Arguably the top early free agent signing the Raiders made this offseason was former Packers tight end, Jared Cook. He signed with the team on a reported 2-year, $12.2 million deal. The 30-year-old former third round pick has been immediately inserted as the number one tight end, with some high expectations.
“He’s a big, long guy. Runs really well, stretches the field vertically inside,” said offensive coordinator Todd Downing. “He’s a matchup nightmare for linebackers and most safeties. He really brings a sense in the passing game of a mismatch that we can count on week in and week out. Beyond that, and kind of what I’m pleasantly surprised with, is he’s a really good in line blockers as well. Jared’s versatility is going to be something that we’re able to feed on a little bit and use him in different packages. Pair him with other tight ends or other receivers. We’re excited to see the volume he can handle.”
Being a ‘complete package’ was how the coaches and Reggie McKenzie spoke of Clive Walford when they selected him in the third round two years ago. He may still ultimately show himself to have that skillset, but Cook is a veteran who has performed at a high level over his 8 years in the NFL.
His overall numbers last season weren’t fantastic with just 30 catches for 377 yards. But that was over 10 games. Cook missed five games midseason and when he returned, he went on a tear. Over the final 7 games, he caught 24 passes for 324 yards. That late season pace would give him 54 catches for 740 yards over 16 games.
Where Cook really stepped up was in the playoffs last season, catching 18 passes for 229 yards and 2 touchdowns in three postseason games. That included six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown in a 34-31 win over the Cowboys to help send the Packers to the NFC Championship game.
Cook had the luxury of catching passes from 2-time MVP Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay last season. He said this week he sees a lot of Rodgers in his new quarterback, Derek Carr. That’s high praise. If Carr is able to live up to the comparison, Cook’s presence will help.
“He just wants to do the route how I want it done,” Carr said of Cook. “‘How do you want me to do this, what angle do you want me to take on this?’ all those things. It makes my job easy, especially because he’s really fast so I can miss a little bit and he can make it look right.”
“With a guy like Jared that can stretch the field vertically like that, it’s going to lead to more single coverage outside for ‘Coop’ [Amari Cooper] and ‘Crab’ [Michael Crabtree]. It’s going to lead to more one-on-ones for Seth [Roberts]. The possibilities are endless when you add a guy at that position that has that much speed vertically. The things you can do with him really put a lot of stress on the defense.”
The Packers utilized Cook’s speed as a mismatch against safeties, often lining him up out wide. He wasn’t used a great deal as a run blocker, but held his own in that regard. Cook says he takes as much pride in his blocking as he does his receiving, adding “You should take pride in everything and attack it in the same enthusiasm and mentality and that’s full-steam ahead, head on.”
Returning to the field after missing 12 games last season for the Raiders will be Lee Smith. His presence should take some pressure off of Cook from a blocking standpoint, but it will still be important for Cook to be proficient at blocking in order to maximize his snaps.