ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 20: Al Harris #31 of the St. Louis Rams tackles Jared Cook #89 of the Tennessee Titans at the Edward Jones Dome on August 20, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Szczepanski/Getty Images)
To be frank? Jared Cook can be absolutely lethal. Cook was drafted on raw physical ability an upside. We got a glimpse of the upside last year in the closing weeks of last season and ever since the beginning of training camp, all I'm hearing is how Cook keeps making one unbelievable play after another. We've seen evidence that this wasn't just a case of a training camp hero in two preseason games this year as Cook has impressed audiences with amazing catches and physical tools that rival the best tight ends in the game. Quite simply, I expect him to light it up this year. There are no excuses at this point. He's been blessed with a massive frame, blazing speed, highlight-reel hands, and a vertical leap of nearly 45 inches. Nothing should stand in his way of dominating over the middle, but in a league that's populated only by freakish athletes, what can he do to set himself apart?
Though it's a tough comparison to make, Cook very much resembles a blend of Zach Miller, a player whose excellent hands have earned him a reputation as one of the NFL's best, and Kellen Winslow whose vast plethora of physical abilities have made him an extremely productive player in the passing game for Tampa Bay. Those are two pretty huge names to live up to, but I see way too much potential in Cook to sell him short. While the NFL is a group of the best athletes in the world, sometimes you see someone who just stands out. Cook is one of those players. He can add something to the passing game that not a lot of teams have. As fans of the Titans, we're all too familiar with the impact that Dallas Clark can have on a game. Check out what Coltzilla has to say about Clark in his profile of #44:
Of all Clark's great traits, it is his ability to be a big-time play maker in high stress situations...Manning has effectively set Clark up as his number-two receiver.
Nothing new here, but the part about Manning setting Clark up as his security blanket is indeed something that strikes me. The greatest quarterback of all time relies heavily on a very physically gifted tight end as his primary safety valve. If it's good enough for Manning, it should be good enough for anyone the Titans line up under center. This is especially true for Jake Locker. The cliche is that rookie QBs will look for the tight end more often in the passing game than veterans do, and I think to some extent that's true, so the development of Cook as a play maker can heavily benefit the development of Jake Locker as one and maybe even vice-versa. If things go according to plan, this duo can end up as the new Manning-Clark of the division. Is there a pair more synonymous with QB/TE hook ups than Manning/Clark these days? You'd be hard pressed to find one outside of anyone/Gates.
I spoke earlier of Kellen Winslow and his importance to the Tampa Bay passing attack. As it turns out, Winslow has the most catches of any buccaneer since he joined the team two seasons ago. Something I found interesting was that Sander of Bucs Nation seems to have reason to believe that the Buccaneers will take a slightly unconventional approach to building an offense around their two tight ends.
[Former Tennessee TE Luke] Stocker's drafting also showed us what the Bucs plan to do: they want to tool their offense around the tight end position. It's no coincidence that the first thing the current regime did after gaining power was trading for a premier pass-catching tight end.
That raises a few questions. First off: the Bucs have an excellent young group of skill players ranging from LeGarrette Blount to Mike Williams. Their offense should have some serious bite to it with Josh Freeman at the helm. Even with this plethora of players, the Bucs chose to use a pick on a highly regarded tight end who I thought should have gone much earlier in the draft. Most likely, they were just going with the BPE strategy at that point, but even so, they added another talented tight end to the roster. The point is that even with a glut of talent at offensive positions, the Bucs seem intent on building around their tight ends. The second question that this raises is simply should the Titans try something similar? From a slightly biased standpoint, Tennessee seems to have almost as much talent at skill positions, (CJ > Blount, Britt/Williams is a tossup at this point, etc.) so why not give it a go? At this point I'm not sure they can. Cook is, at least in my eyes, the best tight end on the team and is still more or less completely unproven. In short, we need more time to decide, but count my vote as no. The reason is simple: Tennessee has something Tampa Bay doesn't. This offense needs to be built around the best player in the game, plain and simple.
So does this mean that I expect Cook to play up to the level of Dallas Clark or Kellen Winslow? No. Not yet at least. He doesn't have the pressure of keeping the offense on his shoulders by himself, but when he finally puts it all together, the sky's the limit for this young man. Yes, what I'm doing right now is putting immense expectations on a player who really hasn't proven anything yet, but I've seen the potential for something beyond greatness in him, I think a lot of you see it too. Personally, I think he can handle it.