Connor Cook vs EJ Manuel
Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie made a rather surprising move in the 2016 NFL Draft, trading up in the fourth round to draft quarterback Connor Cook. The 6’4”, 217-pounder was projected as high as the late first round so drafting him in the 4th round certainly qualified as a ‘value pick’.
Some questioned whether a team that already had their franchise quarterback should trade a 4th and 5th round pick to select a back-up. Nobody at that time knew what a terrible blow fate would deliver, when Derek Carr was lost to a broken leg in week 16 and the next week backup Matt McGloin was also lost to a shoulder injury. In one week’s time Cook went from inactive to behind center.
“It’s always important to have depth,” McKenzie said. “We usually kept three quarterbacks when I was in Green Bay for a long time. You can see the cycle, even last year, guys went down. So you want to make sure you have guys prepared. He was a good player still sitting there day three. We had a good grade on him and we just wanted to seize the opportunity.”
Cook’s first career start came against the Wild Card game against the Texans in what was the Raiders first playoff game since losing the Super Bowl January 26, 2003. This game would not end much better.
No other rookie quarterback had ever made their first start in a playoff game. It didn’t help that the Raiders were facing the league’s top ranked defense without Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn. Cook completed just 18 of 45 pass attempts (40%) for 161 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions.
Taking over for McGloin in the season finale in Denver the previous week, Cook completed 14 of 21 pass attempts (66%) for 150 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He also looked every bit a rookie competing with a great NFL defense. His accuracy and footwork showed he had a lot of work to do before he could be counted on as the back-up quarterback. Raiders offensive coordinator, Todd Downing, likes what he’s seen from the second year QB.
“He’s such a pro and a guy that wants to do things right that the more he’s around meetings, out at practice and understands what we’re looking for in the system, he’ll just continue to grow and grow,” Downing said. “He’s one of those guys that he wants you to paint a picture for him of how you want it done and then he’s going to do his best to replicate that picture. We’re excited about where he’s at this offseason and expect a lot of fun things in the future”
Here is his touchdown from week 17. He does avoid traffic in the pocket but his footwork breaks down. It was solely his arm talent that made this pass possible. He has the raw arm strength coaches love but needs to work on his mechanics if he hopes to compete at the NFL level.
Joining the Raiders this offseason as a free agent is former EJ Manuel. He was drafted 16th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. The 6’5”, 237-pound quarterback out of Florida State was the only quarterback taken in the first round that years.
Manuel had all the physical traits but lacked the consistency needed to be considered a top 10 pick. Those consistency issues followed him to Buffalo where in his four years he had a 58% completion rate, with 19 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. The Raiders are hoping better coaching can maximize his potential.
“EJ is a good kid” said Downing. “He’s certainly got a great skill set. He’s a wonderful kid. He’s very sharp. I think sometimes it’s just a matter of getting a little change of scenery for someone and a breath of fresh air and they can kind of hit the reset button and start again. We’re excited about where EJ’s at.”
That excitement won’t last long if he continues having plays like this one. Despite a clean pocket and a wide open receiver, Manuel short hops this pass incomplete. While a rookie can be expected to have mechanical breakdowns, a four year vet shouldn’t.
While the Raiders are hoping they don’t need to use their backup quarterback, last season was a painful reminder of how important a good one is. The coaching staff will be busy insuring they have one.
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