In 2015, the Packers were missing something in their offense. The glaringly obvious fact was that Aaron Rodgers no longer had Jordy Nelson due to a knee injury. In addition, the Packers were missing a tight end that could run down the field. Richard Rodgers was not fast enough to expose holes in the defense. Receivers were unable to get open, resulting in short drives. They needed someone faster who could run routes.
The Rams cut tight end Jared Cook before their relocation to Los Angeles. The Green Bay organization had been in consideration to trade for Cook, but now that he was a free agent, they set out to sign him.
Cook inked a one-year, 3.6-million-dollar deal, which means the organization was committed, since they usually refrain from signing big name free agents. Green Bay tends to use the draft as a means to build their team. Richard Rodgers did a great job stepping up in 2015. Who could forget that instant-classic catch that was dubbed, “The Miracle in Motown”?
The Packers still needed some depth though. Nelson was expected to lose some speed after his return, so it was necessary that they upgraded their speed elsewhere. The tight end position needed the most speed improvement. Richard Rodgers just was not quick enough to be the full time tight end. Other teams such as the Patriots have made a living by having two good tight ends.
The offense had an extra setback when Eddie Lacy got hurt. They found a running back in Ty Montgomery, but it wasn’t until week 15 that a running back scored a TD for them. The Packers went from passing 56.79 % of the time in 2015, to 62.37 % in 2016. This helped Cook see an increase in targets. This also helped him establish a connection with Aaron Rodgers. The offense will be more balanced next year, but there should be no concern about Cook’s targets.
That increase moved them from 18th to 5th in the league for passing attempts. Due to Nelson and Adams playing well, the ball was distributed evenly. Although Cook isn’t getting points for other receivers making plays, it makes the defense open up for bigger plays to him.
Cook started the first 2 weeks of the season, and saw 79 snaps in which his production was limited. Being new to the offense, and with Eddie Lacy getting hype for his weight loss in the offseason, Cook spent the beginning of the season blocking, or watching his targets go to Jordy Nelson. Jared saw a mere 11 targets through the first four weeks. Week 3 was short lived for Cook, as he suffered a high ankle sprain and he wouldn’t be back back until week 11
Once he was back, he started to find a groove. He caught 6 passes out of 11 targets in his first week back for 105 yards and a TD. This would turn out to be his only TD of the regular season, but the work he did on 3rd downs allowed many of the drives to stay alive, which if he continues to do this, will help raise his ceiling in 2017.
Over the regular season, in which he only played 10 weeks, Cook caught 12 of 16 passes for 200 yards while facing 3rd down. This means that 53% of his yards came on 3rd down. Due to his production, the Packers were 2nd in 3rd down offense, making him valuable to Rodgers and fantasy owners.
For a big tight end, he should have had way more than one TD during the regular season. His total yards were also rather low for his career. He only had 377 yards in 10 games. Other than the injury he sustained this season, the only reason these numbers aren’t better is that Aaron Rodgers has a lot of other targets.
However, he had the 3rd best average yards per catch of his career. His career highs being 15.5 (2011), 13.2 (2013), 12.6 (2016). Cook was tied for 7th among all tight ends in YAC. As stated above, the receivers around Cook helped to expose defenses so that he could exploit them. The Packers are going to have to decide how much money Cook is worth.
Cook will be 30 next season, but he is still quick, and he can still make spectacular catches. I would be careful about drafting Cook too high due to his injury history, however he will be one of the best tight end options of 2017 if he can stay healthy. Assuming he comes back to Green Bay, Cook should have a little more fantasy value next year, due to gaining Rodgers’ confidence.
He has a knack for working back to the quarterback, which is important since Aaron is so good at extending plays with his feet. This ability adds another dimension to his game, giving him a value many others don’t have.
Cook will have a steady season next year by being more of a touchdown threat. In his 3 playoff games this year, he had 229 yards to go along with 2 TD’s. These numbers seem to be a more accurate depiction of what he will do next year, because he was settled in and consistent. Cook should be a lower TE1. It is tough to say if Gronk will be healthy, but there are guys like Kelce, Eifert, Olsen, and Reed who have proven to be successful. It depends on the league as to where Cook falls. I would keep an eye on the draft board and pick him up after those other names begin to be picked. The Packers boasted a 10-3 record in games that Jared played in, and his value will transfer into fantasy points if he stays with the Packers in 2017.
