It wasn’t that long ago when the Raiders’ reported overtures to lure Martellus Bennett to Oakland didn’t work and the team had to “settle” for Jared Cook.
Nine games into the 2017 season, Cook has become a go-to option for quarterback Derek Carr while Bennett was recently released by the Green Bay Packers. Cook is the missing element Carr sorely needed last season: A big (6-foot-5 and 254 pounds) and fast (4.49 40-yard dash time at the combine) pass-catching tight end that is a matchup nightmare.
Proof’s in the stats. Cook has hauled in a total of 39 passes for 499 yards and a touchdown on 55 targets. The catches and yardage marks lead the Raiders. Cook has six 100-yard games in his nine-year career. And two of those came this season with Carr.
If the current pace keeps up, the 30-year-old Cook is projected to produce 887 yards on 69 grabs — both would be career highs. Last week, in Miami, the Raiders lined Cook up in a variety of spots — even on the boundary where he used a double move to torch a linebacker for a 35-yard catch — and exploited the Dolphins defense for eight grabs and 126 yards.
“He does a good job of running with speed and getting vertical on all of his routes, so you never know what route it is because if you wait too long or if you sit on something, he can run right by you, as we saw it, I think it was the first third down,” Carr said of Cook. “He ran by the linebacker and so if you hesitate for one second, he can run by you, but also his ability to run all the routes inside and outside. It’s really a quarterback’s best friend; that and a good offensive line. Those two are a good thing to have.”
A QB’s best friend? Very high praise, wouldn’t you say?
But we shouldn’t be surprised by Carr’s words. The elation from the franchise quarterback is well-earned. The phrase “practice makes perfect” is a hackneyed saying, but for Cook, it’s truth.
“Jared works really hard at doing the little things right,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “We knew that we could create a couple of matchups for him. He really did a nice job of the little things on route details, the depth of his route, the timing of his route, being able to come out of the break full speed. I just told him on the practice field, when you invest in all those things and it comes to fruition, it’s great validation to do them all the time. I was really, really happy for him that he had such a productive game.”
Downing isn’t alone in his applause for how Cook approaches practices.
“We have young players, and I tell them ‘There is no secret why this guy is still playing and playing at a high level.’ It’s the way he works during the week,” Carr said. “On a Friday – usually Fridays are slowed down tempo – if Jared is on one of those routes where he needs to get it again, he’s almost full speed. Just the way he prepares, the way he practices, I love talking to him, I love picking his brain.”
Attention to detail and doing the small things in a big way. No wondering Cook has made a resounding impact in his first year in Oakland. And don’t expect his contributions to wane as the season progresses. Defenses aren’t afforded the chance to focus solely on the athletic tight end, not with wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper flanking him. The trio represents the glut of the Raiders’ aerial showcase.
Crabtree (36 grabs, 451 yards) is Carr’s numero uno in the red zone (six touchdowns) while Cooper (38 catches, 462 yards, three scores) is a dynamic game-breaker. And then there’s Cook. Opponents have done their part to take away Crabtree and/or Cooper; however, Cook presents a whole different matchup, one that many teams can’t account for. There aren’t many linebackers that are big and fast enough to keep up with Cook. Same goes with defensive backs — cornerbacks and safeties, alike.