Some have called Kirk Cousins no more than a game manager. Some have said he's a "placeholder" for the next quarterback to be drafted by the Redskins. A few have claimed we would have won two more games if Robert Griffin was the quarterback this season, simply because Cousins can't make plays, and they believed Griffin could.
Most however would agree that of the current quarterbacks on the Redskins roster, Cousins gives the team the best chance to win each week.
I view Cousins a bit differently. To me, he's an Andy Dalton type quarterback, with a better arm, less athleticism, and a bit more of a gun-slinger mentality.
So, if you agree in any capacity with my assessment, the question then becomes, can we win with Cousins, and is he the long-term answer at quarterback for this franchise?
To better answer this question, I have decided to take a look at other quarterbacks in the NFL(not only Dalton), and see where his "Pontential" may reside.
First, let me do some comparisons to Andy Dalton.
Dalton played his college ball at TCU, and was in a pass-heavy, spread offense that liked to use an up-tempo style and a lot of no-huddle. Dalton didn't have the best arm strength, but he was able to make most of the throws required to be successful. He was seen as a good leader by his teammates, and this has transitioned to the NFL. At the pro level, Dalton has been fortunate to have consistency at head coach, offensive line and receivers. He gets rid of the ball quickly, and is one of the more difficult passers to sack(the exception being 2012 when he was playing with a patchwork line). Andy doesn't have the arm strength to push the ball 20 yards deep to the opposite hash with ease, but he makes up for this with accuracy and anticipation. His deep ball has a lot of air under it, but when you have a receiver like AJ Green, this is not as much of an issue. Dalton has had great success during the regular season, but he's struggled in the playoffs, becoming an turnover machine.
Cousins didn't put up the gaudy numbers that Dalton did in college. Kirk was a traditional pocket passer in a pro-style offense at Michigan State. His team was run first, and it was this running game that set up the pass. Much like Dalton, Cousins was seen as a great leader in college, and by most accounts, although this is his first year as the starter going into the season, he has carried that over to the NFL, commanding the respect of his teammates both on the field and in the locker room. Much like Andy, Kirk is an anticipatory thrower, who has a quick release and is tough to sack. Unlike Dalton, Cousins hasn't had the luxury of continuity among the coaching ranks, having played in his second offensive system going into his fourth season, nor has he had a weapon like AJ Green to throw the ball to. Unlike the past however, he now does have a promising young offensive line protecting him. Kirk possesses a much stronger arm than Dalton, and with the flick of his wrist, can put the ball 20 yards downfield on a rope. His pocket presence is solid, but he does not have Dalton's escapability. Both players are cerebral in their approach to the game, and from all reported accounts, enjoy film study. Kirk has had turnover problems, but unlike Dalton's, his result from trying to force balls in an attempt to make a play, and relying too much on arm strength. Both quarterbacks have folded multiple times under pressure; a trait that will need to be rectified.
Now, I'd like to take a look at some other starting quarterbacks in the NFL, and see who Kirk Cousins compares to, and see where he stacks up against the rest of the league. Mind you, having just one quarter of a season under his belt as the unquestioned starter entering the season, this assessment is based heavily on future projections and anticipated maturation as a passer.
Let not try to kid ourselves, Kirk Cousins is not going to be compared to the top quarterbacks in the league, so guys like Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Romo, Manning, Luck, Rivers, and a healthy Big Ben will not be on this list.
First, let's analyze Cousins. Since this is his first year going into the season as the unquestioned starter, I will extrapolate his stats to show an anticipated 16 game production.
Kirk Cousins - So far this season Cousins has been up and down. He has thrown for nearly 250 yards per game, amassing 1224 passing yards, accounting for 6 touchdowns(one rushing) and 5 interceptions. He has completed 68% of his passes, and has averaged 6.6 yards per completion. He's been sacked just 6 times. If we look to extend his production for an entire 16 games, he would have(on average) 3920 passing yards, with 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, and a completion percentage over 67%, with just 19 sacks. Now, the interceptions are alarming, and it's a trend we have been seeing from him when he's in games, but assuming he improves this area as the season progresses, and he becomes more comfortable in the offense, we could see the touchdowns rise, and interceptions fall. It would not be out of the question to see Kirk end the season with an 8-8 record, 4100 passing yards, 22 touchdowns vs 15 interceptions and a 67% completion percentage.
Matt Ryan - Ryan has had the luxury of starting at least 14 games in each of his first 7 seasons. However, he has averaged 13 interceptions per season, with a high of 17 in 2013. Ryan doesn't have quite as strong of an arm as Cousins, but he makes up for that with quick, accurate passes, showing a career average completion percentage of 64%. He's also benefitted from have Julio Jones and Roddy White to throw the ball to.
