Quantifying Quarterbacks Review: Connor Cook’s Destined For NFL Growing Pains


Peaks and valleys are a theme of life. Some days you stumble upon free concert tickets, only to have your car keyed a week later. Quarterbacks have the same dynamic to them. Drafting the right one is a matter of weighing their peaks against their valleys, and making the decision as to whether or not one’s peaks are worth his valleys. Michigan State’s Connor Cook may be one of the best gauges for this concept of quarterback evaluation.

By: Derrik Klassen

(10/22) Quantifying Quarterbacks: Connor Cook Hangs On To Beat Michigan

Cook’s evaluation has been a journey. When he first took the reigns after a minor quarterback battle in the beginning of the 2013 season, he was not much more than a relatively smart quarterback with an arm. That brought him some attention, but he did not appear to be a legitimate future NFL quarterback. By 2014, Cook had heightened his mental prowess and worked on playing tighter, though he still faltered when rushers came free. Throughout the 2015 season, Cook has shown better awareness to identify rushers before he freaks out, on top of continuing to look more and more comfortable with his reads and making certain throws. He may never get over his fear of rushers when they become loose right in front of him, but that does not make him a bad player as a whole.

Like the other areas of his game, Cook has shown some development in regards to his overreaction to pressure. He is still far from a finished product and may improve on it even further, a la young (and good) Matt Ryan. Though, the reality is that pressure may always get to him and he is going to make rash throws because of it. For someone with his arm talent, it can work. That is not to say Cook should be making questionable throws, but a well-placed throw can mask a poor decision. Of course, having a receiver with a great catch radius (Tony Lippett in 2014, Aaron Burbidge in 2015) helps Cook’s case, even if he is making quality plays in his own right. The thing is, quarterbacks ought to be using their assets to their maximum efficiency, and Cook does that. He attacks his best players often, creating a synergetic relationship of trust and confidence.

At first, I believed this to be stubbornness. Maybe it is, but again, a well-placed throw can make just about any decision look good. Cook’s accuracy at all levels of the field is impressive, especially on some of the more difficult routes to throw. Namely, Cook throws the deep ‘corner’ route better than anyone in the country. Being able to pin drop throws 15+ yards down the field near the boundary is incredibly difficult, mostly because the pursuit angle defensive backs can take is quite favorable for them. Disadvantage be damned, Cook makes that throw consistently. His ball placement is still a bit shoddy in that he often requires his receivers to fight for the ball a bit, but seldom does he flat out miss. Most of this is rooted in Cook’s footwork, which was also a work in progress throughout his career but has become one of the better parts of his game.

Cook’s development in his footwork is almost a direct product of his accelerated mental process. Cook is reading the field much more smoothly than ever before, working in and out of reads with ease and letting his shoulders guide him through his progressions. The key then is to allow one’s feet to flow with the direction of the shoulders and Cook does just that. A lot of Michigan State’s offense asks Cook to read multiple receivers on one side of the field with concepts like ‘smash’, high-lows and ‘spot’. There, Cook reads the field as he takes his drop steps then hitches up at the end of his drop to make whichever throw he has deemed best. More often than not, Cook is right.

Whether the football community likes it or not, playing in the traditional system that Michigan State runs gives Cook an edge over most of his other peers heading into an NFL environment. It is going to be a culture shock and an overwhelming offensive structure/playbook, but Cook will be more familiar with the concepts and verbiage than most every other quarterback prospect. That will give him more comfort as he grows into a polished NFL quarterback and may mitigate some of the growing pains that other quarterback prospects typically have. For the same reason, Cook’s mental development in the NFL should also be rather speedy because of his familiarity with traditional style offenses.

For the most part, Cook’s peaks are going to make his valleys worthwhile. He is good for a couple mind-numbing throws per game due to pressure, but he makes up for it with how often he can “win” most of the other plays. Between Cook’s arm talent, which is a nice blend of velocity and touch, and his mental proficiency, he is going to be a quality NFL quarterback. More than anything, Cook will simply need a coaching staff to buy into him and commit, much like the Cincinnati Bengals have done with Andy Dalton- a similar player to Cook. Dalton had years of growing pains, but the stability of the organization coupled with Hue Jackson’s brilliance has turned Dalton into one of the more impressive passers in the league. Cook has the same dynamic to him and very well may become one of the better passers in the league, in due time.

Interesting Data (based on 299 attempt sample):

  • Completions: 80/157 (50.96%) in 1st Half, 81/142 (57.04%) in 2nd Half
  • All 4 charted interceptions were thrown in the first half of games.
  • 22/53 (41.51%) when operating under center.
  • Cook has 33 ‘explosive plays’ (25+ yards gained and/or touchdown), compared to just 6 ‘loss’ plays (loss of yards or turnover). ‘EXP’ play rate: 11.04%. ‘Loss’ play rate: 2.01%.
  • Only 25 of the 299 charted attempts were screen throws (rate of 8.36%), while 97 of the 299 passes traveled farther than 15 yards in the air (rate of 32.44%).
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