Editor's note: This is Part 3 in a several part series where we dissect each offensive fantasy position and tell you what happened this season (2016) and how you can apply those lessons into your draft for next season (2017). You can check out all the lessons learned from quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends throughout the offseason.
Coming out of the 2015 season, the 2016 quarterback landscape was looking good. In 2015 all of the top 13 QBs threw for 30+ touchdowns and the top 6 all had over 300 fantasy points. In 2016 however, only five players threw 30+ touchdowns and only three QBs topped the 300 fantasy point bar. So, what did we learn about the quarterback position this fantasy season? Did anything go right or was this just simply a down year for quarterbacks?
We learned that…mechanics make the wheel go round
2016 was the year the general football consensus learned the importance of QB mechanics. Many quarterbacks have managed to skate by on arm talent alone and that makes them good fantasy options for one season. But inconsistent mechanics means inconsistent quarterback play and this means inconsistent fantasy production in the long run, explaining the huge drop off in quarterback production from 2015 to 2016.
Brock Osweiler was at the helm of arguably the most talented offense in the NFL. Surrounded by DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller and Will Fuller, Osweiler’s lethargic wind-up and sluggish release resulted in batted balls and many uncatchable targets due to his side-arm release.
The same goes for Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles. The Jags offensive performance in 2015 garnered questions as to whether they were home to the best wide receiver tandem in the league in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Bortles’ terrible 2016 mechanics resulted in Allen Robinson, a borderline 1st/2nd round pick in August, becoming effectively unusable this season as Bortles began to drop the ball below his elbow in his wind up leading to an unnecessarily long release and producing overthrown passes.
Even last year’s MVP Cam Newton along with rookie prospect Carson Wentz had their mechanical flaws expose them this season. Relying on arm strength alone leads to inaccuracy and produces passes often too low for receivers to catch. Forced passes and backfoot throws are all traits of a quarterback’s reliance on their arm strength and often result in passes being too far behind receivers. Using your arm instead of your body is a quick recipe for an interception. Neither player steps into their throws and so they struggle to throw with touch and anticipation.
Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees on the other hand have perfect mechanics and it comes as no surprise that both of them are consistently top 5 fantasy quarterbacks, with the odd SuperBowl thrown in too.
We learned that…mojo doesn’t last
Momentum is a term we hear a lot regarding NFL offenses and it is often why fantasy owners worry when their players return from their bye-weeks as offense is all about practice, repetition and chemistry. Offenses that can keep their momentum going throughout the season are both NFL gold and fantasy gold.
In 2015 we saw that a few offenses certainly were feeling their mojo and this lead to stellar quarterback play. Cam Newton, Blake Bortles and Carson Palmer were all part of high-flying offenses last year and all finished as top 5 fantasy quarterbacks.
However, without relatively much changing, all three of those quarterbacks failed to repeat this in 2016, with Newton following his QB1 season finishing as the QB18 and Palmer slotting in right behind him. Strangely enough, the much maligned Blake Bortles finished as the best of the bad bunch with a confusing QB8 ranking.
As we all accept Bortles is a fantasy anomaly year on year, the rankings clearly show that momentum doesn’t carry over through the offseason. With this in mind, beware of drafting the wildly inform quarterbacks from this season again in 2017. I’m looking at you Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.
We learned about…the new kids on the fantasy block
2016 however, wasn’t all bad. With Peyton Manning retiring and Tom Brady and Drew Brees getting up there in years, 2016 saw the birth of the new crop of fantasy studs. Derek Carr (QB9), Marcus Mariota (QB15) and of course Dak Prescott (QB6) had a coming out party this year.
Carr was an MVP candidate this season and probably would’ve finished as a top 5 QB without his injury in week 16. Mariota, who was also similarly injured to Carr in week 16, was complete gold-dust early in the season with three top 5 finishes in quick succession and threw for two or more touchdowns in two thirds of the games he played in in 2016.
