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Green Bay Packers Free Agency: Jared Cook, Potential and the Tight End Draft Class

Jared Cook finally started to reach his enormous potential in 2016. Will that drive the price up too high?

INDIANAPOLIS – Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy is hopeful a deal can be worked out with free-agent tight end Jared Cook.

“I really like the way he came in and grabbed a hold of our offense,” McCarthy said on Wednesday at the Scouting Combine. “He’s a playmaker. He’s a matchup problem. He’s given us some vertical stretch and some one-on-one opportunities that we haven’t had. He fought through a big (ankle) injury, but I would just like to build off what he accomplished in his first year.”

Cook finished with 30 catches for 377 yards (12.6 average) and one touchdown in 10 games, then added 18 catches for 229 yards (12.7 average) and two touchdowns in the playoffs. After catching six passes in the three games before the injury, Cook had a pair of six-catch games upon his return and two more in the playoffs. His impact on the offense was undeniable, as the Packers averaged 32.8 points over the last four regular-season games and the three playoff games.

“He’s been a big part of our success,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said before the NFC Championship Game. “He’s done a great job for us. Not crazy red-zone stats or huge production, which I think he’s capable of, but just his presence out there has really meant a lot to us, given us an option down the middle and an option splitting him out to his own side, as well, which we haven’t had around here in a while. So, he’s done a great job for us. He’s very versatile with his route-running abilities — vertical, in-breakers, out-breakers. He’s a big man, he’s a tall, strong guy. He does a good job separating from coverages. The comments I heard before he got to us was about his hands and we haven’t had any problems with that.”

Cook, who will turn 30 in a month, joined Green Bay with a one-year deal. Given how he played down the stretch and how he finally came close to reaching his prodigious potential, he could be in line for a big payday in free agency. If the bidding gets too high, the strongest draft class of tight ends in recent memory awaits.

Alabama’s O.J. Howard, who is close to a perfect prospect in terms of size, athleticism and character, might be a top-10 pick. But Miami’s David Njoku, Mississippi’s Evan Engram, Ashaland’s Adam Shaheen, Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges, South Alabama’s Gerald Everett and Clemson’s Jordan Leggett all could go in the first three round. The wild card is Michigan’s Jake Butt, who might have been the No. 2 prospect, suffered a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl and might not contribute much as a rookie. That’s potentially eight tight ends; the average from the last seven drafts is 4.6.

“I have a lot of respect for the guys in the tight end class,” Howard said. “We have a deep class, a lot of great talent. To be the first guy off the board would be a tremendous accomplishment. But, I’m far from that. I have a lot of work to do.”

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.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.


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