ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Cotton Bowl game wasn't very competitive -- Alabama rolled to a 38-0 win -- and might've made for bad television, but it was a very valuable exhibition for NFL evaluators. Here are a couple of my takeaways from AT&T Stadium:
» Alabama quarterback Jake Coker had the game of his life. He was very patient and accurate underneath early on in the game before cutting it loose and hitting several vertical throws later in the game. I was most impressed with his escapeability. He avoided several free rushers throughout the night. A lot of people were surprised when he was given an invitation to the Senior Bowl, but he proved in the Cotton Bowl that he deserves to be evaluated in that setting.
» As far as Michigan State's quarterback, I was anxious to see how Connor Cook was going to perform against Alabama's great defense. He has played really well in big games during his college career, but this Cotton BOwl was too tall of a task for him. His poor decision/throw at the end of the first half thwarted the Spartans' best scoring opportunity. While his passing numbers look poor, I wouldn't crush Cook for the results. He was pressured all night, his wide receivers couldn't create separation and they also dropped a couple balls. Alabama just had much better personnel than Michigan State. There's a lot to like about Cook. He has ideal size, plenty of arm strength, shows the ability to work through progressions as well as extend plays. However, he does miss some underneath gimmies and his decision-making is up/down. He has NFL starter ability, but I think he needs to go somewhere where he can sit for awhile.
» Alabama defensive linemen A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed both look and play like Day 1 NFL starters. I had a chance to go down to the field before the game and that is what you want your defensive linemen to look like. Both guys were very stout against the run, and I was impressed with Robinson's quickness in the passing game.
» Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland just continues to get better and better each time I watch him play. I had some concerns about his pure speed and athleticism on last year's tape, but he's moving around much better this season. He was all over the field in the Cotton Bowl, showing range, instincts and explosiveness.
» Alabama defensive back Cyrus Jones made arguably the two biggest plays of the night: intercepting Cook before the half and then returning a punt for a touchdown in the second half. He lacks ideal size, but he's very fluid in coverage and he showed the ability to play above the rim down the field. He looks like a potential solid No. 2 cornerback at the next level, and his return ability only adds to his value.
» Alabama running back Derrick Henry didn't post his usual numbers, but he had a very solid night. As big as he looks on tape, you have to see him in person to fully appreciate his height/bulk/length. He's HUGE! When he has a runway, he builds up speed and he's a load to bring down. He had a couple nifty cutback runs, but his stiffness shows up when he has to stop his feet and restart. He showed soft hands out of the backfield, too.
» Alabama center Ryan Kelly is one of my favorite players in the upcoming NFL draft. Kelly plays with excellent technique and balance. He showed the ability to work up to the second level and wall off linebackers. He should have a long, productive career as a starting center at the next level.
» Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin was the most impressive Spartan player tonight. The hard-nosed left tackle for the Spartans showed the power to torque and dump defenders in the run game, and he held up well in pass protection. He battled A'Shawn Robinson all night long. Robinson was able to shed him a couple times, but Conklin more than held his own. Most of the 'Bama pressure was generated on the opposite side of the field.
» Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun did what he normally does on tape: he flashed some quickness and burst, but also disappeared for long stretches. Henry caught him with a wicked stiff arm at the end of the game, but he's done that same thing to many others over the last three seasons. Calhoun has upside, but he is still a work in progress.