ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. discusses prospects for Shilique Calhoun, Connor Cook
The opportunity to play professional football next year and even having the possibility of being drafted in the early rounds wasn't tempting enough for Shilique Calhoun and Connor Cook to walk away from what they started at MSU as freshmen.
Coming off of a miraculous comeback victory in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day over the Big 12 co-conference champions Baylor, both Calhoun and Cook made the decision in not opting out for the NFL draft earlier in the year in order to finish out their final season of eligibility with the Spartans.
For Calhoun, surpassing millions of dollars to run out of the tunnel at Spartan Stadium next season comes as a bit of a shocker for ESPN draft analyst, Mel Kiper Jr, who believed that the junior could have heard his name called on the first day.
"Little surprised he opted to go back," Kiper said in a conference call on Wednesday afternoon. "Thought he would have been in the first-round mix."
In 39 career games, including 26 consecutive starts at defensive end, Calhoun has finished with 80 tackles career tackles in three season. He's also garnered 15 sacks and 27.5 tackles for a loss.
According to Kiper, Calhoun can use the extra year in college to improve his pass-rushing technique and staying consistent. If he can enhance his skills, Calhoun could go from "being a late-one, early-two, to being a top-15 pick by going back."
As for Cook, he'll have a little bit of competition for the top-tier quarterback in the FBS next season. That includes a couple pocket passers from the same conference, as well as the person who carried the Ohio State Buckeyes to their first national championship victory in 12 years.
"There's a lot of sophomore quarterbacks that are gonna become junior quarterbacks," Kiper said. "Christian Hackenberg one of them, at Penn State, and several others. [Trevone] Boykin from TCU is a real good player. Cardale Jones back at Ohio State, we'll see how he does next year, if he wins that starting job. So there's gonna be competition."
Kiper described the redshirt junior as someone who can make any throw that he wishes, due to his physique and arm strength. However, there are flaws to Cook's game that need to be addressed, including his accuracy in-and-out of the pocket.
"There were some throws that needed to be delivered accurately, at times, that weren't," Kiper said. "He's the kind of guy, with his size and his arm, he can make all the throws. He can beat you from the pocket very effectively."
Earning second-team All-Big Ten honors for the second year in a row, Cook finished this past season first in the conference in passing (241.7) and first in the FBS in passing yards per completion (15.4). He also had a 58.1 completion rate (212-365) for 3,214-yards and 24 touchdowns for a QB rating of 77.2.
"He has a chance to be the first or second quarterback off the board next year," Kiper said.