It’s Still OK To Love Jared Cook February 21, 2013  |  C.D. Carter

The post-post-hype sleeper cometh.

Jared Cook, the 6-foot-5 and 249-pound Tennessee Titans tight end who runs the 40 in an astounding 4.5 seconds, has bee the twinkle in fantasy owners’ eye for going on three years. We don’t simply want him to be good – we know he can be, because we’ve seen it.

If you mute your TV on a football Sunday and listen very carefully – perhaps even closing your eyes and entering a state of meditative Zen – you can hear the thoughts of a hundred thousand fantasy footballers willing Cook to be the gushing fountain of statistical goodness he should be.

Cook, in his fourth year with the Titans, recorded 21 receptions, 335 yards and a touchdown in his final three games of 2011. He finished the 2010 campaign with a similar flourish of hands, speed, and toughness. With each spectacular December, he teased us into locking him in as a draft day value the following August.

And each time, we looked like fools, drunk on potential. Potential and beer.

I want you to know, in these darkest days of offseason horror, that it’s perfectly fine to keep Cook on your list of sleeper tight ends who could prove a criminal value in 2013.

Cook was nothing more than a situational player in the Titans’ offense until Week 13. In Week 4, Cook played a meager 24 offensive snaps. In Week 10, Cook played behind defensive-end-turned-tight-end Taylor Thompson, whose blocking prowess kept him on the gridiron (Cook was asked to block just 18 times in 2012, showing a lack of running game trust from Titans’ coaches and perhaps a lack of interest on Cook’s part).

The fake football angels sang in one beautiful harmony when Titans’ offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer, was canned after Week 12. Dowell Loggains was inserted as OC, and wouldn’t you know – Cook played 65 offensive snaps against the Texans in Week 13 (85 percent of the Titans’ plays), a season high. Quarterback Jake Locker targeted Cook 12 times in that loss to Houston, more than double Cook’s average targets per game.

The very next week, as fantasy ballers warmed up to their former sweetheart, Cook caught three first half passes for 20 yards and a touchdown. Naturally, Cook suffered a season-ending rotator cuff injury after his nice start against the Colts, and another great December died a quiet death.

My reasons for not discounting Cook as a fantasy asset in 2013 are twofold: Titans’ coaches have talked him up this offseason as the team considers using the franchise tag on Cook, and his peripheral stats are actually pretty decent.

First, the coach.

“He’s a big priority,” Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak said of his tight end. “Someone we feel strongly about. Want to get him more passes, more production.”

Now, the numbers.

Cook was third in Fantasy Points Per Snap – a reliable measure of efficiency — until his season ended in Week 14, according to Pro Football Focus. The rub, of course, is that Cook only played 485 offensive snaps last season. Forty tight ends played more, including Cook’s teammate, Craig Stevens. When the Titans decided to use their stellar athlete, they usually lined him up in the slot, where he proved proficient, grabbing 36 of 51 targets for 418 yards a four scores in routes run from the slot.

For these reasons, it’s OK to retain some amount of affection for Cook in 2013. I think he could be an absolute bargain-basement steal for anyone who passes on Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez, and Tony Gonzalez, if he continues his delicate backpedal away from retirement.

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