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Heading into the 2016 fantasy season, there was a general reluctance within the fantasy community to treat Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins as a fixture inside the top 10 ranks among signal callers. Through his first six games in 2015, he had thrown just six TD passes to go with eight interceptions, including four multi-turnover games. Entering a Week 7 contest in which the Redskins were playing host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington head coach Jay Gruden had declared his 2-4 team’s situation a “code red.” When Washington quickly slipped to a 24-0 second-quarter deficit against Jameis Winston and the Bucs, the season outlook looked bleak to say the least, and Cousins certainly didn’t look like the franchise’s answer at the QB position.

The turn of events that followed was something even Cousins himself probably couldn’t have seen coming. Completing 33 of his 40 pass attempts on the afternoon for 317 yards and three TDs, and adding a rushing score to boot, Kirk ‘captained’ the Redskins to a 31-30 win, a scoring throw to Jordan Reed with 24 seconds remaining serving as the icing on the cake.

In hindsight, it’s probably fair to say that this heroic performance wasn’t just the turning point of the Redskins’ season (they went on to win the division in 2015), but it also vaulted Kirk Cousins into the class of “legit” QBs, in both the “real” and the “fantasy” sense. Echoes of “YOU LIKE THAT!!!” have been ringing throughout the NFL landscape since that fateful game.

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Kirk Cousins - The Fantasy QB1 Who Gets No Respect

If you were lucky enough to own Kirk Cousins in 2015, you know exactly what happened from that point on. His stats over his final ten games were absolutely eye-popping: 228/315 (72.38%), 2,746 yards, 23 passing TDs, four rushing TDs, and just three interceptions. Cementing his legendary status among fantasy enthusiasts was the fact that he scored 12 of those TDs during fantasy playoff weeks 14-16. If you made the fantasy playoffs with Kirk Cousins as your QB, you probably won your league in 2015. Still, we had seen similarly outstanding stretches from other partial-season wonders in recent memory and there was reluctance to buy in. Nick Foles had equally astounding numbers in a similar sample size with the Eagles with a 25/2 TD/INT ratio in 2014, only to fall flat on his face in 2015, and he represented an easy cautionary comp for anyone who was inclined to doubt Cousins’ staying power.

Those who did chase Cousins’ late 2015 success were rewarded handsomely however, as he finished fifth among all players at the quarterback position in 2016, completing 406 of his 606 pass attempts (67.0%), for 4,917 yards, 25 TDs, adding another four scores on the ground, and still posting a respectable interception total of just 12. If one were inclined to cherry-pick just the 26 contests since the one that inspired the famous “You Like That!” outburst, his overall stats equate to a 16 game prorated season of 390/567 (68.6%), 4,716 yards, 29.5 TDs passing, and five rushing scores, with just nine interceptions and four fumbles lost. This rate of production, over more than one and a half seasons, would have been good for sixth among QBs in 2015, and fifth among QBs in 2016. Cherry-picked or not, 26 consecutive games is probably enough of a sample, at this point, to consider the possibility that this the “real” Kirk Cousins.

As we approach the 2017 NFL Season, it’s still fair to wonder if Cousins’ ADP, currently sitting at 82nd overall, and 10th among QBs, is giving him quite as much credit as he deserves. If we take a more game-by-game approach to evaluating his last chunk of near-elite QB play, the consistency is arguably even more impressive than the overall statistics.

Consider the following chart, showing how Kirk Cousins compares to Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers in some consistency measurables over each QBs last 26 games played:

 

Games with:

Multi-TDs Single-TD Zero-TDs

Multi-turnovers

Cousins 18 6 2 5
Brady  20 3 3 2
Brees  19 4 3 7
Rodgers  19 5 2 6

 

Looking at the above, Cousins’ consistency metrics are essentially equal to Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, and he has one fewer scoreless contest than Tom Brady. Though this exercise is not meant to attempt to place Cousins on equal footing with the three future hall of famers listed above, it is worth mentioning that Cousins only just turned 29 years old, while the others listed are 40 (Brady), 38 (Brees), and 33 (Rodgers). It’s very possible that we have yet to see the best fantasy season of Cousins' still-young career.

The obligatory caveats to his continued fantasy dominance in 2017 are well recognized by the fantasy community at large. It’s almost unprecedented for a team to fail to retain multiple 1,000 yard receivers from the previous season. Whatever new additions of WR Terrelle Pryor and ‘redshirt’ sophomore first-round WR Josh Doctson bring to the table in terms of athletic talent, they’re comparably far less experienced than DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. There could be a learning curve as the new duo work to cultivate the same level of chemistry that the departed veterans had with Cousins. It also needs to be said that his favorite holdovers from a year ago, WR Jamison Crowder and TE Jordan Reed have both been nursing injuries throughout a significant portion of training camp, and that the underwhelming production of the first team offense through two preseason contests have left a chink or two in the armor of Cousins’ draft stock. On the flip side, it’s pretty easy to see this as a buying opportunity.

For as good as Kirk Cousins was in 2016, his team still finished 30th out of 32 teams in red zone TD percentage, so his scoring numbers could be due for some significant positive regression. Is Terrelle Pryor, at 6’4” the big target he needs to convert more of these red zone trips into pay dirt? Will Jordan Reed stay healthy for 14+ games? Will Josh Doctson prove to be the weapon the Redskins envisioned him becoming when they took him with the 16th overall pick in the 2016 draft? It isn’t impossible to see a scenario where this Redskins offense is even better than it was a year ago and that would mean an even better season for Kirk Cousins. For a QB who isn’t going off the board until outside of the top 80 picks, it’s a bet well worth making.

 

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