The picks kept coming and going, and Connor Cook still hadn’t heard his name.
The Michigan State quarterback was expected by many to go either late in the first round or early in the second round of the NFL draft.
But by Friday night, when the first three rounds were completed, six quarterbacks had been taken and none were Cook.
The long wait finally ended early in Saturday when the Oakland Raiders traded up to the second pick of the fourth round to take Cook 100th overall.
“Anytime you see another quarterback get drafted in front of you, it hurts,” Cook said. “I’m a competitor. Obviously, I think I’m one of the best quarterbacks in this draft class, but nothing is ever easy and nothing is ever perfect. Everything that I’ve been able to accomplish at Michigan State is never easy.
“Going on to the NFL, it’s definitely going to get a little bit harder and more difficult. It’s definitely not going to be easy. Obviously, seeing all the other quarterbacks go, it hurt, but I’m just ready to be a Raider and ready to get to business.”
Cook is the winningest quarterback in Michigan State history with a 34-5 record that included helping the Spartans win a pair of Big Ten championships before reaching the College Football Playoff last season.
But none of that trumped apparent concerns about his leadership, an issue that started to crop up last August when Cook was not named one of Michigan State’s captains.
It’s something Cook was never able to shake, even after interviews with multiple NFL teams.
“I don’t think you can win that many games and be that successful at a program without being a leader,” Cook said. “I think all that stuff was so far from the truth. Everything will work itself out. People want to talk and say all that stuff, but they’ve never even sat down to talk to me or get to know me as a person.
“We were successful (at Michigan State) for a reason and that’s pretty much all I have to say. I’m just looking forward to this whole new journey and getting a chance to be a part of a great organization and go out there and compete.”
Cook is the first Michigan State quarterback drafted since Kirk Cousins went in the fourth round to Washington in 2012 and the second under coach Mark Dantonio.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as a senior and was also named the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year. He is Michigan State’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (71), passing yards (9,194) and total offense (9,403).
“Connor Cook is a proven winner,” Dantonio said. “He went 34-5 as a starter and won two Big Ten championship rings. Connor played well on the big stage throughout his career while being named MVP of two Big Ten championship games (2013 and 2015) as well as the 2014 Rose Bowl. He played his best in the tight games and had the unique ability to make the guys around him better.
“Connor was very patient with his reads and displayed remarkable accuracy in critical situations. He remained cool under pressure, and he had the knack for making plays when the game was on the line. Most importantly, he was an outstanding game manager and leader. Connor consistently performed at a high level, and he gave us a chance to win every game.”
Cook will have an uphill battle trying to see the field early in his career as the Raiders already have a good, young quarterback.
Derek Carr was taken in the second round out of Fresno State in 2014 and has started all 32 games over the past two seasons. Carr threw for 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns last season while throwing just 13 interceptions.
“Derek Carr is obviously a great quarterback,” Cook said. “(I’m) going to go in there and learn from him, trying to compete, and (the Raiders) have great guys on offense. … I’m glad that I found a home. It was a little bit of a wait, but I’m glad the whole process is over.”
Cook will see at least one familiar face as Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun was taken in the third round by the Raiders.
“I called him right away and we talked for a little bit and congratulated each other,” Cook said. “I told him, ‘Hey man, looks like we can’t stay away from each other for too long,’ and he was laughing about it, but it’s cool being close to a guy like that. He was in my class, came in with me at Michigan State. Everyone in Michigan State, our whole class was super tight, so getting an opportunity to still be with him, it’s a blessing.”