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Kirk Cousins is Probably Better Than You Think

From Mike Freeman’s 10-Point Stance:

I’ve heard other assistant coaches mention this, and now another has. I’m just passing it along. This is an assistant coach speaking of Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins:

“It’s possible we will look back maybe 10 years from now and say Kirk Cousins was better than Andrew Luck or almost any other young quarterback today…”

 

Ha ha, right? I mean that’s crazy talk, isn’t it? What if I said maybe not?

Let’s start with a chart comparing the 2012 QB class.

QBGCmp%YdsTD%Int%RateSK/GY/AAY/AY/G ▾
Kirk Cousins3065.1671964.93.1691.31.47.577.14239.9
Russell Wilson6464.73139746.11.96101.82.68.058.39218.3
Robert Griffin3763.8880973.82.1690.62.77.627.4218.8
Ryan Tannehill6461.92154603.92.485.22.96.886.57241.6
Brock Osweiler2161.3121263.61.97861.26.976.81101.2
Nick Foles3960.1688054.32.287.31.87.167.03225.8
Andrew Luck5558.12148384.82.61852.17.056.83269.8
Brandon Weeden3457.9364633.23.11761.96.75.94190.1
Ryan Lindley1051.0913721.14.0152.41.85.013.42137.2

The table is sorted by completion percentage; you’ll notice Cousins leads the way in that department. Cousins also comes in second in TD rate, QB rating, and sacks per game, and third in yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt, and yards per game. For the record, the only categories in which Luck beats Cousins are games, raw yards and yards per game, and interception rate. Frankly, Cousins’ showing is surprisingly good.

Luck has played in far more games than Cousins, and thus has better counting stats. But should we penalize Cousins for that? Luck was the first overall pick in his draft class, and was destined to start from the get-go. Cousins was a fourth-round pick who had to earn his way into a starting job. It could be argued that Cousins overcoming a highly-drafted QB in front of him is more significant than the Colts giving their No. 1 pick lots of chances to start.

Here’s a different way of looking at the impact Cousins and Luck have had on their respective teams. This data comes from the Team Splits App, over the past two seasons.

Player Cousins Luck
Games Played/Not Played 22/10 23/9
Plays/G WOWY +0.2 +5.71
Pts For WOWY +7.6 +7.18
Pts/Dr WOWY +0.6 +0.44
Pyth WOWY +0.22 +0.06

The number of games for each QB in each split is almost identical; Cousins has played in 22 games vs. 23 for Luck over the past two seasons. The rest of the numbers show the difference each QB made to their team’s performance when they played vs. when they didn’t (With or Without You).

For example, When Cousins plays, Washington runs just 0.2 more plays per game than when he doesn’t. But when Luck plays, the Colts run 5.7 more plays per game. Continuing on, Cousins added (marginally) more points per game, points per drive, and expected wins (Pyth) than Luck over the past two years.

What if we compare just their best single seasons? For Luck that would be 2014, and for Cousins, 2015.

QB Year Att Y/A+ NY/A+ AY/A+ ANY/A+ Cmp%+ TD%+ Int%+ Sack%+ Rate+
Luck 2014 616 113 118 113 116 98 123 99 117 111
Cousins 2015 543 111 114 112 115 129 110 108 112 118

That data comes from Pro Football Reference, and is scaled to league average. A score of 100 is average; higher is better. You can see that Luck’s best season was slightly better than Cousins’ best season. But I bet it’s a lot closer than you thought it would be.

Before you flood my inbox with angry letters,1 let me just say that I don’t believe Cousins is really better than Luck. I do think that Cousins is probably much better than he’s given credit for, though, and that’s the main point as far as fantasy goes.

Fantasy Implications

Speaking of fantasy, let’s use the QB Sim App to do some comparison work.

LUCK 4pt PTD 6pt PTD COUSINS 4pt PTD 6pt PTD
Low 16 18 Low 16.8 20.3
Median 18.7 21.7 Median 18.9 22.1
High 21 24.6 High 20.2 23.4

Luck gets a marginally higher ceiling (bold), but Cousins has the better floor and median projections for 2016. Here’s the average per-game projection for each, from the app.

NAME GMS ATTS CmpPct YA YDS TDS INTS RYDS
Luck 12.5 31.49 0.59 7.23 227.69 1.45 0.85 14.82
Cousins 15.1 34.18 0.64 7.44 254.19 1.68 1.02 3.81

Luck’s projection is of course built on his partial season last year, so it’s reasonable to expect more than that. But again, it’s intriguing to see how closely the two compare.

I’ve already given my full 2016 projection for Washington’s skill players. I came out a fair bit higher than our staff in terms of how I project Cousins. But even if we use our staff composite projections, we’ve got him down for 19.4 points per game (4-pt TD scoring). That’s in line with his median projection from the Sim App, and seems well within the range of likely outcomes.

Conversely, our composite projections have Luck at 22.3 points per game (4-pt TD scoring), which is more than a point above his high projection. That optimism may be justified, but historically, that level of performance has been rare, based on Luck’s 2015 comparables.

The final note has to do with cost. Our composite projections have Cousins as QB18, but our projections are very bunched up. Adding just one point per game to Cousins’ composite projection would make him our QB10, and a value at his current QB13 ADP. It’s also a fact that taking Luck in the sixth round requires sacrificing better players at other positions. Some names available near Luck’s ADP include Travis Kelce, Frank Gore, Marvin Jones, and Corey Coleman. Down at Cousins ADP, you’re looking at guys like LeGarrette Blount, Devin Funchess, and Jason Witten.

Conclusion

I don’t think I convinced anyone that Cousins is a better QB than Luck. But for fantasy purposes, he’s got a very good outlook. He makes sense as a late round target in redraft leagues, and is a cheap second QB in dynasty leagues. Personally, I’m passing on Luck at his price, and targeting Cousins (and other late round QBs) later in drafts. 

  1. Yes, I’m a looser, but I’m not a #trader.  (back)

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