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Skins Stats: Ten Reasons Kirk Cousins Is Worth the Money

Ten sets of stats that prove Kirk Cousins is worth the big-money contract that he's seeking.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

According to the most recent chatter among NFL insiders and analysts, the Washington Redskins signing Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal is not the forgone conclusion that many believed it would be.

The Redskins brass still seem to be questioning whether or not Cousins is worth the record-breaking deal that would be required to keep him in the fold for more than one more season.

Today, I'll tell you why the decision should be much easier for the front office than they are making it out to be.  I'll tell you why it's time for the Washington Redskins to bite the proverbial bullet and make Kirk Cousins one of the highest paid players in NFL history.

And I know that's a bold statement, so I'll give you ten fact and stat-based reasons to back it up. (And here is a segment of The Audible I appeared on with Ken Meringolo, who--as you know--agrees that signing Kirk is an easy no-brainer.)

1. He Set Multiple Franchise Passing Records in Back-to-Back Seasons

For the second consecutive season Kirk Cousins set new franchise records in passing attempts, completions, first downs and yards.

Franchise Ranking Player Year Att Cmp Pass 1D Pass Yds
1st Kirk Cousins 2016 606 406 225 4,917
2nd Kirk Cousins 2015 543 379 204 4,166

Cousins is just the second Skins player to set team records in completions and passing yards in multiple seasons since Sammy Baugh did it five times between the 1930s and 1940s.  The only other player to accomplish that feat was the great Sonny Jurgensen, who like Cousins, broke these records twice in back-to-back seasons.

The difference is that Jurgensen did it in his tenth and eleventh seasons, his sixth and seventh years as a starter and in his age-32 and 33 seasons.  Cousins, on the other hand, set these marks in his fourth and fifth years in the league, his first and second years as a starter and in his age-27 and 28 seasons.

Kirk Cousins is just one of twelve players that currently ranks first and second in both completions and passing yards in a single season for an NFL franchise.  The others are: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Warren Moon, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Brian Sipe and Matthew Stafford.  Warren Moon was the only other player in this group to break both records in consecutive years.  Moon was 34 and 35 in those seasons, which were his seventh and eighth years as a starter.

In the last two seasons, Kirk Cousins has also set team records in 300-yard games (7 in both 2015 and 2016), 400-yard games (2 in 2016), 100-plus passer rating games (9 in 2015 and 8 in 2016) and 70% completion-rate games (8 in 2015).  His 29 passing touchdowns and 68.9 completion percentage in 2015 both ranked second best for a single season in Redskins history.

Captain Kirk currently sits first all-time in Redskins history in the following efficiency metrics: completion percentage (65.9%), passer rating (93.6), yards per attempt (7.8) and adjusted net yards per attempt (6.9).  Even if you adjust for era using Pro Football Reference's index metrics (any time you see a stat with the word "index" behind a word in this article it means that it is adjusted for era), Cousins is only bested in the majority of the aforementioned categories by Hall of Famers Sammy Baugh and Sonny Jurgensen.

2. He Ranked Near the Top of the League in Every Major QB Statistic

In each of the past two seasons, number eight has ranked in the top eight in the following eight passing statistics: completion percentage (1st in 2015 and 8th in 2016), first-down percentage (7th and 8th), passer rating (5th and 7th), yards per attempt (8th and 3rd), adjusted net yards per attempt (8th and 4th),  DVOA (6th and 5th), DYAR (7th and 3rd) and QBR (6th and 6th).

Here is a list of the other quarterbacks that also finished in the top eight in those statistics this past season: Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Dak Prescott and Drew Brees.  In 2015, Andy Dalton and Russell Wilson were the only other players that could make that claim.  That means that Cousins is the only one in the NFL to rank that highly in all these statistics in both of the last two seasons.

Cousins also finished third in completions, passing first downs and passing yards in 2016, and led the league in completion percentage in 2015.  Not only do those numbers in 2015 and 2016 rank highly in the NFL in each of the last two seasons; they also rank among the best in league history.

