Jared Cook was generally viewed as a vital missing link that would finally give the Packers’ offense the type of downfield threat they’ve been missing since Jermichael Finley’s career-ending spinal-cord injury in 2013.
But despite some early positive showings during the preseason, GM Ted Thompson may be starting to regret his decision to make a rare free-agent investment in the career underachiever.
As a 6-foot-5, 246-pound prospect with 4.39 speed and a 39.5-inch vertical, Cook was compared to Calvin Johnson by his former college coach Steve Spurrier prior to the 2009 NFL Draft that saw the physical specimen get drafted by the Tennessee Titans with the 89th pick of the third round.
The former South Carolina Gamecock soon established a reputation for being one of the league’s many incredibly gifted athletes that can’t back up his measurables by leaving his coaches and fans wanting more due to his inability to develop into a sure-handed game breaker.
But has he brought those measurables to Green Bay.
Let’s take a closer look …
What has Jared Cook brought to Green Bay?
During the end of his Rams’ tenure, some team supporters openly questioned the veteran’s heart and called for the front office to find a replacement for a player that experienced a statistical decline in receptions and touchdowns from his previous two seasons in blue and gold despite playing a full 16-game schedule in 2015.
To boot, Cook was extremely underwhelming as a scoring weapon by failing to produce a single touchdown while registering a career-low 52.0-perecent catch rate.
His Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranking as the 55th-best player at his position reflected the SEC import’s paltry output
Many reasoned that Jeff Fisher and company could get similar or better numbers out of several other rookie or veteran tight ends earning significantly less than the Alabama native who had two years remaining on his five-year, $35-million contract.
But despite Cook’s chronic lack of consistency throughout his seven seasons at the pro level, well-intentioned Packers’ fans and media members alike endorsed his signing by arguing that the one-time SEC standout had never played with a top-level signal caller like Aaron Rodgers.
In fact, some analysts began breaking down how many of Cook’s former quarterbacks, including Nick Foles and Case Keenum among others, were unable to hit Cook accurately in stride in his years in a Rams uniform forcing him to reach outside his frame to secure passes that weren’t always a cinch to come down with.
But what truly inspired hope among the Green Bay faithful was their new weapon’s superior vertical skills to separate from linebackers and safeties over the middle — a trait that last year’s starter, Richard Rodgers, didn’t possess as evidenced by the plodding tight end’s 8.8 yards-per-reception average in 2015.
After bouncing back from an offseason foot injury, Cook immediately flashed his potential to provide Rodgers with a much-needed deep weapon by coming down with a few spectacular one-handed grabs during training-camp practices.
He followed that up by providing promising exhibitions of his physical gifts by demonstrating easy chemistry with No. 12 in preseason action by posting up defenders with his enormous frame and securing every catchable ball thrown in his direction.
But where was Cook once the games started to count? The eighth-year man was a virtual no-show against a young and vulnerable Jaguars defense in Week One with his lone catch going for seven yards.
The free-agent acquisition was more involved in the offense the following week, but failed to produce any game-changing plays against Minnesota’s elite defense.
Week 3, though, set up as Cook’s potential coming-out party against a battered Lions defensive unit featuring a depleted back seven that had surrendered four touchdowns to opposing tight ends through the first two weeks of the new season.
But although he did manage to haul in a 15-yard reception early in last Sunday’s divisional showdown, he had a smaller defender prevent him from registering a second catch on a pass where he could have easily used his size advantage to make the play.
Unfortunately for Cook, he pulled up lame shortly after with an injury that was later diagnosed as a high ankle sprain that could keep him out for a month or longer.
Yes, the pass-catching tight end couldn’t have done anything to prevent the setback, but missing significant time in an offense he was just starting to get acclimated to certainly dims his preseason prospects of becoming Finley 2.0.