Jon Gruden says Connor Cook would be a great fit for the 49ers. He knows the Michigan State quarterback would have been perfect for the Raiders.
“My old boss, Al Davis, would have loved Connor Cook because this kid pushes the ball down the field,” Gruden said Thursday on a conference call. “He’s one of the guys in this draft that made me make funny sounds when I was watching him practice. He’d throw, and I was, ‘Whoa, what a throw!’ ”
Gruden, a former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst, has met and worked out all of the top passers in the upcoming draft for his half-hour telecasts, “Gruden’s QB Camp.” He says five will be among the first 35 selections in the upcoming draft: Cal’s Jared Goff, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Cook.
The 49ers had a private workout with Cook, and he also has visited them at team headquarters in Santa Clara. They pick seventh overall, then again at the beginning of the second round, 37th overall. That means that if Gruden is accurate in his prediction, the 49ers might have to trade up – perhaps back into the first round – to grab Cook.
Gruden said he liked Cook’s size (6-foot-4, 217 pounds), body of work (a school-record 34 wins as a starter) and experience in a pro-style system – including taking plenty of snaps from under center – at Michigan State.
“He’s not completing a bunch of pop screens and bubble screens and flip screens like all these other quarterbacks,” he said. “He’s coming out of the huddle and ripping it down the field. Is he perfect? No. But I really like his body of work; I like the degree of difficulty that he thrives under.”
Cook threw 24 touchdown passes against seven interceptions last season and led the Spartans to the College Football Playoff semifinals, a 38-0 loss to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. His 56.1 completion percentage in 2015, however, is the second worst among Gruden’s five favorite passers (Hackenberg’s was 53.3 percent) and may be a concern for 49ers coach Chip Kelly, whose often-repeated top criterion for a quarterback is “repetitive accuracy.”
Another concern circling Cook’s profile is his personality. He admitted at the scouting combine that there was a perception that he was cocky and arrogant, which he said, “couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“That’s why I’m looking forward to sitting down with these teams and let them find out who the real Connor Cook is,” he said in February. “That I’m a nice, humble, hard-working kid.”
Cook wasn’t voted a team captain for 2015 despite his position and long résumé, which also has been questioned. He noted that he was part of a 12-player leadership council.
“It’s an understandable question: ‘Why wasn’t he captain?’ ” Cook said. “I’ll just be completely honest with (NFL teams). We had a lot of leaders on that team; we had 22 seniors, I believe; we had the leadership council, like I said. If you want to go back and talk to any of my teammates and ask them if I was a great leader, they would say yes.”
It’s also notable that Cook rushed for only 56 yards last season and lacks the athleticism of Lynch and Wentz. Kelly’s dominant offenses at Oregon all featured athletic quarterbacks, although his passers with the Philadelphia Eagles – primarily Nick Foles and Sam Bradford – were not runners.
“I think (Kelly) has proven he can do it a bunch of different ways, with a bunch of different-style quarterbacks behind center,” general manager Trent Baalke said Wednesday. “I think, ideally, would you like a guy that can run and has some mobility? Yes. I think ideally. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Bradford couldn’t run. Foles isn’t a runner. And they had a lot of success with his system.”
Gruden agreed that Kelly isn’t bound by one style of play, and like every other 49ers observer, he said he’s curious whom Kelly will tap at quarterback and what kind of system the coach will run. As it stands, the top options to start the season are Colin Kaepernick, who has been the subject of trade talks, and Blaine Gabbert, who isn’t signed beyond this season.
“I just don’t think (Kelly’s) going to come out and show the same things he showed in Philadelphia,” Gruden said. “I think he’s going to make changes to his personnel and to his quarterback. And right now, I don’t think the 49ers know who that is.”
What if Cook is part of that mix?
“I don’t know anyone else that has won 34 games at Michigan State,” Gruden said. “So I think he’d be a great fit for the 49ers, personally.”