Kirk Cousins Single Season All-Time NFL Rankings
Year Att Cmp Cmp% Pass Yds
2016 46th 23rd 55th 15th
2015 173rd 46th 11th 113th

Yes, you read that right, that's three rankings in the top 25 all-time.

3. Kirk Cousins is Deadly Accurate

One thing that you might've noticed in the previous table is his 69.8% completion rate in 2015 ranks 11th in NFL history for a single season.  It was the second best completion percentage ever by a Washington passer behind only Sammy Baugh's 70.3% in 1945.

When you include sacks in the denominator with attempts (completions / attempts + sacks), Cousins' 66.6% in 2015 jumps him up to sixth all time.  He also recorded an NFL record 74.7 completion percentage on his passes at home that season.

We're not just talking about 2015, though; Kirk Cousins is one of the most accurate passers in league history.

Kirk Cousins Career Completion % All-Time NFL Rankings
Cmp% Home Cmp% W/ Sacks Cmp % Index
Value 65.9% 67.3% 63.2% 113
Ranking 3rd 3rd 3rd 23rd

Wow.  The only players above Cousins in any of the three non-era adjusted rankings are Drew Brees (in all 3), Peyton Manning (once) and Chad Pennington (once).  Of the 22 quarterbacks ahead of him on the era-adjusted career rankings, 17 of them are or will be in the Hall of Fame.

So maybe you're thinking that Cousins' extraordinary completion percentage is a product of him throwing short passes and his receivers picking up the slack with tons of YAC.  Well, that is just not the case.  For example, check out where his depth-adjusted completion percentage in 2016 ranks among every qualifying quarterback season in the last ten years.

4. He Is Not a Dink and Dunker

If that last stat wasn't good enough for you, then I've got more proof that shows that Cousins' high completion percentage is not a product of constant dinking and dunking down the field.

Kirk Cousins' average air yards per attempt of 4.16 and 4.85 ranked twelfth and first in 2015 and 2016 respectively.  His air yards percentage of 54.2% and 59.8% ranked fifteenth and eighth in those years.  Cousins' career numbers of 4.3 and 55.7% fall right in between his 2015 and 2016 marks.  Also, his average depth of target (aDOT) of 9.4 yards ranked ninth last season.

Many of Cousins air yards last season came on the strength of big plays.  He completed 69 passes that gained over 20 yards, which is tied for the sixth most such passes in a single season since at least 1991.  He also saw 44 of his passes go for at least 25 yards.  Only Drew Brees (47) and Peyton Manning (46) have connected on more 25-yard throws since at least 1994.

All of this makes for a higher number in one of football's more traditional efficiency statistics: yards per attempt.  This is an area where Cousins has not been truly outstanding in any one single season, but where his five-year body of work has led to some truly gaudy numbers.

Just look at his all-time NFL rankings for yourself.  Oh, and I thought about including his Redskins rankings in the table, but I decided to save some space by simply telling you that he ranks first in almost every statistic that we're about to look at.

Kirk Cousins Career Yards Per Attempt All-Time NFL Rankings
Y/A Y/A Index ANY/A ANY/A Index
Value 7.78 114 6.88 111
Ranking 12th 14th 7th 21st

Once again, all we see is top 25 all-time across the board.  Just like before, the vast majority of those ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame or will be there sooner rather than later.  Aaron Rodgers is the only name ahead of him in all four statistics.

I also don't want to gloss over the fact that adjusted net yards per attempt was included in the preceding table.  It is a statistic that adjusts yards per attempt with a players' touchdown, interception and sack numbers.

It has proven to be a more predictive measure of quarterback performance and overall quality than passer rating.  For that reason, it is one of the favorite statistics used to evaluate quarterbacks by some of the brightest minds in the football analysis industry.  Consider that when you look at Kirk Cousins all-time rankings for this metric.

5. Advanced Stats Back up the Traditional Ones

Passer rating is a more popular statistic than ANY/A, but it is more of a convoluted metric, so this is probably the best place for me to tell you how Captain Kirk stacks up in this widely used, but flawed measure of quarterback performance.

