Jared Cook: Aaron's New Number 3?

By: Mark Prott

Packers’ Tight End Provides Aaron Rodgers with Unique Receiving Target

It would have been difficult to find a Green Bay Packers fan without a smile on their face while tuning into the 2nd NFL Preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. Maybe not for the game itself, but more importantly for the pregame on-field presence of wide receiver Jordy Nelson working out in pads for the first time in almost a year. Despite a minor hiccup in his recovery, all reports indicate that Nelson has made a thorough recovery and at age 31 there should be no reason he won’t reclaim his role as Aaron Rodgers’ go to guy. Randall Cobb, coming off a down year partially due to injury, has received glowing reports in training camp from his star quarterback. He should be able to reclaim his rightful role as the number two option in the offense and one of the top slot wide receivers in the NFL.

Which brings us to the important question of who will be third option in the 2016 edition of the Packers’ offense?

Ever since the career ending injury suffered by tight end Jermichael Finley in 2013 that question was answered with an easy reply. Whoever lined up as the number three wide receiver was destined to be the 3rd receiving option in the Packers offense. In 2014 that guy was Davante Adams, who showed plenty of upside as a rookie. While Adams had a good night against the Raiders, reports indicate that overall he has had an up and down training camp. Jared Abbrederis and Ty Montgomery also could figure in the equation as well. But with no wide receiver jumping out and taking the reigns thus far, I believe there could be a changing of the guard of the new number three this year in the form of a strapping 6-5 254 pound tight end with the speed of a wide receiver. His name is Jared Cook.

Evidence is beginning to mount that Ted Thompson’s latest free agent signing could be heavily involved in the offense due to his immense skill set at the position and so far seamless transition into the offense. The results so far should have every Packers fan excited. Long time Packers beat writer Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel categorized Jared Cook’s debut in practice August 9th as “eye-popping,” making multiple dazzling plays down the field with Rodgers at quarterback. Cook is also getting praise from the man who’s opinion ultimately matters the most, his quarterback.

“You tell him something once, and he gets it. That’s a great trait to have. You don’t see repeat mistakes from him. You see him processing things at a high rate of speed on the field,” Rodgers said in an article by Packers.com writer Mike Spofford. There’s also on field evidence, albeit in limited preseason action and without Rodgers under center. While maybe not a huge play on the surface, I had to do a double take when Brett Hundley connected with a split out wide Jared Cook in the first quarter on a 10 yard slant route. In and out of his break, Cook has the movements of a wide receiver.

At his size and speed, Cook provides an inviting target over the middle of the field. In fact, I expect two tight end sets with both Jared Cook and a slimmed down Richard Rodgers to be a staple in the offense this year. Mike McCarthy has made it no secret he will game plan this year with big targets in mind.

“Let’s be honest, the middle of the field is open now. League rules. Big people running down the middle of the field, I’ll make no secret about it. I think that’s a key to offensive success, whether that’s a big receiver or big tight end or a big man running down the middle of the field, making those safeties cover you. It’s an important part of playing in today’s NFL,” McCarthy said in an interview with ESPN’s Rob Demovsky.

We still have a long way to go and should learn more with Aaron Rodgers expected to finally see preseason action against the San Francisco 49ers this coming week. Every interview with Jared Cook suggests he is genuinely excited to be a Packer and for the chance to play with a NFL MVP quarterback, after the carousel of mostly unproven signal callers he endured during his first 7 NFL seasons. The early guess here is Jared Cook will take full advantage of this opportunity and in the process become Aaron’s new number three. Oh yeah, and for all you fantasy football players out there, I’d take the over on this fantasy projection all day.