And we couldn’t discuss young quarterbacks without talking about the man of the moment, Dak Prescott. Prescott finished 2016 tied 5th for total touchdowns with 29 but the true measure of Prescott’s greatness this year has been in his ability to limit his interception total with only 4 INTs. Not only does that result in less negative points but it also keeps drives alive and results in more scoring opportunities for Prescott, who has also demonstrated legitimate rushing capability too.
We learned to…please wait on QB
If 2016 has taught us anything, it is that you please, PLEASE wait on a quarterback when you draft next season. Unless you’re drafting Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, there is no need to take a quarterback in the first 6 rounds. Top RBs and WRs are so few and far between and with injuries too, the need to stockpile your skill position players is greater than ever before. Fantasy is usually uses only one quarterback per line-up and as quarterback is so deep there is no need to waste a high pick on a brand name quarterback. Instead take a RB/WR and wait for a sensible upside QB.
For example, Ben Roethlisberger had a 6th round ADP and finished as the QB16 whereas Dak Prescott for instance had a 12th round ADP and finished as the QB6. It doesn’t stop there either; Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr were all available in rounds 10-12 and all finished as top 10 QBs this season. But the craziest thing of all…Matt Ryan was undrafted this year in the majority of leagues. Wait and bet on upside, you might just wind up picking up the QB2 off the waiver wire.
Thank you for reading, you can follow Will Pendleton on twitter @willpendosports
On Friday's episode of Treatment, the Helpers discuss what a sleeper actually is (to them) and toss out a few names who they think are intriguing for next season. It's never too early.
The Helpers start off the podcast talking about the definition of a sleeper. You see the term used on almost every fantasy football website and it comes with a variety of meanings. Some people think a sleeper is any player that nobody is talking about who stands a chance at having a good season. Others think it's a young player who hasn't fully blossomed as a pro and is about to hit his stride. Others think it's a an often-injured player who has talent but hasn't fully performed at the level he's capable of.
But no matter which way you slice it, the term 'sleeper' really means any player who is under the radar in some way, whether it be because he isn't currently starting but may stand a chance to, was injured last season but is healthy now or is young and raw but is just starting to figure out how to be consistent at the NFL level. To us, a sleeper that will perform above and beyond expectations, with the primary tool used to define his expectations being his ADP (average draft position) in fantasy drafts.
The Helpers start out by naming two of their favorite deep sleepers this offseason.
Jordan Matthews, WR (Philadelphia Eagles)
The Philadelphia Eagles are juggling a lot of potential offensive pieces right now. Jeremy Maclin, their prized wide receiver who just finished the best season of his career, will be expecting more money after his one-term deal expired. Maclin will want top receiver money and the Eagles may not want to give up that kind of dough especially with Matthews looking like he has No. 1 receiver potential and also the fact that there are other receivers out there that may not be asking for as much money. Torrey Smith out of Baltimore might be one of those examples.
Matthews finished a solid rookie campaign with 67 catches, 872 yards and 8 touchdowns. He benefited from backup quarterback Mark Sanchez taking over for the injured Nick Foles midway through 2014. More of an intermediate thrower than a deep ball quarterback, Sanchez targeted Matthews more and helped the rookie eclipse 100 yards receiving in three contests while under center.
Which brings us to the next big question for Philadelphia — the quarterback. Rumors keep circulating like a revolving door that coach Chip Kelly will do whatever it takes to land Oregon quarterback and Heisman winner Marcus Mariota in the 2015 NFL Draft. If that somehow does happen, expect Matthews' value to take a hit at least in the short term while Mariota adjusts to the NFL.
Richard Rodgers, TE (Green Bay Packers)
Another intriguing sleeper is Green Bay Packers tight end Richard Rodgers. Rodgers' rookie season was a quiet one, as he caught just 20 passes for 225 yards and 2 touchdowns. But despite his low numbers, Rodgers still has potential because he and quarterback Aaron Rodgers started to gel late in the season. Rodgers caught 5 of 5 targets for 40 in the season finale against Detroit. Two weeks later in the divisional round of the playoffs against the Dallas Cowboys, he caught the biggest pass of the game in the form of a 13-yard touchdown that A. Rodgers ripped between two defenders. Those are the kind of the clutch plays that quarterbacks remember.
