The Oakland Raiders don’t need Connor Cook to be Derek Carr. They just need him to not be Matt McGloin.
By virtue of his mere existence as a football player, Connor Cook became the second-best quarterback on the Raiders’ depth chart when he was drafted 100th overall in the 2016 NFL draft this past spring.
That’s not some knee-jerk reaction to how poorly Matt McGloin played on Sunday — it’s purely observation of the facts that have always been in front of us. In terms of physical tangibles, there’s not a single measurable where McGloin edges Cook; the latter is closer to the prototypical mold scouts look for in the position, while the former has had to rely on cliched adjectives like “scrappy and “gritty” to hang his hat on.
If you’re a numbers guy, that’s cool, too. Their final collegiate numbers are admittedly very similar — but you won’t find a major statistical category in which McGloin is better. He does have Cook beat in rushing TDs, though. So I guess if it came down to a goal line dive, Matt might be our guy.
Yet and still, the NFL’s media conglomerate sold you a dream last week. They spent the days leading up to the Raiders’ regular-season finale in Denver gassing McGloin up like a Hummer H2, to the point where perfectly reasonable people were trying to rationalize the idea of the fourth-year backup channeling the spirit of Jeff Hostetler, who famously rose in the stead of Phil Simms to quarterback the 1990 New York Giants to a Super Bowl victory — while only casually mentioning the fact that Hostetler had a tiny bit of help from one of the best defensive units in the history of the league.
But we digress.
We won’t make the same mistake with Cook. Most pundits around the league have a more muted sense of expectations pertaining the quarterback play that will happen during Saturday’s Wild Card showdown versus the undead seventy-two-million-dollar-man Brock Osweiler. And for all intents and purposes, they should, because rookie quarterbacks have a tendency to do stupid things, and Brock Osweiler also has a tendency to do stupid things.
However, do not make the false equivalence of taking Connor Cook (probably) not being great to mean that Connor Cook is not the Raiders’ best chance to win the game. He absolutely is, because again, in securing his spot on Oakland’s 53-man roster, Cook secured his spot as the Raiders’ next-best option at quarterback, long before anybody considered the notion that he would start a game for the team this season (if ever).
Look at it this way: McGloin’s true advantage over Cook is his experience — simply that he’s been in the league longer, been in the offensive system longer, and has some NFL starts under his belt. Those are all quantifiable assets that hold some value, especially in a career field like quarterbacking, where how much you’ve seen and your ability to mentally digest what you’ve seen into positive football plays are of the utmost importance.
The thing about experience, though, is that having it doesn’t necessarily make you more qualified or better at doing your job than someone without it — lest we forget the lesson taught to both Matt Schaub and Matt McGloin in 2014. Your experience can and will be deemed null and void on the off-chance that a rocket-armed saint of a man with ice water running through his veins joins your football team.
The point is, Matt McGloin is a known commodity. His bad outing Sunday doesn’t disprove the idea that he can be a capable quarterback in this league, but it does work to confirm what has long been established as his ceiling, and to some extent, his ability to reach that ceiling.
While McGloin has spent the bulk of both his collegiate and professional careers trying to prove he belongs, Cook is perpetually annoyed that you don’t already think more highly of him. He has a reputation for being a bit arrogant, and while I think a lot of it is overblown, I also wouldn’t deny that there’s some credence to it. There’s not a doubt in Cook’s mind that he’s better than Matt McGloin — and he almost certainly thinks that with an equal amount of reps, he’d be better than Derek Carr, too.
In the interim, that attitude should serve him and, by extension, the Raiders well. Bottom line: Connor Cook can help us more than Matt McGloin can — Reggie McKenzie admitted that when he traded up for Cook in the fourth round of last year’s draft. Jack Del Rio admitted it this week in naming Cook the starter, despite having a probably-healthy-enough-to-play McGloin at his disposal.
Collectively, the team’s confidence has seemed to shift towards Cook and the idea of what he could potentially do. And if that keeps them from coming out flat like they did in Denver, then I for one, am ready to #LetConnorCook.
If you still harbor any doubts, here’s some perspective for you: last year, the Texans hosted a playoff game against the Chiefs in which they (purposely!) started Brian Hoyer, a seventh-year journeyman who’d started 11 games for them that season, at quarterback.
His stat line? 15-for-34 for 136 yards, and four interceptions.
Cook doesn’t have to be Derek Carr-level great, as long as he can avoid being Hoyer/Osweiler-level bad. It’s pretty hard to do either one, so I like his chances of falling somewhere in the middle.
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