Here is how Cousins' 93.6 passer rating ranks: first in Redskins history and eleventh in NFL history.  His adjusted-for-era passer rating index of 107 ranks fourth in franchise history (behind Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer) and 47th in the NFL all time.

This isn't just about passer rating, there are far better advanced metrics for us to look at.  Two of them are ESPN's QBR and raw QBR (QBR is adjusted for opponent, raw QBR is not) and Football Outsider's DVOA and DYAR (see the links for definitions and explanations of these statistics).

QBR numbers go back to 2007, and there have been roughly 300 qualifying quarterback seasons since then.  Cousins' 2015 QBR and raw QBR marks rank 67th and 39th in that group.  His 2016 season ranked 61st and 70th in those metrics.

He was in the top six in both QBR and raw QBR in each of the last two seasons.  Only ten other players have multiple top-six finishes in both statistics on their resumes, and they are: Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub.

It's more of the same with both of Football Outsider's top statistics, except here we're working with almost 30 years of data instead 10 (1988-present).  Cousins was top seven in both DVOA and DYAR in 2015 and 2016.

With a nearly tripled time frame compared to QBR, our list of players that have also finished in the top seven in multiple seasons also nearly triples.  I won't read off all 30 names, but I will continue my M.O. of telling you how many in this group are Hall of Famers.  This time the number is 14 HOFers, and we have an additional four players that may well not make it to Canton but that did win an MVP award (Boomer Esiason, Rich Gannon, Steve McNair and Matt Ryan).

6. Sneaky-Good Running Ability

You wouldn't think that Kirk Cousins was much of a threat in the running game when you look at his athletic profile, but the numbers say otherwise.  He never racks up high yardage totals or averages, but when it comes to moving the sticks and scoring six he's actually one of the most effective quarterbacks on the ground in the NFL.

Here is a list of the top ten rushing quarterbacks (by rushing yards) in the NFL since Kirk Cousins entered the league in 2012.  In the table below, I've compared Cousins rushing first-down percentage to the aforementioned top rushing signal callers both with kneel-down plays included (FD%) and without them (Real FD%).  The table is sorted by the latter stat.

Career Rushing First-Down Statistics (sorted by Real FD%)
Player Att FD% Non-Kneel Att Kneels FD Real FD%
Kirk Cousins 74 37.8% 47 27 28 59.6%
Aaron Rodgers 501 36.9% 393 108 185 47.1%
Blake Bortles 166 42.2% 152 14 70 46.1%
Andrew Luck 286 33.9% 217 69 97 44.7%
Cam Newton 689 39.8% 636 53 274 43.1%
Ryan Tannehill 216 29.6% 167 49 64 38.3%
Russell Wilson 483 31.7% 413 70 153 37.0%
Tyrod Taylor 226 30.5% 199 27 69 34.7%
Colin Kaepernick 375 30.7% 333 42 115 34.5%
Alex Smith 469 26.0% 363 106 122 33.6%
Robert Griffin 275 30.2% 261 14 83 31.8%

Kneel-down numbers aren't readily available, so these numbers may be off by a percent or two in a few cases; but Cousins is so far ahead of the competition in terms of first-down efficiency as a runner that it doesn't even matter.  He has the third best first-down rate when kneels are included, and when you take them out he blows everyone in this cohort away.  Second place Aaron Rodgers is a massive 12.5% percent behind him.

Cousins rushed for five touchdowns in 2015 and four in 2016 (9 combined), which led to a top five ranking in QB rushing scores for him in both seasons.  The only players that have scored more on the ground than he has in the last two seasons combined are Cam Newton (15 touchdowns) and Tyrod Taylor (10 touchdowns).  In fact, there are only three other players within two TDs of Cousins over the last two years (Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston and Alex Smith with 7 scores each).

So not only can Kirk throw it with the best of them, but he is one of the most efficient runners at the quarterback position, as well.  This is a truly rare combination illustrated by the following statistical nugget.

