Kirk Cousins, a future NFL MVP candidate?
It seems absurd given Cousins’ far from sterling reputation in the league. NFL executives anonymously voted Cousins the 15th best quarterback in the league, largely viewing him as the top of the third tier of starting QBs. One NFL executive even went on the record last year, saying, “You don’t ever go into a game going, ‘Boy, I don’t know what we are going to do about this f****** Cousins.’ ”
However, NFL analysts have watched Cousins quietly play himself into an elite company over the past three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
Seth Galina of Pro Football Focus (PFF) dove deep into how Cousins has produced top-10 numbers despite playing behind the worst offensive interior over the past three seasons. With the moves the Vikings made this offseason in fortifying the offensive front, Galina believes it’s only a matter of time before Cousins hoists the league’s most valuable player trophy.
“Everything is set up for Cousins to have a brilliant 2021 season and for the ‘Congratulations to Kirk Cousins for winning the NFL’s MVP award’ prophecy to be fulfilled,” Galina wrote.
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Cousins Plagued by Team Success
Cousins ranks seventh among quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus (PFF) overall grade of 88.7 over the past three years. He’s done so despite playing behind the worst interior offensive line by PFF metrics in that span.
Of the 96 team seasons since 2018, the Vikings’ interior offensive line ranked 80th (2018), 90th (2019) and 96th (2020), per PFF. Last year’s offensive line ranked 30th in pass protection as a whole, and the interior unit was off-the-charts bad.
Yet, Cousins has still helped the offense finish in the top 10 in efficiency — fourth in 2019 and 10th in 2020 — each of the past two seasons. The only metric he lacks is the most important in MVP conversations: wins.
|Quarterback||PFF Grade (2018-2020)||Record|
Throughout Cousins’ career, losses have often fallen on his shoulders while wins are credited to the team. Cousins proved team success goes far beyond the quarterback last season after he forth one of the best stretches of his career — throwing 24 touchdowns and just three interceptions in the final 10 games of the season — yet Minnesota went 7-9 with its defensive struggles.
Galina is optimistic that rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw (No. 23 overall, Virginia Tech) and rookie guard Wyatt Davis (No. 86 overall, Ohio State) could be the pieces needed to finally produce a serviceable offensive line that could allow Cousins and Minnesota’s offense to reach new heights in 2021.
Cousins Can’t Take as Many Sacks in 2021
Cousins was plagued by interceptions in the six games of the 2020 season when he led the league with 11 picks. The second half of his season was characterized by holding the ball too long, given the wet paper bag protection in front of him.
He was sacked at least three times in four of the final five games of the season. Cousins was holding the ball too long and doesn’t have the legs to escape pressure. Those sacks were absolute drive killers for the Vikings offense.
But now, Galina is optimistic Cousins will be afforded that time to settle in the pocket and make better throws. Cousins shouldn’t need much more time in the pocket, just a clearer view of his weapons which could come with the additions of Darrisaw and Davis.
In 2017, Minnesota made it to the NFC Championship with an average offensive line that ranked 17th in pass protection by PFF and not nearly the same offensive firepower. That team was bolstered by the best defense in the NFL.
It would take a seismic shift from last year for the Vikings defense to return to its glory as the league’s best unit in 2021.
However, Minnesota’s success hinges on the defense’s improvement and for Cousins to lead the offense toward another prolific season, this time with a reinforced offensive line.