Some of the most divisive issues heading into the NFL Scouting Combine were the questions surrounding Connor Cook’s accuracy, character and leadership abilities, as well as the reasoning as to why he decided to decline an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
I personally attended the Saturday morning session of the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and can attest that Cook’s throwing session was a mixed bag. He certainly missed some short throws, but he also threw some of the better deep balls of the morning quarterback grouping, which included California signal caller, Jared Goff.
Of course, having scouted Cook all season, this was of little surprise to me. I’ve said all along that Cook is a better fit in a vertical passing game than he would be in a west coast style offense.
Despite some persistent complaints about throwing off of his back foot all season, Cook’s three, five and seven step drops were the most refined of this entire draft class. Maybe his footwork is not quite NFL ready, but he’s clearly better than the rest of a group of quarterbacks who have never really played under center or in a pro-style offense.
As for Cook’s character and leadership abilities, I’ve never witnessed the "arrogance," "cockiness," or immaturity that some anonymous sources have cited.
In addition to analyzing each and every play of his Spartan career, I’ve also read just about every news article about Cook from all the major Michigan media outlets, and I’ve never heard an unkind word attributed to him from a MSU teammate or beat writer.
With the ESPN and NFL Network talking heads further slamming Cook on his decision not to participate in the Senior Bowl, this Monday I had the opportunity to speak with Senior Bowl Executive Director and former Cleveland Browns’ General Manager, Phil Savage, to clear things up.
Despite some reports that Cook pulled out of the Senior Bowl due to his injured throwing shoulder, Savage indicated that when Cook declined his invitation, he did not specifically inform him that he wouldn’t be attending the Senior Bowl due to his shoulder injury. At the same time, Savage would not rule that out as Cook's reason, having previously noted that he thought that Cook didn't have "the same pop in his arm" before the Alabama game in the College Football Playoffs that he did earlier in the season.
Savage did seem to think that Cook might have just wanted to rest up and train with his own people, a/k/a, quarterback guru, George Whitfield, Jr.
What Savage did say was that Cook was invited to the Senior Bowl before MSU’s College Football Playoff game against Alabama, and that Cook personally sent him a hand written note indicating that he would let him know about his decision as soon as possible.
Savage went on to indicate that when Michigan State lost to Alabama, Cook immediately called him the following Monday to inform him that he was declining the invite, which Savage said he appreciated, noting that Cook "was definitely not" one of the many guys who had left him hanging over his years of being in charge of putting the Senior Bowl roster together.
All in all, I think that Phil Savage had the utmost respect for Connor Cook as a person. We still don’t know if Cook pulled out of the Senior Bowl specifically due to his shoulder injury as his camp has claimed, but the fact that he went on to throw at the Scouting Combine seemed to answer that question.
In my opinion, Cook may have a quirky personality, but it doesn’t mean that his teammates don’t like him or didn't follow him into battle. The first time I really watched him play was against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wing Bowl, and while he missed some throws, it was clear that he had the "it" factor when it came to leadership and winning that incumbent starter Andrew Maxwell simply did not possess.
After struggling to come up with an NFL comparison for Cook, I’ve finally decided that he’s simply his own person and his own player. Quite frankly, that person/player is simply someone who gets things done and who is a winner.
Strangely, the more I talk and listen to NFL scouts, the more I think that Cook will end up being a 2nd round selection. However, the more I think about it myself, the more I think he deserves to be a 1st round draft pick.
Let's see what NFL teams decide.
Look for my final scouting reports on Cook, and all of Michigan State’s prospective draft prospects to come out over the next week.