Jared Cook is a five-year veteran, 26 years old, and, before his two (but should’ve been three) touchdown, 6237-yard explosion in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals, an overlooked run-of-the-mill tight end.
For the first four years of his career, Cook persevered in Tennessee, week to week through the treacherous Vince Young/Kerry Collins/Matt Hasselbeck/Jake Locker gauntlet of hopelessness.
His numbers were mostly unspectacular there, but there were definitely hopeful stretches of play indicating Cook might have the potential to someday become one of his position’s elite. Based on his first appearance as a Ram, though, that day may be coming sooner rather than later.
In 2011 Football Outsiders ranked Cook as the 13th best tight end using their DYAR statistic—directly behind Cowboys Hall of Fame talent Jason Witten, and in front of notable producers like Heath Miller and Vernon Davis.
That year he totaled 759 yards on 49 receptions (both career-bests) and three touchdowns. In 2013 those numbers won’t do for tight ends who think of themselves as the crème de la crème of their position.
With the National Football League still in the early stages of a pass-obsessed evolution, the tight end who’s both able to stay on the field for running situations and double as a versatile wide receiver equally dangerous spread wide or from the slot, is dominant.
Offenses are now interested in moving as quickly as possible. The Buffalo Bills instituted a hurry up offense despite running out a rookie quarterback in his first start (they were the fastest team in the league for Week 1).
The New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns have also indicated they’ll be going super fast this season.
During a hurry up, no huddle offense, substitutions can’t happen, limiting the variance a play-caller can have running his offense. It’s why having a tight end who can block as well as he can out run his coverage and catch a 35-yard pass down the sideline is perhaps one of the most valuable ingredients in a successful offense today.
(Think of the tight end as a chess piece that can move in two different patterns while everybody else can only move in one.)
Cook gives St. Louis the option of running and throwing on every play, which allows them to move as fast (or slow) as Sam Bradford can take them. It’s important. Cook is obviously a huge person, but he runs tight routes deep down the field (the anti-Jake Ballard) like a wide receiver. He also has fantastic hands.
Through one game this season—re-united with Jeff Fisher, his coach from 2011—Cook already has 141 yards, two touchdowns, and seven catches. Never a full-time starter with the Titans, he now has a somewhat stable quarterback, playing behind an even more stable offensive line, on a team committed to throwing the ball.
As the Rams cheekily point out in this infographic, Cook is currently on pace to rack up 2,256 yards and 32 TDs.
Cook might fail to replicate his outstanding Week 1 numbers the rest of the way, but the dimension he brings to St. Louis’ evolving offense is undoubtedly important. The pass-catching tight end is so much more than a safety blanket, and Jared Cook is the perfect example.
Michael Pina is a writer for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network. He also writes for ScoreBig.