Kirk Cousins is just the second player in NFL history to pass for at least 4,000 yards and to rush for four or more touchdowns in consecutive seasons.  The only other person that has ever accomplished that feat is Aaron Rodgers.

Our sample size is most definitely small, but early returns suggest that Cousins should be toting the rock more going forward.

7. Durability and Low Mileage Should Keep Him on the Field

Kirk Cousins is no spring chicken, but he also isn't old for a quarterback either.  This is especially true when you consider that he doesn't have a lot of tread on his tires in terms of in-game NFL action.

I wanted to see how Cousins stacked up to the rest of the signal callers in the league, so I compared his number of dropbacks, his number of games played, his number of games missed and his age at the start of next season to a group of 39 other quarterbacks (40 with him included).

The 40 quarterbacks are comprised of last year's 32 starters, the four projected first-round QBs in the 2017 draft (Mitch Trubisky, DeShone Kizer, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes) and four other guys that I think might be starting somewhere in the near future (Tony Romo, Teddy Bridgewater, Paxton Lynch and Jimmy Garoppolo).

Kirk Cousins Dropbacks Games G Missed 9/1/17 Age
Values 1,621 46 0 29.0
Rankings 17th Fewest 17th Fewest Fewest 24th Youngest

Cousins ranks in the top half of the league in terms of fewest number of dropbacks and games played, and his age will almost exactly match the league average (average of these 40).

So it looks like he's got a good deal of football left in him, but past is if often prologue, so how has his durability been up to this point?  His ability to stay on the field has been in a word: excellent.

It's difficult to determine if a player missed a game due to injury or poor performance, but from what I could tell, Cousins is one of just seven quarterbacks (in this group of 40) that have started in over 24 contests and never missed a single game due to injury in their NFL careers.  The other six passers are Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Blake Bortles and Jameis Winston.  Also, Kirk Cousins only missed one game due to injury in his four-year college career.

I was only able to find one instance in his career that Kirk Cousins was listed on a regular season injury report (Week 1 of 2013).  Per Player Profiler, Russell Wilson and Jameis Winston are the only non-rookies in our 40 with less appearances on their team's injury list (none).  But not only does Cousins not miss any games, he doesn't miss any snaps either.

Last season, he was one of just four passers to play on 100% of his team's offensive snaps.  The other three were Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford.  Here is the list of the other iron-men quarterbacks that have done this in the last four seasons: Blake Bortles, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Jameis Winston.

Oh, and Cousins could've played on all of the Redskins' 2015 snaps too; but he had the luxury of being rested in a blowout win over the Saints historically awful defense and in the meaningless regular season finale against the then lowly Dallas Cowboys.

8. Cousins Almost Never Gets Sacked

Perhaps part of the reason that Kirk Cousins is so durable is that he almost never gets sacked.  That is a strong statement to make, but relative to the rest of the quarterbacks in the history of the NFL it's true.  Just look at his career sack percentage numbers and see for yourself.

Cousins Career Sack % All-Time Rankings
NFL Sack% Sack% Index
Value 4.01% 117
WAS Rank 3rd
NFL Rank 7th 6th

The proof is in the pudding, and if ranking in the top seven in both regular and era-adjusted career sack rate isn't proof, then I don't know what is.

Mark Rypien and Dough Williams were the only Redskins quarterbacks that were better at avoiding sacks, and they had the Hogs blocking for them.  The current line of Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff, Morgan Moses and Spencer Long is a great group, but Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic and Mark May, they are not.

Rypien, Williams, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Derek Carr are the only passers ahead of Cousins in both stats.  It's hard to get hurt if you rarely get hit, and luckily for Cousins, he doesn't.

9. He Compares Favorably to the Best in the Game

We keep seeing Cousins name pop up alongside some of the greatest to ever play the game, so I think it's time to dive in head first and compare him to the elite quarterbacks of the last several years.

For our purposes, I defined "elite" as a quarterback that has either been named MVP, won a Super Bowl or led the league in passing yards in any one of the last four seasons.  The following tables are sorted by the players' average ranking in eight efficiency statistics (see below).

