Rams TE Jared Cook's time has come

Tight end Jared Cook is hoping to capitalize on his new opportunity in St. Louis. AP Photo/G. Newman Lowrance

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Fantasy football players have been waiting for the breakout season of St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook seemingly since the moment he entered the league in 2009.

In those four seasons in Tennessee, Cook never quite met the lofty expectations of fantasy owners or fans. But nobody was more frustrated than Cook himself.

That’s why, as he enters his first season in his new St. Louis digs, Cook isn’t afraid to say he’s never been this excited about entering a new year.

“No, probably not because it’s a new city, it’s a new town for me and this is my opportunity to showcase my skills,” Cook said. “It’s something that I have kind of been fighting for myself the past four years so I am excited for it. It’s going to be a fun time.”

Whether he’s been stuck behind other tight ends like his first two seasons, he hasn’t been targeted enough or his quarterback play has been erratic, many reasons have been offered for Cook’s immense physical potential not turning into the production that even he expects from himself.

In four years in Tennessee, Cook played 59 games with 11 starts. The Titans didn’t use him much, as he averaged just 22 snaps a game. He ran 948 pass routes and was targeted 208 times, which translates to 21.8 percent of the time.

Of those targets, Cook had 131 catches for 1,717 yards and eight touchdowns.

As a basis for comparison, Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez, the most prolific pass-catching tight end in league history, had 326 receptions, 3,328 yards and 27 touchdowns on 473 targets in the same span. He ran 1,902 routes and caught 68.9 percent of balls thrown to him.

That isn’t to say Cook should have similar production to Gonzalez in that time, but it shows that the Titans either chose not to take advantage of Cook’s size and speed combination, simply didn’t know how or both.

At 6-foot-5, 254 pounds with 40-yard dash times clocked in the sub 4.5-second range, Cook has emerged as one of quarterback Sam Bradford’s favorite targets after signing a five-year, $35.1 million deal in March.

“I have all the trust in the world that if I put the ball up there that he’s going to go get it, and I think every time we step on the field that comfort level grows,” Bradford said.

From watching Cook, it’s probably not realistic to expect him to catch 80 passes like a Jason Witten or a Gonzalez. His game is more tailored to using his speed down the seam and his size in the red zone.

So even if Bradford looks to him as a go-to receiver, it’s possible Cook could be among the team’s leaders in touchdowns and receiving yards but not necessarily in catches.

With Jake Locker as his quarterback in Tennessee a year ago, Cook was No. 88 in the league in receiving yards and tied for 85th in targets.

Despite the apparent lack of opportunities Cook had in Tennessee, he’s entering Year 5 and now has a contract that goes with someone who must be more productive than he’s been in any of his first four years.

All indications are that the Rams and Bradford will give Cook the chance he wants and put him to use. He’s probably going to work out of the slot far more often and Bradford has proved that’s a place his passes often go.

Bradford targeted last year’s slot receiver, Danny Amendola, 97 times in 11 games. Going back to his Oklahoma days, Bradford’s favorite target was tight end Jermaine Gresham.

Playing a role that will likely be similar to what Cook does for the Rams, Gresham caught 66 passes for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2008 with Bradford at quarterback.

Cook cashed in on a lucrative deal with the Rams based on the potential he flashed in Tennessee more so than production. He’s been waiting for his chance to become an offensive focal point for four years.

In Sunday’s season opener against Arizona, Cook’s wait ends.

“It’s just, you have got to work your way up into the system,” Cook said. “It’s kind of like you’re finally here. This is my opportunity, this is our opportunity as a team to make some big things happen.”