By Charlie Campbell
Summary: The NFL is a passing-driven league with a lot of teams that are desperate for a franchise quarterback. Thus, a prospect like Connor Cook gets elevated on draft boards, and some teams could believe that he is their franchise quarterback. Cook has a quality arm, good height, weight, mechanics and three years of starting experience in a pro-style system. That automatically gives him consideration from NFL teams as an early round pick.
2013 was Cook’s first year as a full-time starter, and he got off to a slow start before coming on strong in the second half of the season to help lead the Spartans to a Big Ten title and victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Cook completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions for the year. He had great games against Ohio State (24-40 for 304 with three touchdowns and an interception) and Stanford (22-36 for 332 yards with two touchdowns and one interception) to close out that season.
As a junior, Cook completed 58 percent of his passes for 3,214 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He had some impressive games, including a losing effort to the Marcus Mariota led Oregon Ducks and a comeback win over Baylor in the bowl game. However in 2014 and as a senior, Cook had some up-and-down play. In 2015, Cook connected on 56 percent passes for 3,131 yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. It was a respectable, but not all that impressive, season from a senior quarterback.
Cook has strengths to his game that make him an early round candidate. As stated above, Cook has the ability to make all the throws in the NFL. He has a quality arm, and there are times where he made absolutely beautiful passes into tight windows to beat good coverage and throw his receiver open. Perhaps the quality that teams will like the most is Cook was phenomenal while being blitzed, and that is a very rare trait from a college quarterback.
Cook has the size, weight, mechanics and pro-style experience that scouts look for. At times, he flashed mobility and the athleticism to avoid rushers or pick up yards on the ground. However, Cook has stated he doesn’t like to run and only will do it if he has to. There were reports that he runs a very fast 40-yard dash, but those were disproven with a slow time at the combine.
There also are a lot of negatives to Cook’s game. While he lacks instincts and feel as a passer, his biggest problem is inaccuracy. Cook is not an accurate passer, and that can be seen in his completion percentage. In the vast majority of games, Cook missed open receivers on short to intermediate passes that should be easy completions. With his wild tosses, sustaining drives and avoiding interceptions could be a big problem for him in the NFL. Some team sources have said that they can not get excited about Cook because he is just too inaccurate.
The other issue with sources is Cook’s personality. It bothers a lot of NFL teams that he was not voted a team captain, and sources feel that Cook lacks leadership skills. They have concerns about his personality working with a pro coaching staff, how he interacts with teammates, and his focus for the NFL. Teams also disliked that he turned down the Senior Bowl. Senior Bowl director Phil Savage announced that Cook’s passing wasn’t related to an injury. A few weeks later, Cook claimed he passed on the Senior Bowl because of his shoulder injury, so someone didn’t have their story straight there. Being a former general manager, Savage has credibility with the NFL and Cook already had questions.
At the combine, sources say that Cook didn’t interview well. He disappointed teams from an X’s and O’s perspective. They felt that with his years of starting experience in a pro-style system he would have done better, but he had bad recall on plays. He also didn’t show good knowledge of coverage, and didn’t ease the concerns about him as a teammate.
Cook has the physical skill set to be an NFL starter. His best fit would come in a downfield pro-digit offense that lets him throw the ball vertically and to the sideline, similar to the Giants’ best years with Eli Manning. It would be best if Cook was paired with a strong running game and only had to thrive as a game-manager rather than a play-maker.
Cook’s habit of overthrows on slants, digs and crosses in the middle of the field makes him a poor fit for a West Coast offense. Throwing too high in the middle of the field leads to interceptions in the NFL. The West Coast system has a lot of high-percentage quick passes to move the chains and would not work well for Cook because of his inaccurate passing.
For the 2016 NFL Draft, Cook looks like a second-day pick. If there is one quarterback prospect who is going to have a draft-day free-fall, it could be Cook. The accuracy issue is huge, and on top of it, teams have a bad impression of him as a person. He could go on the second day, but sliding to day three isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Player Comparison: Eli Manning/Blaine Gabbert. If things go perfectly for Cook, I think his ceiling would be an Eli Manning-type quarterback. Manning is good enough to win championships, so that is a good thing. However, Manning isn’t one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady.
If Cook is a bust, I think he would resemble something like Gabbert; a player who is disliked by his teammates, lacks accountability, struggles with accuracy and doesn’t live up to his physical skill set. However, the big difference between Gabbert and Cook is that Gabbert lacked toughness and was afraid to get hit. Cook is tough and takes shots in the pocket. Gabbert has more natural arm talent than Cook though.
Perhaps the most likely outcome for Cook’s career is being somewhere in between those extremes, which could be a rather mediocre NFL quarterback and more of a backup-caliber signal-caller.
NFL Matches: Cleveland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, New York Jets, Buffalo, Dallas and Philadelphia
There are a lot of teams in the NFL that are in need of a franchise quarterback. The Browns’ quarterback odyssey looks poised to continue. Cook isn’t good enough for Cleveland’s first-round pick, but he could be in play on the second day if the Browns go different direction in Round 1. However, in speaking with sources it sounds like Cleveland is likely to take North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz.
The 49ers are in the market for a starting quarterback with Colin Kaepernick potentially on his way out of San Francisco. Also in California, the Rams continue to have a big need at quarterback.
The lack of a quarterback is holding back the Texans from seriously challenging in the AFC. On the second day of the 2016 NFL Draft, Houston could consider Cook. His strength of sideline throws would fit for DeAndre Hopkins.
Like Houston, the Bills and Jets have rosters capable of contending, but need a long-term answers at quarterback.
Philadelphia could use a backup to Sam Bradford considering his lack of durability. Dallas could consider Cook as an understudy to Tony Romo on the second day.
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