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Hidden Gems: Anthony Cook may make the conversation at safety more interesting

The undrafted safety was once a highly-touted prospect out of Texas high school football.

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NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Texas at Washington Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A wide, deep mixed bag of young players is approaching the fringe of the Kansas City Chiefs roster. The defensive backfield is one of the best representations of that at one position. The cornerback and safety positions are rounded out by young players who have yet to truly prove themselves.

That opens the door for newcomers to come in and compete with the players in the bubble. In this draft process, the Chiefs drafted safety Chamarri Conner and cornerback Nic Jones — then signed a handful of defensive backs in undrafted free agency.

Among those signed, safety Anthony Cook may have the strongest résumé behind him. As a high-school recruit, Cook was offered by schools like Alabama, Ohio State and LSU — but chose to stay in his home state and attend the University of Texas. He played there for five seasons, earning honorable mention All-Big 12 in his last two campaigns.

Now, he’ll be looking to harness the talent that made him one of the most sought-after football players in the country at one point and turn it into a roster spot with the Chiefs.

Here’s what to know about Cook:

Position flexibility

At Texas, Cook was not pigeonholed into a particular role for his entire career. In his first two seasons, he played outside cornerback almost exclusively. By his redshirt sophomore year, he was primarily a slot defender, aligning for 74% of his snaps.

He stayed at that spot for a few seasons, then was asked to play free safety for the first time in his career in 2022; 34% of his snaps came from that position.

Wherever he was aligning at Texas, Cook was active in attacking the line of scrimmage. He shows a quick trigger once he reads the play and takes good angles to cut off ball carriers, even if he isn’t the one making the tackle himself.

This skill may be best utilized playing from a safety position. It gives him an open runway to gather momentum and get to where he wants to go, not having to fight through immediate traffic as much as he would be playing from the slot.

Tackling aggression

Reading and reacting to a play is only the first step in making the stop. The play has to be completed with a well-executed tackle or a game-changing forced fumble.

Late in the fourth quarter of this game against Iowa State, Cook flies toward the ball carrier and delivers a hit that jars the ball loose. The Longhorns pick it up, making Cook’s forced fumble a game-deciding play. That’s the kind of play that a downhill safety has to make every once in a while when the opportunity is given.

That said, Cook’s tackling aggressiveness can be up and down. There are times that he allows a blocker to disrupt his path too much, allowing himself to get caught up and not make the tackle. He could sell out to blow up a block more often, and he’ll have to at the NFL level to continue playing safety.

Coverage ability

Originally a cornerback, Cook came to Texas to be an impact player in coverage. As his career went forward, the team found other ways to utilize his talents — but he still has that cornerback background to draw from.

It showed in the team’s bowl game last year, a 27-20 loss to the Washington Huskies in the Alamo Bowl. Cook got his hands on three passes to break them up, setting a career-high for himself personally.

In these plays, Cook does an excellent job of not allowing much space for the receiver and quarterback to work with. His alignment allows him to start from depth, then come downhill hard on route breaks in front of him. It’s why he was moved to safety: he plays much better coming forward than he does try to backpedal and keep up moving down the field.

He has flashes of quickly pulling the trigger and flying at throws in front of him, but it’s different than doing it at cornerback. There is a lot more of the field to account for, and he may still be getting used to that after only his first year at free safety.

In the game against Alabama, there are a few completions made in front of him that he could be more aggressive in trying to break up.

The bottom line

There has been an influx of young talent in the Chiefs’ defensive backfield over the last few years, and that didn’t stop this offseason. The bubbles of the roster at those spots will be very competitive this summer.

Cook has a shot at earning the fourth or fifth spot in the safety room, depending on how many the Chiefs keep. His history of versatility may help him get there, but he’ll also need to prove to be a more aggressive tackler and overall player if he wants to earn a role on special teams.

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