I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can. To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, click here.
We tell our athletes that what people say about you doesn't matter. If you perform at a certain level, the critics or the "haters" won't be able to touch you, because your tape will speak for itself. But, Michigan State QB Connor Cook's case may demonstrate how that isn't necessarily true.
He was the starting QB of a Michigan State team since late 2012 where he won 34 of his 40 starts, won 5 of 7 starts against Top 10 opponents, and during that stretch threw 71 touchdowns against 22 interceptions at a 7.9 yards per attempt clip in a major conference against generally major competition. He did so at a pro-style university that has produced a number of NFL Quarterbacks - including two who started in the NFL playoffs this January. He has ideal size and strength, impressive experience, and thorough knowledge of an offense and what a QB is supposed to do.
And yet, when asked about Connor Cook leading into this 2015 draft, the once highly touted prospect has had his entire body of work reduced to three often-repeated copy points. 1) He was not a captain at Michigan State and 2) He looked very unaware and aloof when seeming to "big-time" Archie Griffin at the Big 10 Championship Game trophy presentation and 3) he turned down the Senior Bowl when many thought he should be there. Those three things together have a lot of people questioning his fiber and whether he has what it takes to lead an offense at the next level. Now, both of these items are being used against him and seem to be canceling out three years of tremendous on-field work. Are these legitimate deal breakers or do we have too much time on our hands in draft season?
I used the Oregon, Penn State, and Iowa games from this season and the Baylor Cotton Bowl from 2014 for this study.
What I liked:Connor Cook looks like a QB who has plenty to get excited about. He is big, has a very nice and quick release, throws darts on many NFL throws, and shows some nice toughness. His arm is not a cannon, but I would list it as capable, for sure. He finds the holes in the secondary quite well, fitting balls between the corner and the safety, and throwing the NFL routes like the deep-out and the skinny-post quite well. His footwork is generally decent and he can handle anything pro coaches want like strong play-action work, looking the safeties off, and working out both shot-gun and under-center drops. He is very experienced and has massive trust in his own ability to make throws. This attribute can certainly also be listed as a weakness, because some of his trust might fall under the irrational heading at times. He throws some unreal beauties over the course of a season and certainly has a highlight film that can compete with any QB in this draft.
What I did not like: He really struggles with putting the short and easier passes on the money. Like Christian Hackenberg, this is largely the result of some poor footwork where you don't reset your feet and get your mechanics right on simple out passes and try to do it all with your arm. He also will miss with accuracy down the field, but it would seem that is not near the issue as missing an open RB out of the backfield with 10 easy yards in front of him. I would like to think this can be coached out of him. Additionally, he makes a fair number of "rush of blood to the head" throws that generally turn out poorly. Now, again, in 40 starts, we are only talking 22 interceptions, but he will throw a hopeful ball into coverage or toss a backhanded pass into traffic to avoid a sack that often turns out poorly. His stats say he doesn't make bad decisions much, but his tape says it is too much. A bit of a conflict, for sure. And, I must at least acknowledge that he is said to be aloof and a potential celebrity QB who doesn't always have the whole room pulling for him and may not be in love with football. While I have a hard time confirming it or denying it, I feel that to fully ignore it is no better than fully buying into all of it.
Summary and Potential Fit For the Cowboys: I will confess that Cook is one of those many prospects that the more you study, the more you just don't know what to think. He is very talented and seems very prepared for the NFL with that Michigan State program that certainly gets guys ready. If he weren't a good leader, would he have been QB1 for the Spartans for over three seasons? The fact that he did a job for a team that averaged 12 wins a year while he was there indicates that there was not that big issue with leadership.
Mechanically, he certainly has some things to sort through, but when the Cowboys are searching for a talented youngster to invest in, I can surely see how Cook is someone they want to investigate deeply. He will be in Dallas this week to answer all of the team's questions and workout to show he is what they are looking for. You can definitely see why some people think he belongs in the 1st round, but you will also realize that the public has been convinced he has no business anywhere in the first few days.
Cook will try to prove that the first crowd is correct. But he has some convincing to do, first.