The pre-draft process is an intel-gathering mission on prospective employees. And although certain prospects tend to attract groupthink in the scouting community, others generate the varied opinions that come from 32 different franchises with 32 unique approaches to talent evaluation. Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks is taking a closer at some of the most notable -- and polarizing -- prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft, to determine draft range and team fits.
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What I like
Cook is a classic dropback passer with intriguing physical tools and a winning pedigree. He leaves Michigan State as the winningest quarterback in school history, which is significant, considering the number of current NFL quarterbacks (Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer and Drew Stanton) who have played for the Spartans. Cook is a rhythm passer capable of delivering strikes to every area of the field. He not only throws a tight-rope fastball with zip and velocity, but he also shows the ability to throw with touch, timing and anticipation. Cook's capacity to change ball speed and trajectory makes him an ideal fit for a quick-rhythm system that features a number of throws down the seams or between the hashes at intermediate range. In addition, he makes NFL throws to the boundary on "Okies" and comebacks. With Cook adept at making throws outside the numbers, opponents must defend the entire field, from sideline to sideline.
As a game manager, Cook scores high marks for his judgment and ball security. He finished his collegiate career with a 71:22 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a three-year starter for the Spartans. Although numbers can be deceiving, based on the style of play, the fact that Cook directed a pro-style offense that featured "big-boy throws" instead of lay-ups (bubble screens and quicks) speaks volumes about his ability to play winning football from the pocket. In the clutch, Cook has shown exceptional poise, having led the Spartans to six fourth-quarter comeback victories as a starter.
Overall, Cook's strong résumé will make him a hot commodity for teams looking for a "bus driver" with the requisite traits needed to lead them to the winner's circle.
Why the range?
For all of the positive traits Cook displays on the field, scouts question his accuracy and ball-placement skills. He never completed 60 percent of his passes in a season at MSU -- well below the standard for elite QB prospects. On tape, Cook routinely misfires intermediate and vertical throws that should be easy completions for a talented passer. He must make those throws at the next level to help his team sustain drives under his direction.
Questions also persist about Cook's personality and leadership skills, since he wasn't appointed a permanent team captain by his teammates at any point during his tenure. While Sparty cohorts have given Cook positive reviews as a leader since the end of last season, the lack of recognition as the team captain raises red flags in the scouting community. With additional reports regarding Cook's prickly personality and suspect people skills, scouts are delving deep into his character to see if he can handle the responsibility of being a franchise quarterback.
Where would he excel?
Cook is ideally suited to play for a team that already has a strong supporting cast in place. He has learned how to play winning football during his time at Michigan State -- and that experience would help him guide an NFL team to the winner's circle as a game manager early in his career (not necessarily as a rookie).
Teams like the Broncos, Cowboys and Bears would rank as ideal fits, based on their commitment to playing complementary football (strong running game and stingy defense). Cook understands how to play within those guidelines following a three-year run as the Spartans' starter under Mark Dantonio -- in East Lansing, he was expected to take care of the ball and act as a selective playmaker.
If placed in the right situation, Cook will not only win, but he could develop into an upper-echelon quarterback who steadies a franchise for years to come.