and work ethic in the past. $16 million guaranteed could cause those issues to emerge on a whole other level
There are very few tight ends heading into 2013 that have both the high ceiling and low floor that Cook does. He is absolutely a risk/reward pick, but with a current ADP of TE15 the risk isn't really all that great. I would jump on Cook if you can get him late in drafts, knowing that you may have just landed a solid TE1. Just remember, that if you bet big on Cook and take him early, history says you'll likely be disappointed.
Cook, 26, certainly looks the part. At 6 feet 5 and and 248 pounds, he runs the 40 in 4.49 seconds and is versatile enough to play on the line, in the backfield, in the slot or even out wide. His combination of size, top-end speed and athletic ability enables him to stretch the field and create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
Read more from Lyons here.
More from Heath Cummings:
Player Spotlight: Torrey Smith - July 16
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Player Spotlight: Colin Kaepernick - July 2
What Went Wrong With C.J. Spiller - April 19
What Went Wrong With Marques Colston? - April 17
Lessons From NBA DFS - April 5
What Went Wrong With Eli Manning? - March 26
What Went Wrong With Dwayne Bowe? - March 18
What Went Wrong With Ray Rice? - March 4