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Spotlight: Jared Cook

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 15th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Jared Cook has been maddening in his first two seasons. We've come to expect that most tight ends, even the very best in the league, generally struggle as rookies:

Dallas Clark - 29 receptions, 1 TD
Vernon Davis - 20 receptions, 3 TDs
Antonio Gates - 24 receptions, 2 TDs
Tony Gonzalez - 33 receptions, 2 TDs
Jermichael Finley - 6 receptions, 1 TD
Kellen Winslow - 5 receptions, 0 TDs
Jason Witten - 35 receptions, 1 TD

So it wasn't surprising, or alarming, to see Jared Cook net just 9 receptions for 74 yards and 0 TDs as a rookie. The Titans drafted Cook out of South Carolina fully recognizing his considerable athleticism, but also knowing that he needed time to a) become an effective pass protector and b) learn the intricacies of an NFL playbook. Cook was asked to read and react in college, and rarely had to run NFL routes with the precision needed to flourish at the next level.

But last year was supposed to be a different story. Cook was entering his 2nd season, he had another full training camp to acclimate himself, and the Titans were short on receiving weapons outside of the mercurial Kenny Britt. Unfortunately for Cook, and any fantasy owners who drafted him late as a sleeper, Cook was a bust yet again:

  • 29 receptions
  • 361 yards
  • 1 TD
  • 42 fantasy points
  • 33rd ranked fantasy TE

Cook's uninspired sophomore campaign has taken the sheen off his fantasy outlook - at least for most. His ADP currently stands at TE19, and he's being drafted 184th overall, on average. Although this is shaping up to be a historic year for TE production across the league, it's important to understand just how meager a 19th place fantasy finish looks for a tight end:

Year First Last Team Recs Yds TDs FPTs
2006 Chris Baker NYJ 31 300 4 54
2007 Chris Baker NYJ 41 409 3 59
2008 David Martin MIA 31 440 3 62
2009 Ben Watson NE 29 404 5 70
2010 Brent Celek PHI 42 511 4 75
Avg 35 413 4 64

That's a low bar to hurdle over, which makes me confident Cook - in spite of his struggles in 2009-2010, will outperform expectations.

Getting on the Field
Jeff Fisher is old school, and he firmly believed that talent did not trump work ethic, and fundamentals. A lot of other teams would've found a way to get Cook on the field in spite of his deficiencies, but Fisher was cut from a different cloth. Cook's difficulty with blitz pickups, and his struggles digesting the entirety of the playbook were enough to render him a non-factor. Cook was on the field only 28% of the Titans' snaps last year. Needless to say, it's next to impossible to make a fantasy impact when you're sitting on the sidelines 7 of every 10 plays.

A deeper look into his snap count gives reason for optimism:

Games Plays TeamSnaps %onField
1-4 21 247 8.5%
5-8 12 185 6.5%
9-12 78 225 34.7%
13-16 143 258 55.4%

Cook was a bench player for the first half of the season. But then reports started surfacing out of Tennessee that a light switch had gone on. Cook was crisper in practice, was getting the praise of his position coach, and was starting to do the little things. By the third quarter of the season, Cook was on the field a respectable 35% of the time, and in the final month he was a major contributor (55% of the snaps). If Cook is going to ever become a fantasy star, he needs to be on the field AT LEAST 55% of the time, and we would like to see him out there 60-70% of the snaps (or more).

Mike Munchak and Chris Palmer
New head coach Mike Munchak is an old school grind-it-out offensive lineman, but his new offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer, is known as a QB mentor and passing game coordinator. Palmer will have a dual mandate - getting Matt Hasselbeck ready to keep the Titans competitive this year, while grooming rookie Jake Locker for the starting job long-term. In either scenario, Palmer is going to need Cook's help. Hasselbeck can still be an effective QB, but only if he's balanced by a powerful ground attack that keeps defenses honest. He'll need targets to throw to beyond Kenny Britt - who is a red zone threat but doesn't have a reputation for maturity (on or off the field). If Cook really did see the light last year, he could be in line for a HUGE jump in targets.

Positives

  • Off the charts athleticism, in the mold of Vernon Davis and Antonio Gates -- he can have his way with most linebackers and safeties in space
  • The addition of Matt Hasselbeck ensures stability at the QB position, at least until the Titans hand the job over to Jake Locker
  • The Titans coaching staff has prioritized Cook and will be lining him up out wide in many situations, and the Titans have precious little else they can rely on in the receiving game (Kenny Britt aside)

Negatives

  • Cook has very limited NFL experience, and even toward the end of last year was only seeing the field about 50% of the time
  • He can't simply get by on athleticism, Cook must make a better effort as a blocker and become more disciplined (too many penalties) if he wants a full-time role
  • The Titans offense could be anemic, as Matt Hasselbeck is hardly a top tier passer anymore and new OC Chris Palmer has -- shall we say -- failed to distinguish himself as a play-caller at the NFL level

Final thoughts

Jared Cook has the tools that scream fantasy stardom. At 6'6", 246 pounds, Cook still maintains the speed and agility of a wide receiver, but needs to do more than that to emerge as a fantasy starter. Looking at the box score doesn't tell you enough. Anyone that saw him play at South Carolina, or watches him in passing drills during camp knows Cook can easily catch 60-70 receptions if given the opportunity. But to EARN the opportunity he has to improve other areas of his game. Last year in spite of struggling to find offensive weapons, the Titans felt uncomfortable putting Cook on the field in most situations. A light went on in the final month, but even then he only played half the snaps. He needs to PROVE to new head coach Mike Munchak that he can make a key block or blitz pickup, and he also must show a stronger commitment to the intricacies of the playbook. If he does that, the sky is the limit but you shouldn't overpay on draft day for unproven potential.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Stinkin Ref said:

I think Cook makes the leap into the top 10 TE this year.....the talent is there and Scaife is gone.....Hass likes to look to the TE and Cook will be a big target that is athletic enough to also gets some YAC....fantasy is a lot about talent and opportunity....Cook has both....great guy to target late in your draft that you end up starting every week....ADP is crazy low right now....but not for long

mjr said:

Recent news reports indicate Cook has been splitting out wide more often than usual in training camp, which is good news for fantasy owners. When a TE is used often in an offensive plan, Hasselback has shown capable of getting his TE up to 7 TDs, which he has done with John Carlson. I believe Cook is a much better athlete than Carlson, so who knows what is possible. With a block-first TE like Graham coming in, it seems like the OC is truly gearing up for 2 TE sets with Cook being a regular in the receiving department.

I think his floor will be somewhere in the ballpark of 7 TDs with 50-60 receptions for about 600-700 yards, putting him near or inside the list of top 10 TEs.


Jared Cook projections

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Jason Wood60700400
Message board consensus55650700