Jared Cook has as much talent as any tight end in the NFL.
Cook, however, never has been considered one of the top tight ends in the game. It probably didn’t help that Cook toiled alongside 11 starting quarterbacks and learned under six offensive coordinators during his first seven seasons in NFL.
Landing with the Green Bay Packers and snagging passes from two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers gives Cook the chance to finally play to his enormous and still-unfulfilled potential.
“I look at it as a clean slate, a fresh start and a new piece of paper to write a story on,” Cook said. “I’m excited for the opportunity that’s ahead of me and I’m going to do the best I can.”
Cook’s put up some good numbers in his career. With the Titans in 2011, he averaged a career-high 15.5 yards per reception with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback. With the Rams in 2013, Cook caught a career-high 51 passes as Sam Bradford and Kellen Clemens split the quarterbacking duties. The following season, Cook added to his career-high total with 52 grabs from the not-so-dynamic quarterbacking duo of Austin Davis and Shaun Hill.
Safe to say, Cook’s never had anyone like Rodgers. Rodgers is the major reason why Cook chose Green Bay after being released by the Rams following a 39-catch campaign in 2015. Cook didn’t need a sales pitch from Rodgers upon taking his free-agent visit.
“He didn’t have to tell me anything. This place sells itself,” Cook said. “I’ve always been a fan of Aaron. They play late-night games on our flights back, so we always used to see (the Packers) play and see the type of throws that he makes. Now that I’m here to see it in-person in practice, it’s even more incredible. I find myself sometimes still in awe of some of the things he does. He didn’t have to sell me at all.”
Cook is a potential game-changer for the Packers because of his rare combination of size and athleticism. The 6-foot-5 Cook, who ran his 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.50 seconds at the Scouting Combine in 2009, averaged 12.8 yards during his first seven seasons in the NFL. Last season, Richard Rodgers caught 58 passes — one of four tight ends in franchise history to catch at least 55 passes in a season — but averaged only 8.8 yards per reception.
Moreover, Cook landed with a couple of coaches who know how to utilize tight ends. At Baker University in Baldwin, Kan., Packers coach Mike McCarthy was an all-conference tight end. This offseason, McCarthy fired Jerry Fontenot and replaced him with Brian Angelichio. With the Browns last season, Angelichio coached Gary Barnidge to a monster season of 79 receptions for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns. Those numbers ranked third, third and second, respectively, among NFL tight ends. If that’s not impressive enough, consider that the 30-year-old Barnidge caught a combined 44 passes for 603 yards and three touchdowns in his first six seasons.
“I think his skill-set is for any offense, really,” Angelichio said. “Whether it’s the Green Bay Packers’ offense or some other team’s offense, you’ve got a guy who can run and has length. I think when you have those things, it can present problems to the defenses.”
That’s the expectation for Rodgers, who hasn’t played with such a physically gifted tight end since Jermichael Finley sustained a career-ending injury in 2013. The last time Rodgers had Finley and Jordy Nelson on the field for an entire season was 2011. The Packers scored 560 points — second-most in NFL history at the time. Whether Cook catches 60 passes or 30, he's someone defenses must account for at all times.
“Jared is a great guy,” Rodgers said. “It’s been fun to get to know him. I think he really enjoys being here, enjoys the opportunity. Jared brings a good skill-set to that group. Richard was very consistent for us last year (and) he’s great at a lot of things. Jared is able to stretch the field a little bit with his little bit extra speed. I’m excited to get him up and going and get to these installs and see what he can do even more.”
For Cook, much is at stake. He wanted a one-year contract, no doubt figuring a big season would equate to a big payday next offseason. More than that, this will be his best chance to win. Only once has Cook played on a team that finished with a winning record — the Titans went 9-7 in 2011 but failed to make the playoffs.
“I think I can help a lot,” Cook said. “I think that’s the big reason they brought me here. I’m here to make the team better as well as they are to make me better.”
“I’ve never even been to a playoff game in eight years,” he added, “That’s why you start the season — that’s for that big trophy you hold up at the end, that’s for the ring that you put on your finger. That’s for the guys who sacrifice for everything you sacrifice for.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.