Career Cmp% FD% TD% INT% Sack% Rating Y/A ANY/A Avg Rank
Aaron Rodgers 65.1% 36.9% 6.38% 1.55% 6.8% 104.1 7.91 7.48 2.9
Peyton Manning 65.3% 39.0% 5.75% 2.68% 3.1% 96.5 7.67 7.17 3.1
Russell Wilson 64.7% 36.9% 5.57% 1.97% 8.2% 99.6 7.98 7.01 4.3
Drew Brees 66.6% 37.0% 5.31% 2.51% 3.9% 96.3 7.55 6.91 4.3
Tom Brady 63.8% 37.2% 5.54% 1.85% 4.8% 97.2 7.49 7.09 4.4
Matt Ryan 64.9% 37.1% 4.74% 2.25% 4.8% 93.6 7.44 6.71 5.9
Kirk Cousins 65.9% 36.3% 4.63% 2.70% 4.0% 93.6 7.78 6.88 6.0
Ben Roethlisberger 64.1% 38.4% 5.07% 2.70% 7.1% 94.1 7.89 6.67 6.0
Cam Newton 58.4% 35.2% 4.64% 2.66% 7.0% 86.1 7.44 6.12 8.3

Career-wise Cousins actually doesn't fare so well against these players.  Not surprisingly based on what we've already discussed, he does rank in the top four in completion percentage, sack percentage and yards per attempt, but he's no better than sixth in any other category.  His average ranking of 6.0 puts him above only Cam Newton, but rushing production isn't included, so you probably have to give Newton the nod here.

However, Cousins hasn't been around as long as most of these other players have, so it's important to adjust for that.  First, we'll look at the efficiency of these players through their age-28 seasons, since 2016 was Cousins' age 28-campaign.

Through Age 28 Cmp% FD% TD% INT% Sack% Rating Y/A ANY/A Avg Rank
Aaron Rodgers 65.4% 37.1% 6.25% 1.80% 7.0% 104.1 8.22 7.60 2.1
Russell Wilson 64.7% 36.9% 5.57% 1.97% 8.2% 99.6 7.98 7.01 3.3
Kirk Cousins 65.9% 36.3% 4.63% 2.70% 4.0% 93.6 7.78 6.88 4.0
Peyton Manning 63.5% 37.6% 5.57% 3.09% 3.5% 92.3 7.59 6.82 4.4
Ben Roethlisberger 63.1% 39.3% 5.14% 3.07% 8.9% 92.5 8.04 6.41 5.0
Matt Ryan 63.7% 36.0% 4.65% 2.34% 4.6% 90.6 7.14 6.40 5.4
Tom Brady 61.9% 34.7% 4.83% 2.59% 5.8% 88.5 7.08 6.12 6.8
Drew Brees 63.7% 34.0% 4.44% 2.72% 4.0% 87.9 7.03 6.13 7.0
Cam Newton 58.4% 35.2% 4.64% 2.66% 7.0% 86.1 7.44 6.12 7.1

The improvement is already notable, with Cousins jumping up from a tie for second to last in average ranking all the way up to third.  Cousins is third or better in every category but first downs, touchdowns and interceptions when we look at things from this perspective.

This puts everything on a much more level playing field, but there is still one more thing that we need to consider.  These players were in their sixth year as a starter on average during their age-28 seasons, while Cousins was only in his second.  Let's see how Kirk stacks up when we compare his numbers in his first two years as a starter to the rest of the QBs in this group.

