The safety position in this year’s NFL Draft is heavy at the top, but the jury is still out on those mid-round guys. With Daxton Hill, Lewis Cine, Kyle Hamilton, and maybe even Jaquan Brisker all locks to go in the first two rounds; there is a need for draftable players later on Day 2. Bryan Cook can be one of those guys. Cook started his career at Howard before transferring to Cincinnati for his last three years of eligibility. Playing in a secondary with Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant, Cook got very overlooked. However, he was sort of the engine of this unit. Cook was used all over for Cincinnati and was a big-time leader for this team’s playoff run. Now, we get to determine whether or not Cook’s game will translate to the NFL.
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Name: Bryan Cook
Jersey: No. 6
Weight: 206 lbs
Games Watched: Alabama (2021), Notre Dame (2021), Temple (2021)
Major Injury History: None
Cook was advertised out the gate for two things: processing and tackling. Well, the first is not necessarily true. He does process well early in the snap, evaluating things after the snap however is a different story. Cook must make his decision faster. When the ball is in the air, Cook can be indecisive, simply trying to make the best possible play. The last negative is Cook needs to not just read the quarterback but the whole field. There comes the point in the rep where you must check out what’s going on behind you. Twice against Alabama and once in the other two games, Cook was bailed out due to wide-open receivers not being targeted.
Aside from all the negatives, there are a ton of positives here too. When Cook makes the right decision of when to go, he’s a dominant football player. When he comes down into the box, Cook also does well to read the blocking scheme that is being set up and make a play on the ball carrier. Very rarely does Cook get fooled from an instincts standpoint when coming down low. The issues are simply when he’s in single, or two, high sets.
Range/Closing Speed (11.5/15)
Range is not Cook’s strong suit, though it’s still more than serviceable for the NFL. Cook got a ton of reps in single-high at Cincinnati, so the range was always on display. However, he does not project to be a single-high safety by any means, like with Cook’s instincts, where he projects best to play down low and use his closing speed against the run. This is where he looks more explosive and dynamic versus in single-high coverage, where he’s slow to get to the deep ball.
Man Coverage (7.5/10)
Between zone and man, Cook saw significantly fewer snaps in man coverage, so the small sample size is difficult to judge. Nevertheless, Cook did well in man coverage and demonstrated he could be a tight end killer at the next level. The size already makes him a nice candidate for this, but Cook showed he’s got the strength and twitch to stay with those tight ends. We even saw a few reps against true receivers. Here, Cook was able to keep up, though he struggled to stick with these guys.
Zone Coverage (7.75/10)
When we look at zone coverage, we have to keep in mind the processing discussed in the instincts section of this report. Cook is a diverse zone defender, one who can play all over with his zone ability. Unlike a lot of safeties in this draft, Cook hasn’t just played in deep zones. He’s dropped into flats when playing in the box and has mixed in some hooks and curls as well. Cook needs to get more decisive to attack the man in his zone here; however, the tools are really promising.
Ball Skills (8.25/10)
Perhaps the most underrated part of Cook’s game is his ball skills. In 2021, he wracked up two interceptions and nine passes defended. One of those interceptions came against Alabama after the ball was tipped, showing he stays concentrated on making the play. The numbers in 2021 are a significant increase from the years prior. Although, in Cook’s freshman season at Howard, he had four interceptions but only totaled one over the next three seasons. The improvement in the ball skills area is remarkable and should continue in the NFL.
Change of Direction (7.75/10)
Like his range, Cook’s change of direction is solid but nothing to write home about. When switching gears to defend deep in a single or two-high set, Cook looks a little slow at times. When in the box, he does well to smoothly transition sideline-to-sideline and go after the ball. It doesn’t help that Cook hasn’t gone through any pre-draft testing, but from what we can see, the ability to be a fluid mover is there.
Tackling/Run Support (9/10)
Way back when we discussed instincts, we mentioned how the narratives behind Cook’s game were processing and tackling. Well, from a tackling standpoint, that’s not the most accurate thing to say. Cook has shown awesome flashes in the tackling standpoint, but the weaknesses were there, especially against Alabama. He started this game with a beautiful open-field tackle against the evasive Slade Bolden. Then, he got outmuscled by Brian Robinson Jr. a handful of times. There were whiffs in that game as well. The final note on tackling, Cook needs to gain strength when players are coming at him downhill. However, when Cook is coming downhill, he can lay the boom on someone and change the game in an alpha way.
Cook is always getting his nose involved, and that translates to the run game. Here, he is a difference-maker on the field. Cook will read the developing lineman mid-play and attack the running back after filtering out the play. This is the strongest part of Cook’s game, and NFL teams would be smart to get him involved against the run early on.
We’ve hinted at this a good amount already, but Cook is a very versatile safety. Cincinnati threw him into whatever position they wanted (with some limitations), and he had solid success at all of them. In the NFL, Cook cannot play single-high safety. He does not have the range nor the decisiveness to do the job. Where a team should use Cook is primarily in the box, covering tight ends, and in traditional two-high sets.
Cook did not participate in any pre-draft testing, which is very suspect as it doesn’t seem there’s a lingering injury. Based on what’s on film, Cook is a decent but not great athlete. He has adequate sideline-to-sideline speed and serviceable change of direction. It doesn’t seem like Cook has the leaping ability to blow you away, though he should be able to contest deep balls with ease at the next level.
Remember the later-round safety we mentioned in the intro? Well, we’ve found it with Cook. If used right, we are looking at a player who can become a longtime starter in the NFL. He is superb against the run, a great processor, and a sound tackler (for the most part). These three traits alone are why Cook will get drafted higher than other safeties. In regards to draft stock, Cook will most likely be either a late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick. However, if Cook even snuck into the second round, there would be no complaints on this end.
Rookie Projection: Rotational Strong Safety
Third-Year Projection: Starting Strong Safety
Player Grade (75.75/100): Fourth-Round Pick
Pro Comparison: Marcus Maye
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