Rotoworld's Evan Silva went back and looked at Jared Cook's 2012 tape with the Titans to get a better sense of how he might contribute to the Rams in 2013. It's a great read that's definitely worth your time.
Unsettlingly, it left me with more questions than answers.
Ultimately, Silva's evaluation of Cook's time in Tennessee can be summed up thusly: he was underused on a team with poor quarterback play. Here's his take on Cook's irrelevance in the Titans' red zone opportunities:
This was stunning. Granted, the 2012 Titans were so bad that simply getting into opposing red zones was a rare occurrence. But when they did, their mismatch-creating tight end was regularly either ignored by the playcaller or quarterback, or rotting on the sideline. Again, Cook was targeted 76 times last season, including penalty-negated plays. Only nine of Cook's 2012 targets (11.8 percent) came in the red zone. The results of those nine targets? Five completions for 44 yards and two touchdowns. Not great red-zone efficiency, but not terrible by any means.
I suppose there are some elements to Cook's game that might lead a coaching staff to believe he isn't a dominant red-zone receiver -- and we'll get there next -- but to waste a 6-foot-5, 248-pound athletic phenom in scoring position seems to me like fantastically poor coaching. You may notice a theme here: I don't believe the Titans are coached or quarterbacked very well. But that's a topic for another forum.
This is a good microcosm of what many Rams fans are concerned with: the Rams shelled out a ton of money (5-year, $35m+, $19m guaranteed) on a tight end who has yet to be used properly and at the proper rate. In other words, that's a lot of money to pay for something you haven't seen enough of yet. Consider that Lance Kendricks, the Rams' in-line TE, is entering year three of a four-year deal for just over $4m...
That being said, what interests me is how the Rams implement the different skill sets the targets for Sam Bradford offer.
You've got a deep threat in Chris Givens, a possession man in Brian Quick (hopefully...), a seam specialist in Jared Cook, a blocking/possession hybrid in Kendricks, a slot playmaker in Tavon Austin and whatever Stedman Bailey and Austin Pettis can bring to the table. Without even broaching the topic of running backs, that's a very interesting group with some entirely disparate skills.
That gives Cook a bit of pressure though. As a big play/clutch specialist, he's not in a position where he can afford mistakes on volume (see: Brandon Gibson). Here's Silva again on his expectations for Cook in St. Louis:
Jared Cook has never been a voluminous catcher of footballs because that's not who he is. He is a big-play, vertical-seam tight end, ill suited to be utilized like Jason Witten in Dallas, or even Brandon Pettigrew in Detroit. That's not his skill set...
... I expect Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to run a lot of four-wide packages with Cook and Tavon Austin in the slots, and Brian Quick and Chris Givens as the outside receivers. I anticipate this'll be Schottenheimer's base offensive look on most passing downs, whether it be third-and-long, third-and-medium, or when St. Louis is attempting to erase a deficit...
...While I don't think Cook will ever be a high-volume receiver who catches 65-80 balls a year, I wouldn't be surprised if he paced St. Louis in receiving yards and touchdowns.
As of right now, my assessment of the Rams' 2013 offense is a jumble of unknowns. I have less certainty about any opinion of this offense than I have in a bit more than a decade when I was entirely certain that the offense was very good...and it was.
Cook's at the center of that. You could make the case that the coaching staff's biggest job this offseason is to assemble the offense appropriately. Figure out how to make the Cook/Kendricks pairing work. Get the ball to Tavon Austin often with sufficient space. Find ways to get Chris Givens one-on-one matchups deep. Navigate the WR depth chart beyond those two.
So as we slog through the offseason toward training camp in late July (assumedly), bear in mind that the lack of certainty here creates opportunity.
The Rams' coaching staff, and Cook, will have to take advantage of that opportunity to make the most out of the 2013 season.