First 2 Starter Years Cmp% FD% TD% INT% Sack% Rating Y/A ANY/A Avg Rank
Kirk Cousins 68.3% 37.3% 4.70% 2.00% 4.1% 99.3 7.91 7.31 2.4
Russell Wilson 63.6% 37.8% 6.50% 2.38% 8.8% 100.6 8.09 7.05 3.3
Ben Roethlisberger 64.7% 42.8% 6.04% 3.55% 8.6% 98.3 8.89 7.21 3.5
Aaron Rodgers 64.2% 35.2% 5.39% 1.86% 7.2% 98.5 7.87 7.06 3.6
Matt Ryan 59.7% 34.9% 4.29% 2.82% 3.9% 84.3 7.18 6.29 5.6
Cam Newton 58.9% 34.0% 3.99% 2.89% 6.6% 85.3 7.90 6.44 6.3
Peyton Manning 59.3% 35.0% 4.69% 3.88% 3.1% 80.6 7.11 5.90 6.3
Tom Brady 62.8% 32.2% 4.54% 2.56% 6.6% 86.0 6.52 5.48 6.3
Drew Brees 59.5% 29.3% 3.17% 3.51% 4.9% 73.1 6.11 4.53 7.9

Kirk Cousins essentially went from worst to first in this group.

I don't know about you, but I was expecting an improvement, not for him to rank above some of the best passers in the history of the NFL.  His extremely high average ranking is the product of not placing below fourth in any of these eight statistics.

To be fair, a good deal of this likely has to do with the fact that passing production has seemingly exponentially exploded in the last several years, and none of these other guys first two seasons as a starter took place in 2015 and 2016.  So maybe you should curb your enthusiasm a bit here, but the fact remains that this is still damn impressive.

10. Kirk Cousins Is Still Improving

The fact that Cousins jumped in the standings more and more as we adjusted for his age and experience in the last section is telling.  It's telling you that as he has gotten more experience and opportunity, he has improved.  That couldn't be more true, and you'll know it when you look at the next set of numbers.

Cousins' 2012 and 2013 seasons were combined in the following table, because he did not see anywhere close to enough action in either year to qualify for the NFL's efficiency rankings.  QBR and DVOA are adjusted according to the competition in a given year, so I used a weighted average between those two seasons.  2013 was weighted three times more heavily because his number of combined passes and runs was around three times higher in that season.

Please also note that AV stands for Pro Football Reference's approximate value metric.

Finally, I included air yards per attempt alongside of completion percentage in order to again address the previously mentioned dinking and dunking concerns.

Kirk Cousins Year-by-Year Efficiency Statistics
Year Cmp% Air Y/A ANY/A Rate AV QBR DVOA
12 & 13 56.2% 3.81% 4.60 68.6 0 48.9 -30.4
2014 61.8% 3.82% 6.77 86.4 4 55.8 4.6
2015 69.8% 4.16% 7.14 101.6 12 71.0 16.9
2016 67.0% 4.85% 7.45 97.2 15 71.7 21.5

The trend is pretty clear here; Kirk Cousins has steadily improved in each year of his career.  He saw his worst numbers in 2012 and 2013 in every one of these metrics.  His second worst marks all came in 2014.  His best season just ended, with five of his seven best performances in these statistics coming in 2016.

If he continues to improve at a pace anything like this, then who knows how good he could be in his fifth or sixth year as a starter.


Kirk Cousins is not the greatest quarterback in NFL history.  He's not even top 10 or top 25 as some of these numbers would suggest.  But is he one of the better quarterbacks in the league today and will he be for the foreseeable future?  Everything that I found while researching for this article leads me to believe that the answer to that question is: unequivocally yes.

Cousins has his flaws (interceptions, red-zone struggles, missing open receivers, etc.), but the good seems to outweigh the bad in more ways than almost all of us knew.

I was wrong about him once before, and I admit that.  We all make mistakes, and I'm no different.  Neither are the Redskins.  Now it's time for them to admit their mistakes of not signing Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal last offseason and of dragging their feet to do so right now.

I don't even know for sure who's in charge of the team anymore, but the answer for whoever is ultimately pulling the strings appears to be more than clear.  Dan, Bruce, Scot, Jay, Eric, whoever, it's time to pay Kirk Cousins.  Pay that man his money.

*All statistics are courtesy of CSN Mid Atlantic, ESPN, Mockdraftable,, NFL Gamebooks, Player Profiler, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference,, Sporting Charts and Team Rankings*