Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Can Kirk Cousins reach another level in 2021?

Houston, Texas, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) rolls out of the pocket against the Houston Texans during the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

The Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million contract in 2018 before handing him a two-year, $66 million extension in March 2020. That’s a lot of money for someone who has produced 25-21-1 regular season and 1-1 postseason records.

Of course, QB wins aren't always reflective of how well someone at the position played during any given season (see 2020 Deshaun Watson). Cousins has certainly had his struggles over the years, but we’re still looking at a man with at least 25 passing TDs in six consecutive seasons with consistently high-end efficiency to boot. A lack of a rushing floor has prohibited Cousins from functioning as a high-end fantasy asset in recent years; just realize the general public consensus that Kirk is *bad* is objectively false.

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What follows is a breakdown on whether or not the 2021 edition of the Vikings can bring out the best of Cousins and whether or not he’s worth chasing in fantasy football.

Cousins has largely been a great real-life QB in Minnesota

Few have posted better overall numbers than Cousins since he started wearing purple in 2018:

  • PFF passing grade: 90.3 (No. 7 among 50 qualified QBs)
  • Yards per attempt: 7.8 (tied with Russell Wilson for No. 11)
  • Adjusted completion rate: 79.4% (No. 4)
  • QB rating: 103.6 (No. 7)

The manner in which Cousins has demonstrated this elite accuracy has been particularly uncanny. Cousins only trails Drew Brees, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater in adjusted completion rate over the past three seasons; the difference is that Cousins has averaged at least 0.8 additional yards of target depth over each.

We’ve seen Cousins offer true high-end throwing ability more times than not over the years, and 2020 was no exception.

The “problem” in my line of work: Cousins hasn’t been a particularly good fantasy QB over the years. He’s generally finished as a solid enough performer thanks to starting at least 15 games in six consecutive seasons; the issue is that his utter lack of a rushing floor these days has prohibited him from flirting with more than borderline QB1 status. Overall, Cousins has finished as the QB12, QB19 and QB16 in fantasy points per game since joining the Vikings in 2018.

The good news for Cousins is that he might just find himself inside of the best overall offense of his career.

The 2021 version of the Vikings offense looks much improved

PFF’s Seth Galina wrote a great piece on why Cousins is a dark horse MVP candidate after the Vikings fortified their offensive line through the 2021 NFL draft. Seth’s conclusion was as follows:

Cousins can still hold onto the ball now, but this hopefully means fewer defenders are in his face. The same Kirk Cousins is so much better with a stronger offensive line around him. If he becomes a better version of himself, the sky's the limit — although that might be wishful thinking.

Just creeping to average would be an improvement for this offensive line, and the front office has made the right moves to do that. That puts the ball in Kirk’s court. The pieces are significantly better than they’ve ever been around him. Subtracting the timeless skill of Stefon Diggs but replacing it with Justin Jefferson, Ezra Cleveland, Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis is probably a net positive.

Everything is set up for Cousins to have a brilliant 2021 season and for the ‘Congratulations to Kirk Cousins for winning the NFL’s MVP award' prophecy to be fulfilled.”

The Vikings ranked 30th in cumulative pass-block grade over the past three regular seasons. Things haven’t been pretty in terms of keeping Cousins upright, although few signal-callers have slung the pigskin as well as No. 8 when given a clean pocket. The only QBs with a higher PFF passing grade than Cousins when not under pressure since 2018: Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Watson, Brees, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes.

Clearly there’s enough talent in the pass-catcher department for Cousins to make the most out of his clean pockets. Justin Jefferson is fresh off putting together one of the best rookie seasons the WR position has ever seen. His elite combination of route-running and big-play ability should be on full display once again in 2021. It’d make sense if Adam Thielen doesn’t score 14 times again; just realize the soon to be 31-year-old WR has never exactly won on overwhelming athleticism anyway and didn’t look on the verge of dropping off a cliff in 2020. Throw in potentially special young TE Irv Smith along with the always fantastic Dalvin Cook, and it’s clear Cousins isn’t hurting for places to throw the football.

It’d be hard to call the Vikings anything other than the favorites in the NFC North if the Packers do the unthinkable and part ways with the league’s reigning MVP. Don’t be surprised if Cousins (finally) gains some positive steam in the national QB conversation, and this could certainly come hand in hand with a more than solid fantasy season.

Add it all together and …

Don’t go crazy, but Cousins is a solid late-round QB option

Cousins presently boasts an Underdog ADP as the QB18. I’m a tad lower than the consensus, slotting Cousins in as the QB21 behind guys with a lower-ADP like James Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Baker Mayfield. As much as the Vikings improving as an overall team and competing for a playoff spot is great for Minnesota, a better defense and more positive game script to run the ball might not be so good for Cousins’ fantasy stock. Last season Cousins threw for a career-high 35 scores after never surpassing 30; there’s a decent chance he fails to get there even with the help of a 17th game if we see his pass attempts fall more in line with 2019 than 2020.

The Vikings figure to have a slightly more improved defense than either the Titans or Seahawks can boast; for this reason I’m lower on Cousins overcoming his run-first offense compared to Ryan Tannehill and Wilson. He’s in my Tier 5 of fantasy QBs: “Realistic path to success, but hardly a foolproof investment.” There’s an argument that we should like Cousins more in fantasy considering how high most are on Jefferson, Thielen, Cook and Smith; unfortunately, the utter lack of a rushing floor these days makes him a QB2 I’d rather not bet too heavily on.

Ultimately, Cousins is a quality best-ball stacking partner for lineups that snag Jefferson and/or Thielen in the early rounds; he’s not someone that you should be entering every draft dying to take home and not let go ‘til you see the light.

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