Kirk Cousins Is the Most Underrated Player in Football

Oct 6, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports.

Despite playing at an extremely high level in 2021, Kirk Cousins is still disrespected. On various lists in the offseason, Cousins is underrated compared to his recent performances for the Vikings. Fans around the NFL constantly describe Cousins as the most average quarterback. Disrespectful memes and statements can be seen on social media all day long. The facts, however, show that Cousins is totally underrated in today’s NFL landscape.

PFF Grades

PFF grades aren’t perfect, but they allow comparisons between players because they objectively grade every player the same. In 2021, Cousins ranked 6th among 37 eligible NFL QBs. His grade was 88.2, a career-high for the former Michigan State Spartan.

  • 2021: 88.2 – 6th
  • 2020: 83.4 – 11th
  • 2019: 84.2 – 6th
  • 2018: 79.3 – 15th

His 2021 grade ranked him just behind five passers: Joe Burrow, Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, and Aaron Rodgers. That means he was only worse than the elite of the elite quarterbacks in the league. He was higher ranked than Stafford, Prescott, Murray, and Carr. Per PFF, he even outplayed superstar Patrick Mahomes, who obviously had a down-year and will probably eclipse Cousins again. The high grading, however, wasn’t a one-time thing.

After signing in Minnesota, PFF ranked Cousins 15th in his first year as a Viking in 2018. He didn’t play well for his standards and has improved since then.

In 2019 and 2020, Cousins ranked 6th and 11th, respectively. To summarize the long story, in the last three years, he missed once just the top 10 and was the sixth-best in the other two seasons.

DYAR

Kirk Cousins a Footnote in ESPN QB Rankings
Feb 6, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; NFC quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

DYAR, or ‘Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement,’ is an advanced statistic created by Football Outsiders. It takes every single play into account and also adjusts for defenses — redzone plays are worth more, the yardage on down and distance, and the durability of a quarterback. It’s probably one of the best ways to measure quarterback performance. Cousins looks phenomenal in that stat and improves year after year.

  • 2021: 954 – 7th
  • 2020: 837 – 9th
  • 2019: 795 – 7th
  • 2018: 595 – 13th

In 2018, which was, by all means, his worst year in purple, he ranked 13th. Many people inside and outside the NFL don’t even rank him that highly, despite improving since his first year in Minnesota.

The improvement shows in the DYAR stats, as he was 7th in 2019, 9th in 2020, and 7th in 2021. Since the rankings look eerily familiar to the recently mentioned PFF grades — two totally different modern stats can’t be that wrong. By this stat, Cousins ranked below Mahomes but over Allen and Burrow. Interestingly, other stats grade the same QBs differently, but Cousins always stays at the same level.

EPA+CPOE composite

Another advanced stat, but this one has some great features, and anyone can use them. EPA is ‘Expected Points added,’ and CPOE means ‘Completion Percentage Over Expected.’ I looked up the stats of the last three seasons after Cousins had his ‘down-year’ in 2018. I also excluded garbage time. The narrative around Cousins is that he collects his stat when the game is over. It’s debatable how garbage time should be defined, but I used a 4% filter. That means if the winning percentage is below 4% or over 96%, the stats don’t count. It does not look a lot different with a 10% filter.

Cousins ranks 7th overall in the last three years combined. That’s better than Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen.

Great Play Despite Obstacles

Nov 7, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates with wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports.

None of these numbers prove anything when they are used by themselves. Even the best and most modern stats have some flaws. However, if all three come to the same conclusion, the stats are solid proof. Cousins played objectively at a top-10 level over the course of the last three years, and to label him as average is insane.

It’s also interesting that Cousins produced at that level despite playing for a defensive-minded head coach who preferred to run the football. In addition to that, having a new offensive coordinator every season doesn’t help a quarterback either. John DeFilippo 2018 had one year of experience as offensive coordinator when he was in that position in 2015 for the 3-13 Cleveland Browns. His successor, Kevin Stefanski, was completely new at his job, just like Klint Kubiak in 2021. The only one with serious experience was Gary Kubiak in 2020.

Another challenge was to overcome a subpar offensive line. Cousins always had great receiving weapons, which has to be mentioned, but bad pass protection always makes life harder for a signal-caller, especially on obvious passing downs. Since Cousins joined the Vikings, PFF ranked offensive lines after every year. The Vikings unit ranked 19th in 2019, the only somewhat successful season in his time with the Vikings. In the other years, the Vikings’ OL ranked 29th, 26th, and 23rd. In comparison, Super Bowl champions always have had excellent lines in recent years.

Cousins’ Leadership Issues?

Numbers are not everything. Cousins often faces criticism for his leadership and competitiveness. However, there does not exist a single report that suggests any issues with that. Especially his “You like that?” moments and when it looked like he attacked Zimmer after a game-winning field goal show his competitiveness, just like him playing with cracked ribs just last season. He is cerebral and soft-spoken, and sometimes people seem to think he’s missing leadership and passion. There isn’t a formula for how a captain in the NFL has to be, but there’s nothing wrong with Cousins in that department. Teammates and coaches always speak very highly about him in that regard.

It’s very possible that Kevin O’Connell, the new head coach, and offensive mind in the building, will implement a quarterback-friendly scheme. If he can get a little more out of Cousins, he will play at an elite level and subsequently should be part of the MVP conversation.


Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. He chose the Vikings as his favorite team, despite Christian Ponder being the quarterback at the time. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt



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