Detractors in the league spout his middling record of 59-59-1 ad nauseam, while Cousins defenders with an array of advanced stats are quick to downplay the relevance of a stat like “quarterback wins” in a team sport like football.
The same debate has been sparked once again after NFL analytics giant Pro Football Focus (PFF) made a strong defense of the Vikings quarterback.
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‘Cousins Doesn’t Get the Respect His Play Deserves’
In an article outlining the most underrated players on every team to kick off the 2022 season, PFF lead NFL analyst Sam Monson penned Cousins as Minnesota’s most underrated player.
Here’s his case:
By virtually any measure, Cousins has vastly outperformed any reasonable expectations the Vikings could have had for him when they signed him from Washington. He has been a consistent top-10 quarterback over that time and seems to be slowly improving with each passing season. This has tracked, unfortunately for him, with the Vikings falling away from contention as a real threat to win a Super Bowl, and so Cousins doesn’t get the respect his play deserves. He may never be one of the game’s truly elite passers, but he’s right at the top of the next tier, and most of the arguments thrown at him don’t hold up tremendously well to deep scrutiny. Over the past three seasons, including the playoffs, Cousins carries a 90.5 PFF passing grade — tied for fifth in the league.
Monson named three other quarterbacks that Cousins is often considered to be in the same tier with — Baker Mayfield, Daniel Jones and Ryan Tannehill.
While Cousins statistically has outperformed his fellow underrated quarterbacks, he has yet to vault himself into the elite tier of signal-callers.
PFF’s list has sparked many Twitter debates over Cousins, but this exchange essentially sums up the argument.
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Another fan resolved the manner without any hyperbole. His message: win.
What’s Holding Cousins Back
Breaking into that upper echelon of quarterbacks requires a level of playmaking ability and improvisation that Cousins hasn’t shown consistently throughout his career.
In PFF’s QB Quarterback Annual, a yearly breakdown of quarterback performance in the league, found that Cousins was the fifth most effective thrower when hitting his first read and playing within a structure.
Cousins posted an impressive 0.26 expected points average (EPA) per play on his first-read throws — well above the league average of 0.07. But outside of the ideal scenario coordinators draw up, Cousins was below average with negative EPAs on second reads, checkdowns and scramble plays. There aren’t many areas Cousins has performed well other than delivering the ball accurately and on time to his first read.
A quarterback that also had a poor reputation in the league a year ago was Matthew Stafford. Stafford had just two winning seasons in his first 10 years in the league before joining the Los Angeles Rams last offseason. Stafford, like Cousins, is primarily a pocket passer. He posted negative EPA plays whenever he was scrambling.
But the biggest difference between Cousins and Stafford was the Rams quarterback’s ability to create positive plays on second reads. He posted a 0.46 EPA per play on second reads compared to a Cousins’ -0.07 EPA on second reads. The Cousins-Stafford comparison separates here.
Which QBs were most efficient when their first read was taken away and/or they didn’t have a receiver schemed open?
Top right = expert processors pic.twitter.com/CUy7DhKb7e
— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) February 22, 2022
The only area Cousins can improve at this stage in his career is on the second read. More weapons on offense can help make those decisions easier for Cousins with K.J. Osborn established as a reliable third receiver and Irv Smith Jr. back from season-ending meniscus surgery.
But it will ultimately come down to how head coach Kevin O’Connell orchestrates the offense and if he can create a level of comfort in pass protection for Cousins to rise to the occasion when his first read breaks down.