Alex Smith - Smith was a former top pick who just hasn't lived up to the billing. He is a good leader, but lacks arm strength, anticipation, and simply takes too many sacks. Early in his career, on a poor 49ers team, Smith has had seasons where his interception total has equaled, or eclipsed his touchdowns. The most yards he's passed for in a season was with Kansas City in 2013 when he threw for 3313.
Sam Bradford - Bradford was another top draft pick who was thrown into a starting role on a poor team early in his career. He was always know for his accuracy and quick release, but during his first three seasons, he threw 34 interceptions, and was sacked 105 times. For his career, he's averaged just over 6 yards per completion.
Matthew Stafford - Stafford may have the strongest arm in the league, and he's been burnt plenty in the past relying on that arm strength to make plays down the field. Yet another of the top drafted quarterbacks in recent years, Stafford has played on some bad teams, and has been through a few coaching changes. His first year as a starter, he threw 20 interceptions. He was a rookie you say......well ok, but should a 5th year player who was drafted so high be throwing 19 interceptions, because that's just what he did in 2013 - this to go along with a 58.5 completion percentage.
Joe Flacco - Flacco has one of the strongest arms in the league, but accuracy has been a bit of an issue. He has just a 60.6% career completion percentage and has been sacked an average of 34 times per season. He has never eclipsed 4000 passing yards in a season, and averages 21 touchdowns per year.
Ryan Tannehill - Tannehill enters his fourth season as a starter in the same offensive system, but that's about to change as Joe Philbin was fired last week. His first year under center he threw 13 interceptions to just 12 touchdowns. This season, after receiving a huge contract extension, Tannehill is completing just 56% of his passes for a paltry 6.3 yards per reception, with 7 touchdowns vs 5 interceptions. This is year 4 folks!
Jay Cutler - Cutler may be today's definition of a gun-slinger. The strong-armed quarterback is one of the highest paid signal callers in the league, but his numbers don't quite live up to his salary. In seasons where he's started at least 15 games, he's thrown an average of 18 interceptions per season, and has been sacked a staggering 263 times in his 10 year career.
Cam Newton - Newton has had just one NFL season where he has eclipsed the 60% percentage mark. His best season came as a rookie when he threw for 4051 yards and 21 touchdowns vs 17 interceptions. That year, he also added 706 rushing yards, and a staggering 14 rushing touchdowns. His passing numbers have been pretty average since, as he's never been able to get over 4000 passing yards in his past three seasons. Newton has also been sacked 152 times over his first four seasons.
Colin Kaepernick - Kaepernick entered year 5 with high expectations, but the production just isn't there. He got his money, but now it's time to take the next steps in his maturation. He was part of a very good 49ers team from 2012-2014, yet he was sacked 107 times during that span, and was only able to muster 50 total touchdowns. His career high in yards passing is 3369 which he achieved in 2014. He has a career 60% completion percentage. This season, on a struggling team, he's thrown just 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
Nick Foles - Foles enters his 4th season in the NFL, but he's never played a full 16 game season. He had a magical year in Philly during his second season in the NFL, throwing 27 touchdowns vs just 2 interceptions in 13 games, but he's been declining ever since. His season was cut short in 2014, but he was on pace for 20 interceptions that year with under a 60% completion percentage. This season, after being traded to the Rams, he's completing just 57% of his passes, and has thrown 6 touchdowns vs 5 interceptions.
Derek Carr - Carr was a high draft pick who exceeded expectations as a rookie, throwing for 3270 yards, with 21 touchdowns vs 12 interceptions and a 58% completion percentage in 16 games. He's on pace to eclipse those totals this season already having thrown for 1171 yards and 8 touchdowns vs 5 interceptions in his first 5 games.
Blake Bortles - Bortles started 14 games as a rookie on a bad Jaguars team, throwing for 2908 yards and 11 touchdowns vs 17 interceptions. He completed just 59% of his passes and was sacked 55 times. He's off to a much better start in his second season, already throwing for 1299 yards and 10 touchdowns vs just 4 interceptions. Still, he's been sacked 14 times.
So yes, Kirk Cousins has had some trouble with interceptions, but guess what, so have other top quarterbacks. Some of these other signal callers have improved on rocky starts to go on to find great success in the NFL, while others are STILL experiencing the ups and downs of being an NFL starting quarterback. Cousins has the intangibles to be much more than just a placeholder in this league. If surrounded by some talent(which he is now getting on the offensive line) and some continuity with the offense, he could become a very successful franchise quarterback, capable of many Andy Dalton like seasons. For his career Dalton has averaged 3689 passing yards per season, a 62% completion percentage, 25 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and under 2 sacks per game. If Cousins can come close to these numbers, and I believe from seeing him play sparingly for 3 1/4 season that he can, he may be someone we stick with for the foreseeable future here in DC.