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Raiders’ worst-case scenario in QB Connor Cook might not be playoff nightmare you’d imagine

Raiders’ worst-case scenario in QB Connor Cook might not be playoff nightmare you’d imagine

It was mid-August. The Oakland Raiders were preparing to break training camp. And Connor Cook was having a mini-meltdown in practice. In what might have been his last full-squad series at the team’s Napa Valley practice complex in California, things were not ending well.

Snap. Fumble.

COME on!” Cook screamed toward the ground, slapping his hands together.

Soon enough, it happened again. Snap. Fumble. Loud obscenity.

About 30 minutes later, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was grinning about it. A visitor remarked to Del Rio that Cook seemed unafraid to bark at veterans when he wasn’t happy, that he had a little edginess to him.

“I think he wants to be perfect,” Del Rio said of Cook. “Not just himself, but everybody. He’s got some emotion and tries to take command of whoever is around him when he’s out there. I like it. He wants to be where Derek [Carr] is someday – that kind of player – and that’s why we drafted him. He’ll compete every day and he’ll get better.”

Almost five months later, the Raiders are heading for the best worst-case scenario they could have hoped for. Here’s why: They actually wanted Connor Cook. They envisioned him being something in the NFL. They blindsided the Dallas Cowboys by trading up to the 100th pick in the draft because they thought Cook was a player with the talent to compete every day in practice and meeting rooms, and they thought Cook could eventually be good enough to start in the NFL, giving the Raiders some valuable trade bait down the road.

And along the way, if disaster struck with Derek Carr, Cook might be capable of stepping in and winning some games for Oakland. The Raiders hoped that if such a scenario came into play, it would be a few years into Cook’s development.

But here they are. Cook is the guy as Carr recovers from a broken leg and the Raiders prepare to face the Houston Texans on Saturday in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs. While nobody on the Oakland staff would have chosen to endure the events of the past few weeks, there is a silver lining. Cook had already shown enough this season that the Raiders were comfortable letting go of backup Matt McGloin this coming offseason. Before Carr went down on Christmas Eve, the draft move had already paid off. Cook was a guy they wanted to rise up on their quarterback depth chart, and this is who they felt good about pushing Carr in 2017.

That’s what makes this a best worst-case scenario. The Raiders had a player on the bottom of their quarterback depth chart who was more than a practice arm. He’s part of the plan. He’s a piece of their future. That’s what the Raiders drafted him to be. Maybe not a starting piece. Maybe not a guy who will ever be expected to fully challenge Carr for his job. But certainly a piece that was valuable enough to be meaningful – and who could be coveted by other teams.

If the season finale was any indication, Cook might have that ability. He might be better than the 100th overall pick. He might even be closer to the player many once believed could be a viable NFL starter. He had flashes of that ability against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Pressed into action after McGloin went down with a shoulder injury, Cook completed 14 of 21 passes for 150 yards, with one touchdown and one interception against one of the best defenses in the NFL. He impressed his teammates and Del Rio with a calm presence in the huddle.

“He went into a very difficult set of circumstances and I thought he handled himself extremely well,” Del Rio said. “I thought the poise was there. The moment didn’t look too big for him. He did a real nice job leading the team down and moving the ball. … [His demeanor in the huddle] goes a long way. It certainly does. All of the reports of how he handled himself, what he did on very little preparation last week was impressive.”

Whether that will translate to Saturday is another story altogether. But what happens this weekend could go a long way toward showcasing whether Cook can live up to the Raiders’ long-term hopes. His opportunity against the Texans has been decades in the making. All because of former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf, who spent years planting seeds in the brain of a young Reggie McKenzie. The same McKenzie who would eventually become the Raiders’ general manager, laying the foundation of his draft methodology with Wolf’s words echoing in his ears.

“You can’t have too many quarterbacks.”

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“Draft a quarterback every year if you see an opportunity worth taking.”

“Have them when you don’t need them. But never need them and fail to have them.”

McKenzie saw Wolf push that plan into action, plucking rookies like Ty Detmer and Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks. Guys who would never start for the Packers, but who would most definitely start elsewhere.

That’s what ultimately birthed Cook’s unexpected starting moment for Oakland. That’s what made the Raiders trade up for him. McKenzie heeded Wolf’s quarterback wisdom.

That’s where Connor Cook comes in this weekend in Houston. The best of a worst-case scenario.


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