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Personality issues caused Connor Cook’s fall in draft

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Connor Cook

Connor Cook’s surprising fall to the fourth round of the NFL draft won’t preclude him from having a successful career.

The Oakland Raiders, who took the Michigan State quarterback with the 100th overall pick, have a young, promising signal caller in Derek Carr. But Cook need look no further than his former teammate Kirk Cousins as an example of a presumed backup — drafted three rounds after Robert Griffin III — eventually thriving.

But even though Cook has the talent to contribute in the NFL, sources made it clear why he slid so far in the draft. Teams view Cook as arrogant, a player whose personality flaws could be an issue in a locker room full of alpha males. In the NFL, any ego that doesn’t fit can be problematic, especially at quarterback.

While many players fall because of an isolated incident, there was no such issue with Cook, but teams questioned his behavior — off the field and toward teammates.

Cook not being a captain as a senior was an obvious red flag, but considering the undeniable leadership of center Jack Allen, that might’ve been an issue teams could overlook. Instead, as teams questioned Cook’s leadership, they found other reasons to lower his stock.

“His teammates haven’t spoken well of him through the draft process,” one high-ranking NFC scout said. “Just not a leader and doesn’t have top QB intangibles.”

The same scout said there wasn’t an isolated incident that scared teams away from Cook. Instead, it was an overall attitude issue.

“He will get drafted and play,” the scout said. “He has talent.”

But in a social-media age in which any misstep by an NFL player can suddenly become the most popular reading material on the internet, some scouts do their research looking for reasons not to draft a player.

Even in a moment in which Cook should’ve been praised, he did something that instantly became one such story, snubbing Archie Griffin after the former Ohio State legend handed him the MVP award after the Big Ten championship last December.

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As much as Cook contributed to Michigan State’s impressive 36-5 record the past three years, teams also had doubts about his accuracy, particularly on short passes.

Of the 14 quarterbacks drafted this year, only one had a lower completion percentage than Cook’s 56.1 percent – Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg at 53.5 percent. And unlike Hackenberg, two of Cook’s offensive linemen were drafted, Jack Conklin in the first round and Donavon Clark in the seventh.

One NFL agent described Cook as having Kobe Bryant’s cockiness without the skills to match. Skipping the Senior Bowl and acting as if he had already earned the right to be a highly-selected quarterback during the pre-draft process rubbed many NFL people the wrong way.

“Have you ever met someone who looks you up and down just to dismiss you? That’s Cook,” the agent said.

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After the Raiders drafted Cook, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock noted that the completion percentage was a concern as he peaked at 58.7 percent as a sophomore.

“The second thing, whether you like it or not, is the whole leadership and captain conversation,” Mayock said. “Some teams in the NFL believe he should’ve been a captain as voted on by his teammates; some NFL teams don’t care. Time will tell.”

Mayock compared Cook to Cousins, which would be an excellent future for Cook as Cousins led Washington to the playoffs last season and will make nearly $20 million in 2016.

Fellow NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah compared Cook to former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, who fell to the fifth round in 2014 despite leading the Crimson Tide to a national title and being significantly more accurate than Cook in college. McCarron ended up starting three games, as well as one in the postseason, for Cincinnati in 2015.

“He could have been a late first round, early second-round pick and nobody would have argued,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “But not being a team captain, is he a galvanizing leader? That is the reason, the lack of great intangibles, why he was here at the start of the fourth round and why he wasn’t a guaranteed first-round draft choice.”