When people look back at the 2016 draft class, it was a fourth-round selection named Dak Prescott who should have been the first QB taken overall not Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. Prescott however, wasn’t even the first QB taken in the fourth round, that honour fell to the Oakland Raiders when with the 100th overall pick they selected Connor Cook from Michigan State.
Whilst Prescott went on to have a season that attracts MVP attention, Cook sat for most of the season as the Raiders third string QB behind Derek Carr and Matt McGlone, and therefore got very few reps in practice, let alone the chance to be dressed for Sundays. In fact you could reasonably argue it was a strange decision for the Raiders to take a QB at all with that pick, given that Carr was going into his third season and was establishing himself as one of the better prospects in recent years. The wisdom of the pick may have been seen in hindsight though, when Carr and McGlone both went down with injuries in successive games at the end of the season.
Going into the Wild Card round of the playoffs, Connor Cook would therefore become one of very few QB’s to make their very first start in a playoff game and to do so as a rookie to boot. Was he ready? Or would it be a case of Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook? Standing in his way were the Houston Texans, who had a player looking to make this a statement game himself in Jadeveon Clowney.
In these past two seasons, Clowney has struggled back from injuries and had to look on whilst the Raiders pick, Khalil Mack has performed at a level that has seen him be hailed as a future Hall Of Famer. With both players now lining up in the same position, Clowney was out to remind everyone that he was the number one overall pick that year for a reason. So with Cook having to lineup opposite a motivated Clowney, who would get the better of the matchup? Cook would not be helped by the Raiders losing Donald Penn on their O-Line either.
Well, lets be honest, for Connor Cook, this game went about as badly as it could, in the first half he went 4 of 14 for 41 yards and an INT, that INT was made by Clowney, whose own impact on the game was huge. Clowney was dominant and in the backfield all the time in the first half, and the Raiders were forced to permanently double team him in the second half, which left Whitney Mercilus able to get into Cook’s face almost at will. The scary thing from this game was that Houston looked that good without a certain number 99. When JJ Watt returns alongside Clowney and Mercilus, opposition O-Lineman better beware.
Cook would end the game, 18 of 45 for 161 yards, 1TD but 3 INT’s, and a passer rating of 30.0. So how does he rebound from here? That is what will determine how history will remember him now. For a rookie, to make his first start in a playoff game, against one of the league’s better defence’s was a huge ask of anyone. It may have been a kindness to him had the Raiders chosen to bench him in the 2nd half, as coach Jack Del Rio hinted he was thinking of doing. However, although the Wide Receivers didn’t exactly help him, with a case of the drops any hopes Cook may have had of upsetting the apple cart and challenging for the Raiders starting job will have been squashed by this performance.
A career as a clipboard holder and backup duties would seem to be beckoning Cook for his immediate future, unless the Raiders feel there is trade value for him. It is true we are in a QB driven league and there are several teams that are QB needy with the forthcoming draft class not exactly brimming with top end talent at the position, but is Cook a possible answer? Most likely outcome is that Matt McGlone is released and for the foreseeable future, Cook is the Frank Reich to Carr’s Jim Kelly. (Apologies for gratuitous Bills reference)
For that to happen though Cook, needs to shake this game off and put it down to experience and not let it ruin his confidence, we have seen with the like of RG3 in recent years when the mental side of the game goes, the player is just not the same, and they start second guessing themselves, a decline is almost inevitable.
Is it harsh to make assessments like this after just one pro-start? Yes, it is. But that is the league we now have, and talent scouts and GM’s around the league will be doing just that. Cook needs to get his head back in the playbook, and then wait for another chance and hopefully with a little more experience things will turn around for him. Possibly then it will be Dine With Me, and not Dine on Me for Connor Cook.