Due to some odd scheduling with the holiday, the usual Monday edition of First Aid was moved to Tuesday. The Helpers discuss the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, why LeGarrette Blount is a good fantasy option for the playoffs and why those with Jimmy Graham should be excited rather than fearful after his zero target performance against Pittsburgh. Plus weekly awards and some talk about Johnny Manziel.
New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers: 24-for-38, 368 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions (24 fantasy points)
Rank among fantasy QBs for Week 13: 7th
Quarterbacks who did better: R. Fitzpatrick, A. Luck, D. Brees, P. Rivers, C. McCoy, B. Roethlisberger
Rodgers plays great against bad teams. But more importantly, he plays great against good teams too. Granted, he had the added bonus of a raucous crowd at Lambeau Field, but his talent was on full display here against one of the better secondaries in the league.
Rodgers has been a monster these past five games, with fantasy point totals of 48, 34, 23, and 28. He's as matchup proof as it gets when it comes to fantasy quarterbacks, and will likely be a No. 1 guy heading into a matchup against a bad Atlanta team in Week 14.
Tom Brady: 22-for-35, 245 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions (17 fantasy points)
Rank among fantasy QBs for Week 13: 13th
Quarterbacks who did better: R. Fitzpatrick, A. Luck, D. Brees, P. Rivers, C. McCoy, B. Roethlisberger, A. Rodgers, J. Flacco, S. Hill, M. Stafford, M. Ryan, M. Sanchez
Brady continues to be one of the most reliable fantasy options. His last five fantasy point totals have been 44, 35, 18, 23, and 21. He's locked in as a QB1 but the San Diego Chargers have played well against quarterbacks this season.
LeGarrette Blount: 10 carries for 58 yards, zero touchdowns (5 fantasy points)
Rank among RBs: 31st
Blount looks like the guy in New England. His 10 carries led the Patriots and out carried Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, and Jonas Gray. The Patriots like him, and he's a steady flex option if you want to add him to your team. He'll likely have a touchdown or two now that he's getting the most carries.
Eddie Lacy: 21 carries for 98 yards, 2 catches for 17 yards (10 fantasy points)
Rank among RBs: 22th
Lacy continues to be among the most reliable RBs and for those who traded for him or stuck with him during his dark weeks early in the season will be rewarded with a great playoff matchup against Atlanta in Week 14.
Davante Adams: 6 receptions for 121 yards, 11 targets (12 fantasy points)
Rank among WRs: 18th
Adams played well, but don't consider adding him or starting him. He benefited from Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb drawing coverage from Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis. Plus, he dropped a potential touchdown pass.
Rob Gronkowski: 7 catches, 98 yards, zero touchdowns (9 fantasy points)
Rank among TEs: 4th
Gronkowski remains the toughest matchup for any defense at the tight end position. His 12-yard run where he trucked three defenders on his way to a near touchdown is an example.
On Monday's weekly First Aid podcast, the Helpers discuss the St. Louis Rams and their emerging defense, the white hot Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Green Bay Packers and whether or not Mark Sanchez is an every week QB1 going forward. Plus weekly awards and a preview for tonight's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers/Tennessee Titans.
In this episode, the Helpers talk about the fantasy implications of two games including the Packers/Dolphins and Bengals/Panthers, hand out their weekly awards and give a brief preview of tonight's game and its possible fantasy outcome.
George and Scott break down two games and give fantasy value out on both sides of the ball for each one. First, Eagles vs. Redskins. Second, Packers vs. Lions. They also hand out their weekly awards and preview tonight's game between the Chicago Bears and New York Jets.
Goal of this podcast: To give you one last string of well-educated speculation before the NFL regular season begins. We talk sleeper picks that have been overhyped, plus two bold predictions, some mailbag and a few guys who could rock the denim as well as Aaron Rodgers and crew did earlier this week.