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Kirk Cousins - Still Underrated?


In 2018, Kirk Cousins finished as the fantasy QB13, which is just at the edge of the QB1 tier. So why did Fantasy Football Twitter collectively decide that Cousins was a complete bust last season?

Well, Cousins had gotten a lot of hype behind him when he went to Minnesota. He'd finished as a top-10 fantasy quarterback three years in a row in Washington, on a team that was decidedly worse than the one he was joining, so the Cousins hype skyrocketed. He went from being a very under-the-radar fantasy option to an overrated one really swiftly. He finished his first year in Minnesota just 16th among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game.

It was a down year for Cousins. That down year is part of why he's only being drafted as the QB19 per Fantasy Pros. But, like...QB19 for a guy who's been QB13 or better for four years in a row and has Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to throw to? That doesn't seem right. Kirk Cousins, who was once underrated and then became overrated, is now underrated again.

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What Went Wrong Last Year?

Last year, we all thought he was heading for a break out season and finally started to draft him like a top-10 quarterback and then...that didn't happen. Him making huge money didn't help him avoid the "overrated" tag either.

Cousins threw for under 300 yards in seven of Minnesota's final eight games, including a pair of games with under 200 yards. For a quarterback who very rarely makes things happen with his legs, you need Cousins to be consistently throwing 300 or so yards if you want to get the kind of production from him that you expect. But with the season on the line, Cousins just repeatedly couldn't get it done. He had just four games all season with three or more touchdowns and the Vikings faltered in their quest to make the playoffs.

But if you dig into things some, you'll find that Cousins was more-or-less the same quarterback he was in Washington.

First off, Cousins actually had the highest completion percentage of his career last year at 70.1 percent. That was higher than when he led the NFL in completion percentage in 2015 and ranked only below Drew Brees this past season. Accuracy wasn't Cousins' issue; he had the NFL's sixth-best accuracy rating and was second in true completion percentage.

He threw for 30 touchdowns, the most he has ever thrown for, and he finished ninth in the NFL in touchdown passes. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen combined for 18 of those touchdown receptions. Aldrick Robinson had five.

That's actually where the issues come in for me: the supporting cast. Cousins didn't take a huge step forward last year because the Vikings supporting cast, despite the presence of Diggs and Thielen, didn't set him up to take that step forward. He had just the 30th best receiver separation of any quarterback, a sign that his targets weren't getting open to make things happen. PlayerProfiler has him just 16th in supporting cast efficiency and 33rd in protection rate.

Yes, Cousins had two very good receivers, but beyond that, he had: a clearly not 100 percent healthy Kyle Rudolph, 11 games of Dalvin Cook, and then Laquon Treadwell, Latavius Murray, and Robinson. Those are the guys who saw more than 10 targets. That's not a very good list, and it helps explain why Cousins didn't make a leap: he had limited options to throw to, and he doesn't have the legs to extend plays and make things happen on the ground if those top options aren't open.

 

Will Cousins Improve In 2019?

So, what's in store for Cousins this year?

Let's turn to the supporting cast:

Diggs and Thielen are still here. So is Kyle Rudolph. But the rest of the things in Minnesota look like they've improved some. There's a new rookie tight end in Irv Smith Jr., who was drafted in the second round out of Alabama. Smith's got good speed and can give a vertical threat for Cousins, who was just 15th in deep-ball completion percentage. Rookie tight ends don't usually make a huge impact early, but he should get a good amount of snaps and provide Cousins with a better second tight end to target than he had last year when Tyler Conklin had just five catches.

Chad Beebe has overtaken Treadwell in the third receiver battle, and Beebe is the most excited I've been about a Vikings receiver outside of the team's top-two since...I don't even know. I guess I liked Jarius Wright a little in 2015?

Beebe's career highlight is this preseason play from last year:

If we believe what we're hearing out of Vikings camp, Beebe looks to be in the lead for a significant role in Minnesota. The team's first preseason game confirmed that, as Beebe played early with the starters and then sat. You don't sit a guy who's still battling for a spot. He'll be more impactful than Treadwell has been in that role.

The offensive line is also better. At the end of last season, Pro Football Focus ranked Minnesota's line 29th in the NFL. Entering this year, they're up to 25th. It's a small improvement, but even a small improvement will make life easier for Cousins. The Vikings have a new center in rookie Garrett Bradbury, and as long as he can handle that position, they're able to move Pat Elflein to a spot where he performs better. Better protection will be good for Cousins.

Cousins himself was basically the same quarterback in 2018 that he was in 2017, and I don't see that changing much in 2019. He's an accurate short-range passer who does well in play action, and a cleaner pocket should allow him to throw it deep more accurately.

 

What's Cousins' Fantasy Value?

One basic question to ask is this: Will Kirk Cousins outperform his QB19 ranking? Considering he's always outperformed that number, the easy answer is "yeah, he's going to be better than QB10."

The harder question, though, is figuring out exactly how to value him and where exactly to target Cousins. Our staff rankings have Cousins at QB15, ahead of Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Lamar Jackson, and Tom Brady, who are all being taken ahead of him. Taking Cousins as the 15th quarterback off the board feels like a really smart move to me, because you'll be getting him far enough before his ADP on every fantasy platform to basically guarantee you get him wherever you want him, and I agree with our rankers who have him over those guys.

Rivers, Roethlisberger, and Brady all have age-related concerns at this point, which lowers their upside. Rivers is still surrounded by some good weapons, but the Melvin Gordon saga is dragging on and it's difficult to know how a thing like that will affect him. Rivers and Cousins are close to me.

Cousins and Roethlisberger? Meh. Roethlisberger has lost a big part of his late-career success with Antonio Brown now in Oakland, and I don't know if the oft-injured Roethlisberger has enough left to take an offense that's going to be depending on Donte Moncrief and James Washington and keep it at the level he's had it at in the past.

Brady is being drafted like he's still Tom Brady. He's not. I wouldn't pick him until 20 or so QBs were off the board.

Guys like Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen are the other names who stick out as guys who are being drafted over or near Cousins. Both have a lot of upside because of their rushing ability, but neither is near the passer that Cousins is yet. There's so much variance with the two of them, and if I'm looking for consistent production, I'm taking Cousins.

QB15 would still be worse than Cousins has finished in a full season, so drafting him there should mean there's a really good chance your QB2 -- assuming you drafted one of the first 14 quarterbacks off the board and aren't relying on Cousins to be your starter, which...hey, he's my top quarterback in one dynasty league! -- is someone with QB1 upside and an extremely high floor. That's exactly what I want in my fantasy backup, and it allows me to be a little riskier with my first quarterback choice, grabbing a rookie like Kyler Murray or an injury-prone but talented guy like Carson Wentz. Backing them up with a solid, reliable passer is a smart move, so don't be afraid to take Cousins. He's not overrated anymore.

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