We’ll all emerge soon from “list” season — that gray zone in the NFL where things are happening, but not really happening, and to keep the mill grinding out content you find all sorts of lists on various sites.
One such list on ESPN.com got me thinking, though — not so much for its bold proclamations or inclusion of two Vikings quarterbacks, but more so because of what it means in the big-picture history of the Vikings.
First, the list: It purported to rank the top 10 “fluke” seasons by NFL quarterbacks in history. These sorts of things are of course highly subjective, but it’s hard to argue against the two Vikings on the list.
Checking in at No. 6 was Randall Cunningham’s 1998 season. And at the very top, No. 1, was Case Keenum’s 2017 season. So yes, that means two of the greatest seasons in recent Vikings memory were fueled by fluke performances.
Or were they?
See, here’s where things get sort of interesting. Cunningham and Keenum are part of an interesting pattern that has seen virtually every Vikings quarterback of note from the last 25 years have the best season of his career while playing here.
Cunningham in 1998 set a career high for touchdown passes (34), while his passer rating of 106.0 was nearly 25 points higher than his career mark (81.6).
Keenum in 2017 completed 67.6 percent of his passes, avoided turnovers, posted a QBR of 74.3 (more than 25 points higher than any other of his seasons) and went 11-3 as a starter.
Beyond that, you have Brett Favre in 2009, who by many statistical measures (including his career-best 107.2 passer rating and career-low seven interceptions) had the best year of his long career.
Sam Bradford? He set an NFL record by completing 71.6 percent of his passes in 2016, while posting a career-high (for a full season) passer rating of 99.3.
Jeff George? He had a career-best 94.2 passer rating in 1999.
Even Warren Moon in 1995 had one of his best seasons ever with 4,228 yards, 33 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions.
Plenty of others get there by default, having started their careers with the Vikings and doing little else after their time here. Teddy Bridgewater, Daunte Culpepper, Tarvaris Jackson and Christian Ponder, all Vikings draft picks in the last 20 years, fit that description.
Only Brad Johnson and Gus Frerotte really miss this list — a large group this is probably part fluke but also possibly more than that.
In many of those cases, the Vikings had excellent teams but needed the right fit at QB to elevate them to new heights. That was the story with Cunningham, Favre and even Keenum, who came into a great situation in 2017. The Vikings’ search for the right QB has been the story of the last quarter-century (and then some).
That leads to Kirk Cousins, who had a very good statistical season in his 2018 Vikings debut but did not, by most measures, have the best year of his career. He posted a better passer rating with Washington in 2015 than with the Vikings in 2018, and his total QBR was better in both 2015 and 2016.
Like many of his predecessors, he was added to an already strong roster — in his case because the Vikings, like ESPN, believed Keenum’s 2017 season was more the byproduct of a fluke and his surroundings than anything sustainable.
One way to frame 2019 is this: For the Vikings to get where they want to go — the playoffs, with a real shot at the Super Bowl — Cousins needs to join the long list of QBs in the organization to have the best year of his career.