Jared Cook in New Orleans: How Sean Payton Uses Tight Ends

Jared Cook in New Orleans: How Sean Payton Uses Tight Ends

Matt Hasselbeck once dubbed Jared Cook "an artist" at the tight end position, a pass catcher who didn't operate as "a blacksmith," but as someone who eschewed the confines of "math" in favor of "art" in route running and pass catching. 

Jared Cook: a true genius largely unappreciated in his own time. 

How Sean Payton Uses Tight Ends

The Artist is now a New Orleans Saint, and according to head coach Sean Payton, he's a "threat opposite" stud receiver Michael Thomas. Payton's implication seemed to be the Saints hadn't had that receiver/tight end threat not named Thomas in recent years. And he's right: the team's second most productive non-running back pass catcher in 2017 (Ted Ginn) caught a meager 53 balls, while the Saints' number two non-RB pass catcher in 2018 (Ben Watson) caught 35 passes. A deep analysis says that's not a lot. 

A close look at how tight ends have been used in Payton's system during his lengthy run in New Orleans shows at least decent opportunity for the number one guy at the position, even (sometimes) after the Jimmy Graham era. The New Orleans offense has never run through wideouts, but rather Graham during his staggering four-year run and more recently, pass-catching running backs. 

I suspect Cook's average draft position of 9.07—the 10th tight end off the draft board—will rise at least a bit in the coming months, thanks mostly to his career 2018 campaign in Oakland that saw the wily veteran haul in 68 passes on 101 targets, including nearly 900 yards and six touchdowns. The fleeting promise of his up-and-down years in Tennessee, St. Louis, and Green Bay had finally come to fruition: Cook finished 2018 as fantasy football's fifth highest scoring tight end. 

Below is a breakdown of how top Saints tight ends have been utilized over the past nine seasons, according to target share. Why focus on tight end opportunity, you might ask, champing at the bit to burn early-round draft capital on an elite tight end in 2019. Besides stats like receptions and yards per game, targets correlate (really) well with tight end fantasy production, according to a study conducted by TJ Hernandez. In short, volume matters a lot for tight ends. 

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