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Bucs should jump at chance to draft FSU RB Dalvin Cook

Two of the first things that stood out about Dalvin Cook were his shoes — shiny and gold.

They carried him to 223 yards and four touchdowns in Miami Central High's 52-7 win over Armwood in the 2013 state title game. They flashed as he capped an 80-yard score by somersaulting into the end zone.

After that day in Orlando, I watched him in garnet and gold as he attacked former Bucs great Warrick Dunn's records at Florida State. I saw Cook at his best (169 yards, four touchdowns against eventual national champion Clemson) and his worst (two lost fumbles in the Rose Bowl). I put him on my Heisman Trophy ballot — twice.

I'm not an NFL scout or a draft guru. But after covering Cook for three-plus years, I know enough to know this: If Cook is available Thursday at the No. 19 overall pick, the Bucs would be foolish not to draft him.

It's not just his numbers: 48 touchdowns and an FSU-record 4,464 rushing yards, most by an ACC player in three seasons.

It's how Cook amassed those statistics. He rushed for 38 touchdowns and more than 3,400 yards over the past two seasons despite playing behind a mediocre offensive line.

Cook turned routine plays into big gains, as the best backs do in the NFL. Over the past two seasons, his 35 rushes of at least 20 yards ranked second in the country (and two ahead of Stanford's Christian McCaffrey).

When the Seminoles needed him to become a better receiving threat, Cook obliged; his 488 yards last season ranked second on the team.

The pedestrian numbers he put up at the NFL scouting combine don't reflect his career spent in a conference with some of the nation's top run defenses.

Worried about his speed? His average touchdown covered 26 yards. Fifteen covered at least 35, including a 75-yarder at Clemson and a 59-yard catch at Miami. Slow backs can't do that.

There's a reason Florida coach Jim McElwain called him the most explosive player in the country. And that was before Cook racked up 153 yards and a touchdown on his Gators in November.

"He's a special, special player who is going to play a long time at the next level," said McElwain, a former NFL assistant coach.

It's easy to spotlight Cook's performances in some of FSU's biggest tests. In 2015 he faced two defenses (Clemson and Florida) with 10 starters who could be on NFL rosters this year. He shredded the Gators for 183 yards and two touchdowns, and he torched the Tigers for 194 yards and a score. In the Orange Bowl, he put up 207 yards and a touchdown on a Michigan defense that started at least five draft picks.

Those showings overshadow Cook's most impressive trait: consistency. Consider the sleepy home game in November 2015 against North Carolina State. It would have been easy for a banged-up Cook to relax against a ho-hum opponent a week after his team's ACC title hopes ended.

Instead, Cook saved the Seminoles. One play that began with a nearly botched handoff ended with him bouncing off four tacklers on a 30-yard touchdown that sparked a run of 27 unanswered points (and a 34-17 win). Cook was a threat to do that on any play, in any game.

No, Cook is not perfect. There are rumblings about his character — he was found not guilty in 2015 of misdemeanor battery after being accused of punching a woman — even if folks around FSU say those concerns are overblown. It's fair to question his durability after hamstring and shoulder injuries hampered his college career. Ball security at times was an issue.

But after covering 16 of his games over three-plus seasons, I can't see him failing in the NFL.

Going back to high school, everything Cook has done has been golden.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

Bucs should jump at chance to draft FSU RB Dalvin Cook 04/22/17 [Last modified: Sunday, April 23, 2017 12:20am]
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