Analysts and fans alike scratched their heads when the Redskins took Kirk Cousins in the 2012 draft. Spending a fourth round draft pick on another quarterback having just given a king’s ransom to trade up for Robert Griffin III seemed ill-advised. Cousins was a highly regarded player coming out of Michigan State that fell to the fourth round. Before he even took a snap in the NFL, some began to assume he was future trade bait. The calls grew louder after a stellar preseason, and grew deafening after he was solid in relief of an injured RGIII in 2012.
With the Redskins in dire need to recoup lost draft picks in the wake of the Griffin trade, it seemed to be a given Kirk Cousins would be on another team in 2014. That being said, the idea the Redskins could get a first or second round pick in return for Cousins was ludicrous. NFL teams clearly did not value Cousins that high when he came out, and a handful of throws were not going to make them change their evaluations. Perhaps a desperate team would come calling, but Kirk Cousins’ trade value always felt inflated by fans and local media.
The Redskins needed to put more tape of their backup quarterback out for other teams to see. When Mike Shanahan decided to rest Robert Griffin for the final three games of the regular season, that opportunity arrived. The problem is those three game exposed Kirk Cousins for what he truly is; an average quarterback at best. Several bad attributes that Cousins consistently displayed during his audition helped to wreck his trade value.
Does not understand his physical limitations:
Kirk Cousins is not a physical phenom. He does not posses an overwhelming skill set, such as a big arm, great mobility, or imposing size. Going back to his days at Michigan State, Kirk Cousins has never understood that. Similar to a player like Ryan Fitzpatrick, he has a gunslinger’s mentality trapped in a game manger’s body. His first interception in week fifteen against the Falcons displays this disconnect:
In the third quarter of this game, Cousins is asked to throw out of his own end zone. After he goes through his drop, Cousins initially examines the left side of the field. The Falcons have that side of the field locked down, and Cousins wisely moves on from his first read. He has Aldrick Robison crossing open into the middle of the field. Cousins quickly snaps his body over and attempts to make that throw:
Here is where the problem arises, as Kirk Cousins tries to drill the ball late over the middle to Aldrick Robinson. Quarterbacks with great arms can get away with it, but this is generally a no-no for the majority of signal callers. Without taking the time to carefully set his feet and throw, the ball comes off slow and behind Robinson. William Moore of the Falcons is able to easily stop, track the ball, and make the interception.
It is extremely difficult to snap around and complete a pass to your second read. A physically gifted quarterback with a strong arm may have been able to make this play. Kirk Cousins just does not have the skills to make it happen, but the bigger issue is he does not seem to understand that.
Poor pocket movement:
The biggest fault in Kirk Cousins’ game right now is poor movement in the pocket. Cousins is obviously not the running threat his team’s starting quarterback is, but some assumed he would be more advanced as a pocket passer. RGIII still has a long way to go in this regard, but Cousins is not much better.
Pressure in his face too frequently knocks Cousins off his spot. The best quarterbacks are blind to pressure, and it does not set their play back. Cousins recognition and response to the rush tends to find him taking sacks he should not:
By the final week of the season, the Giants had clearly caught on to some of Cousins’ bad habits. The Giants dial up a blitz from strong side linebacker Keith Rivers (highlighted defender). With the two tight ends to his side going out for pass routes, Rivers is able to come clean off the line. The only thing stopping him from leveling Cousins is Alfred Morris’ blitz pickup:
Morris actually does a good job in redirecting the linebacker, keeping him away from the quarterback. Regardless, Kirk Cousins still feels the pressure near him and reacts poorly. Cousins has a tendency to drop his eyes with bodies around him, as he does here. Once this happens, Cousins tries to take off up the middle, but is met by a defensive tackle for a sack. The negative play could have been easily avoided. Too often when Cousins hears the footsteps of pass rushers, he panics instead of standing tall in the pocket.
Even when Cousins keeps his eyes down field under pressure, he still struggles. He has not shown a propensity for making the correct moves in the pocket to avoid incoming pass rushers, and still be able to throw the ball:
On this play, the Redskins have a great opportunity in front of them. Pierre Garcon is running a deep post route, and is easily able to dispense of the Cowboys outside corners in off man coverage. The middle of the field is going to be wide open here with the free safety coming up to cover a slot receiver, and the strong safety backing off in deep coverage. The Redskins should be able to slice the defense open in the middle of the field for a first down and much more. However, it is what happens behind the line of scrimmage that dooms this play:
The majority of the Redskins offensive line does a nice job in holding their blocks. Only the right guard whiffs on his man and Jason Hatcher is able to burst into the backfield. Once again the pressure is right in Cousins’ face. He stays in the pocket this time, but makes a questionable choice as to the manner in which he elects to avoid Hatcher. The green space in the left image illustrates the nice pocket into which Cousins should have stepped up. Instead, Cousins bounces several steps backwards and is still forced to throw with terrible footing. The result, in the right image, is a pass that sails high and outside the grasps of Pierre Garcon.
A quarterback has to be able to manipulate and navigate a muddled pocket. Offensive line play has really deteriorated in the NFL over the past few seasons, and every quarterback has suffered through it. The best ones have adjusted. Kirk Cousins has yet to show he has the ability to stand tall under pressure, or climb the pocket to throw passes downfield.
Accuracy and ball placement:
Accuracy was billed as a strength for Kirk Cousins. He has not shown that to this point in his NFL career. There are times when Cousins can deliver a nice ball, but too often he can be found putting passes in undesirable locations. His accuracy issues also mostly stem from poor lower bodywork in the pocket:
The provided play is one the Redskins love to run. Pierre Garcon runs a slant route, while the other receivers clear out the middle. If the quarterback delivers a pass with perfect ball placement the receiver is able to streak down the field and pick up plenty of yards after the catch; something the 2012 version of Robert Griffin excelled at. Garcon gets perfect leverage on his cover man and is available for a potential first down reception. Cousins makes the correct read, but for some reason displays more curious behavior in the pocket. He is not under pressure or anything, but still he fades backwards as he makes the throw. By throwing from such an awkward platform, Cousins’ pass does not achieve optimal positioning:
The pass should be delivered squarely to the red arrow, but as the image shows, the pass comes in around Garcon’s right kneecap. Plays like this show why competition percentage is not a good indicator of accuracy. Garcon makes the difficult catch and it goes down as a completion for Cousins. However, there was more to be had on this play. Had Cousins thrown the ball at, or even near, the red X the green space shows all the room Garcon has to run. A potential chunk passing play instead sees the receiver tackled short of the first down.
If a quarterback is severely lacking in physical gifts, he must be near flawless in every other area. Matt Hassleback was that player, while Andy Dalton presents the other side of the coin. He cannot struggle with decision-making, accuracy, or pocket movement; those deficiencies will not be covered up by the passer’s weak arm. That is the gospel on quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins has shown he is far from flawless in those areas, and is still a very limited physical specimen.
If NFL teams valued Cousins as a fourth-round prospect at quarterback two years ago, he has done nothing to this point to change their mind. The notion that some team will be willing to part with a first or second round pick for this player is laughable. A third round choice even feels too rich. Teams can spend their first, second, or third rounder on a quarterback prospect with the same warts as Cousins, but with considerably higher upside.
If the Redskins would like to obtain some more desperately needed draft picks, they will need to find another answer. The league now knows exactly who the Redskins backup quarterback is, a nice second option, but no more. No NFL team should be interested in trading for Kirk Cousins.