Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook won't take on an Alabama defense loaded with draft prospects until Thursday, when the two teams meet in the Cotton Bowl, but Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart already knows which NFL quarterback Cook reminds him of most: Atlanta Falcons veteran Matt Ryan.
And Smart sees good things ahead for Cook at the NFL level, as well.
"He's going to be an unbelievable pro, in my opinion," Smart said Monday, per FOX Sports' Stewart Mandel.
Smart is preparing to face Cook, one of the top quarterback prospects that will be available in the 2016 NFL Draft, with a College Football Playoff championship game berth at stake in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama players are taking the comparisons a step further. Safety Eddie Jackson said fellow safety Geno Matias-Smith is likening Cook to Peyton Manning, a comparison Jackson doesn't refute.
"Geno is calling him Peyton Manning. I can kind of give him that," Jackson said, per the Detroit Free-Press. "You know, Peyton Manning is my favorite quarterback. I'll give him that. (Cook) is an accurate guy, he has a strong arm. When he breaks the pocket, his receivers know what to do. ... On film, the types of throws you see him make, you're just like, 'Whoa.' You see him make another one, you're like, 'Dang.' This guy, he's the real deal."
Cook said Monday that his injured shoulder, which kept him out of Michigan State's win over Ohio State on Nov. 21 and hampered him in a win over Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game earlier this month, has recovered well for the Cotton Bowl. Cook has 24 touchdown passes on the season with just five interceptions and has led the Spartans to within two wins of a national championship. NFL scouts will get to see him perform against Alabama's prospect-laden defense, which features linebacker Reggie Ragland, defensive tackles Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson, and a dangerous pass rusher in Jonathan Allen.
Draft projections on Cook (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), a senior, have varied. An NFC scout told College Football 24/7 that Cook looks like a third-round pick.