Opinions about Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins tend to shift week to week — even throw to throw — because his streaky play has a polarizing impact on fans and observers.
But even I wasn't ready for the shift in Cousins talk this offseason: from "is he going to be traded?" chatter that always seemed like a remote but non-zero possibility ... to a recent Pro Football Focus piece with a headline that starts, "Kirk Cousins is a dark horse MVP candidate."
The premise is fine enough, but it also reveals a fundamental flaw that I discussed on Thursday's Daily Delivery podcast.
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It is argued that Cousins, by virtue of having the seventh-best PFF rating of any QB over the last three seasons, is borderline elite and would rise even more if given the benefit of more time to throw.
A particularly damning stat about the Vikings' line during Cousins' three seasons from the piece: Over the past three seasons, the cumulative pass-block grade between Minnesota interior linemen was 44.2, last in the league. For reference, the 31st-ranked team, theSeattle Seahawks, earned a 53.1 grade. And the top-ranked team, theCleveland Browns, recorded an 89.8 mark.
That would indicate Cousins could be even better with even adequate line play. But there are a couple of problems here.
First, the assumption is that because the Vikings drafted a tackle in the first round (Christian Darrisaw) and a guard in the third round (Wyatt Davis) they will be improved enough to afford Cousins the time he needs to scan the field and hold the ball — a tendency PFF concedes is "choosing to wait for the absolute perfect situation to throw."
Unless these rookies are REALLY good right away plus Ezra Cleveland and Garrett Bradbury take big steps forward in 2021, I don't see the Vikings making a leap on the offensive line when it comes to pass blocking. They might be marginally better in 2021 than they have been, but particularly on the interior — per PFF's own numbers — they have a long way to go just to avoid being the worst in the league.
And even if there is a huge upgrade and Cousins does have the time to make the perfect throw, it only reinforces the notion that the Vikings QB is the type of player who needs ideal circumstances around him to win instead of being the type of player who can elevate a team and hide its flaws.
I see an MVP as someone who elevates — and voters have tended to agree, giving the award to Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Peyton Manning, among other QBs, in 13 of the last 14 seasons.
Where the piece has merit, though, is in the recognition that Cousins in an ideal setting could put up big numbers — and that QBs who do that for winning teams tend to get elevated into the MVP discussion. The best parallel for a good but less-mobile QB — like Cousins — having that type of season and winning MVP is Matt Ryan for the 11-5 Falcons in 2016.
But those are exceptions, not the rule — just as it is rare for second-tier QBs on expensive contracts, which Cousins arguably is, to lead their teams to a Super Bowl win.