Part of the NFL draft's appeal stems from the fact that most teams don't really know what they're getting when a player graduates to the next level. For every Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning, there's a Cedric Benson and Matt Leinart. Former Michigan State Spartan Connor Cook hopes to find himself in the former group, but his prospectus is littered with question marks that never seemed to be answered throughout his mostly illustrious career in East Lancing.
As a 3 year starter for the Spartans, Cook threw for over 9,000 yards and 71 touchdowns in his career. The red shirt senior quarterback also led Michigan State through one of the program's most prosperous eras amassing 36 wins during his tenure as starter. Not all the statistics are in Cook's favor, though. Never in his collegiate career did Cook complete more than 60% of his passes. As is per usual, the statistics only tell part of the story and the true Connor Cook lies somewhere in between.
To borrow a statute from Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells, a worthy quarterback prospect must: be a senior, must be a graduate, must be a three-year starter, and must have at least 23 wins. Going by the "Big Tuna's" rule book, Connor Cook not only checks the boxes, he does it with emphasis.
What becomes clear is that Parcells and other legacy personnel people in the NFL value consistency and experience out of the most important position in football. While Cook does look the part physically (an honest listing of 6'4" and 220 lbs.), shows the arm talent needed for the league, and possesses the chiseled jaw bone befitting of a Midwest gentleman, it would all go away if Cook didn't mature on the field during his three seasons.
While lacking the pizzazz of of Jared Goff of the visceral physicality of Carson Wentz, Cook is the Picasso of his peers.
The above play shows how Cook is able to throw a receiver open and not shy away from tight man-on-man coverage. Having a quarterback that knows how to properly read the field not only saves time in the learning process, it allows Cook to handle a meatier playbook from day one.
A big part of Cook's appeal to NFL teams will be his knowledge and exposure to an NFL emulated system at Michigan State. Cook would often take snaps under center, turn his back to the defense, and have to make 2nd, 3rd, and sometimes 4th reads. Seeing a quarterback snap his shoulders to the opposite side of the field is a rarity in today's college landscape.
In a game of inches and when things are at they're tightest is when Cook's experience shines brightest. Decision making skills can often undo young NFL quarterbacks when as little as a half-second can make or break a play. Conversely, Cook doesn't subscribe to any timidness in his game.
In the red zone against Oregon, Cook's patience and calm demeanor in the pocket allows him to manufacture a throwing lane seemingly out of thin air.
The benefits of Cook's experience are subtle, if not wholly under appreciated. For most NFL teams, they know exactly what they getting from him on the field, which is more that can be said for most quarterbacks that have entered the draft over the past decade.
For a player who's so textbook in his execution he could probably lecture half the draft class on quarterbacking basics, Cook leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to his play-to-play accuracy.
Three consecutive years of missing the 60% completion benchmark should give many teams pause. While Cook does get lazy with his footwork at times, much of his issues seem to stem from mental lapses.
The above play was the third in a series of either inaccurate throws or shoddy decision making.
Aside from his on-field inconsistencies, Cook has been rumored to have a polarizing personality that didn't inspire enough leadership to be named one of the three permanent captains in 2015 (to be fair, he did act as a rotational captain one week and was one of 12 "Eagles" within the locker room). To compound the issue, Cook skipping on the Reeses Senior Bowl while Carson Wentz attended won't leave evaluators with a good taste in their mouths, either.
After Cook is poked, prodded, and properly vetting by NFL teams, most should find a quarterback who is ready to start from day one--even if he's not going to lead the pre-game hype huddle. What he will give teams is a long term answer at starting quarterback who not only will put in the work, but already has put a lot of the work to become successful in the NFL.
Given his "Rain Man" nature on the field, it's fitting to compare Cook with contemporaries like Eli Manning and Jay Cutler. Both players ebb and flow from game to game but can truly make a difference if they catch fire for a stretch of games. Teams like the Los Angeles Rams or Houston Texans may literally be a Connor Cook away from not only competing for a playoff bid, but posing legitimate threats to advance deep into the playoffs for many years within two to three seasons.