We all know it: Connor Cook is a winner. The quarterback is 34-5 in his career at Michigan State. He has played in more big games than any other top quarterback in the draft he’s been in a pro-style system with a pro-style body, and he has the star power.
All the pieces are there for Cook, but scouts continue to doubt his ability to play at the next level. Cook is projected to go in the second round in the 2016 NFL Draft and possibly be selected by the Browns (Cook is an Ohio native). A few of the biggest worries for Cook are his leadership, or lack thereof, and his tendency to stare down receivers. A lot of the leadership issues come from Cook not being named a captain for his senior season at Michigan State and ripping the Big Ten championship trophy out of Archie Griffin’s hands.
Anyone drafted in the second round on with all of those qualities listed above is going to be a steal. Cook, the former projected first rounder, is going to end up being one of the biggest bargains in the draft.
I, like so many others, will choose not to read too much into this, so that’s why I’m putting it first. Like Colin Cowherd said, if being a winner was that much of a factor, every Alabama quarterback would go first. Being a winner often says you were surrounded by a good system, like Cook was at Michigan State.
It does say he knows how to win though. He’s been in close games. He’s been down in the fourth quarter. Cook has proven he knows how to string drives together and bring his team together late in the game to pull out a win. Playing in a slower-moving offense, unlike Baylor or Oregon, Cook isn’t used to winning by 30 or more points. He is more in tune to a slow-moving, pound the ball every play, battle the whole game kind of offense. Because of this, he’s been in a lot of nail biters and is used to the kind of pressure that he will see in the NFL.
As I just touched on briefly, Michigan State operates under a more pro-style, traditional offense. Michigan State center Jack Allen said that the idea of being pro-style is constantly mentioned with the MSU players.
“I think a lot of scouts bring that up to me,” said Allen. “There’s guys that run no-huddle spread offenses that don’t know how to huddle up and break a huddle.”
Playing college ball in a pro system is one of the greatest qualities a player can have, coming out of one of these systems. Pro-style is an offense that analysts say is designed to ready players for the next level and is not necessarily the best way to win games in today’s game of college football. Cook has had the luxury of having both. Cook has even pointed out in interviews that some players will come to the next level with little experience under center. Cook has plenty of that. This makes Cook less of a “project” and more ready to play right away. Eliminating a long period where he has to adjust to the league would make him even more of a steal if he were to fall to the second round.
Pay him less
Cook is loaded with question marks as mentioned, and if the scouts are right about him being unable to play at the next level, it’s not like there would be a lot of wasted money on him. ESPN pointed out that if Cook went early second round, his contract would be around 4 years and just over $6 million total. This isn’t too far off what the average back up quarterback makes in the NFL these days. In fact, the average back up will make about $6 million a season.
Compare this to what first overall pick Jameis Winston got last season, at 4 years, $23.352 million with a $16.7 million signing bonus. If Cook was supposed to be a first round pick after his junior season, could have gotten that money and is now most likely going to get a fraction of it, that is a steal, literally.
Say what you want about Cook, but his ego, good looks, and appearances in big games have him already ready for the big stage. But instead of embracing these qualities, scouts are using it against him, even though there have been plenty of other quarterbacks with personality issues in years past. Whatever team decides to draft Cook is going to have a guy that loves the spotlight and loves performing when all eyes are on him.
One must remember too that the NFL and its corresponding franchises are businesses. The good looking guy who already has name recognition because of his collegiate success is the one that sells tickets. And if they really wanted to stretch it, they could market his “bad boy” qualities and sell that. He draws a level of excitement that the small-town, USA quarterback can’t. For any franchise that lacks that excitement, Cook is a guy with top-five star power but is most likely going to be selected in the second round.
Not all scouts hate him
Take a look at some of the more forgiving scouting reports on Connor Cook.
“Can operate with a high level of confidence and efficiency. Worked under center and plays with good foot quickness in his drops. Shows good anticipation for developing windows and effective with timing routes.” – from NFL.com
Fans have seen Cook find the smallest of windows, or as I like to say NFL windows, throughout the season, making some really tough throws when he needs to. For his size, he is not bad on his feet nor is he afraid to run.
“Able to make big boy throws with pace into difficult, dangerous windows,” said NFL.com. “More battle tested than any quarterback in this draft.”
That last part goes back to my earlier point: he is battle tested. He has been in big games, he’s been in the pro-style offense, and he’s started for a Big Ten school for three years. This makes him a great candidate to be ready right away.
“Possesses ideal size for the next level with the build to take consistent punishment, including as a short-yardage rusher with his deceiving athleticism.” – from cbssports.com
At 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, he is a scout’s dream for size. He has that natural body armor that allows him to see over the center and take punishing hits. And I love the deceptive athleticism. Watch the 2015 Big Ten championship game to see Cook run the option perfectly.
“He has effortless arm strength when he steps into his throws with proper mechanics and torque through his hips to deliver the proper trajectory on downfield passes.” – from cbssports.com
Clearly, scouts like his arm strength, and with a few tweaks and professional coaching, Cook should be off and running in no time. It’s hard to fathom that someone with these qualities is projected to drop so late.
Fox Sports’ lead NFL insider Peter Schrager is huge on Cook and doesn’t care if he was or was not a team captain. Schrager reports that Cook’s head coach at MSU, Mark Dantonio, and some of his other teammates said he was a leader. He also points out that he is a finished product. A lot of teams need a quarterback now and don’t want to wait to win.
Someone with Cook’s size, experience, ability, and confidence should never drop from being a top ten guy to a second round pick. But because of leadership red flags that the media blew up and the fact that his stats declined as he played most the season with injury, Cook has dropped all the way to the second round in most mock drafts. To add to that, wouldn’t someone who is willing to fight through an injury to play be a desire to most teams?
He has the possibility to be a career starter, and this chip on his shoulder will only make him better. And a chip on the shoulder is one thing MSU and Cook are used to playing with.