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Fantasy Football: Jared Cook, The Dark Place, And Value

Jared Cook’s 2013 season took a rough turn after his career game against Arizona and Sam Bradford’s injury but he offers significant value late in drafts.

Jared Cook
Jared Cook

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

You thrash about at night, trapped in the memory of being right about Jared Cook for one fleeting week. He was, for that one glorious September Sunday, who we thought he was: a size-speed freak who was finally deployed as a primary pass catcher.

And Cook went berserk, taking a flame thrower to the Cardinals’ secondary. He finished with seven grabs for 141 yards and two scores. He was one boneheaded fumble away from a third touchdown. Cook was the force we knew he could be.

Until he wasn’t.

The below analysis isn’t an evil attempt to convince you to draft Cook as your unquestioned every-week fantasy starter in 2014. No one would take that leap; not even Cook. Rather, it’s a way to show that things aren’t what they seem in fantasy football, even with a guy who was essentially useless after he transformed into a fantasy deity for a single week in 2013.

It’s easy to forget that as recently as 2011, when Rob Gronkowski set the fantasy world aflame with 330.9 fantasy points, Cook was second in yards per target — a key indicator for underused pass catchers. In 2012, Cook was the third most efficient tight end on a per-snap basis when his season ended Week 14.

There were, once again, positive peripheral numbers to Cook’s mostly abysmal 2013 campaign. You know, the kind that make you spend a 13th round pick on the one-time sparkle in our collective fantasy eye.

Targets, points, and efficiency

We don’t have to pretend Sam Bradford is a secret high-end quarterback to make Cook look halfway desirable in 2013. He’s a functional signal caller though, which is more than anyone can say about Kellen Clemens. To say that the Rams’ offense turned vanilla after Clemens took over for the injured Bradford in 2013 would be a grave insult to vanilla things everywhere.

And that vanilla-ness sunk the fantasy usefulness of pretty much every St. Louis pass catcher, including Cook.

Bradford, after five weeks in 2013, had thrown 216 passes, or 43.2 attempts per game. Only Matt Ryan threw more passes from Weeks 1-5. The Rams averaged 24.2 pass attempts per game after Bradford was lost for the season and Zac Stacy emerged. No team came close to that sort of pass-run imbalance.

Cook was never going to survive this drastic change in offensive approach. No one would.

In fact, Cook averaged a meager 4.3 targets a week after Bradford’s season-ending knee injury. He had averaged 6.4 targets from Weeks 1-5, meaning Cook was on pace for 102 targets. That would’ve been the sixth most targets among all tight ends in 2013.

Cook continued his career streak of impressive efficiency numbers during 2013’s lost season, posting a more-than-solid 1.87 fantasy points per target (in PPR scoring). Since it’s en vogue to strip away Cook’s career highlight performance against Arizona, I calculated his points per target without that gonzo game: 1.62. That’s Coby Fleener territory.

Below is a list of rather well-regarded tight ends who posted similar per-target fantasy efficiency in 2013.

 

Player TE rank Targets Fantasy points per target
Jordan Reed TE21 60 1.9
Tony Gonzalez TE2 115 1.86
Greg Olsen TE7 102 1.85
Martellus Bennett TE10 89 1.89
Charles Clay TE8 98 1.9
Jordan Cameron TE5 109 1.96

 

The obvious advantage these tight ends had last season over the beleaguered Cook was the number of opportunities they had to, you know, score fantasy points. Volume of opportunity is a key factor here, but the fact remains that Cook was grouped with these guys in fantasy efficiency.

I’m not charging that Cook should be drafted alongside the likes of Cameron, or that he’s anything more than a potentially key streaming piece, like Clay and Bennett were last year.

Cook, if the Rams had somehow maintained their pass-happy ways, would’ve seen 102 targets, as mentioned above. Along with that 1.87 fantasy points per target, that would’ve given Cook 191.8 PPR points — or TE7 numbers in 2013.

Cook, who has the second most favorable schedule among all tight ends this season, is being drafted as the 27th tight end off the board. He’s going well after tight ends who have absolutely no discernible role in their respective offenses.

I’m taking a very late-round swing on Cook this summer because I know he will be useful, and he comes with no risk at all.

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