The NFL Draft never disappoints. Every year there are decisions made that leave draft followers scratching their heads. Washington had one of those moments, early on of the third day of the 2012 NFL Draft. I’ll admit, when the name of Kirk Cousins was called I was initially surprised. As time passed and I allowed myself to look at the decision from the point of view of the Redskins, I quickly realized how the selection was a no-brainer.
We are a week past the conclusion of this year’s draft, yet people are still shocked by this decision. I’ll lay out five different scenarios that could lead to this being one of the best value picks of this draft. The situations factor around Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins’ development. I’m not saying that I believe one way or another that these situations will play out but it would be foolish to act as if they aren’t possibilities.
1. Robert Griffin III’s Injury - Injuries are a part of the game, especially for quarterbacks and more so of mobile quarterbacks. I realize that Griffin is more of a pocket passer than Mike Vick but to act as if he’s not still a mobile quarterback would be silly. Mike Shanahan will use Griffin’s mobility, in the same manner as he did with Jay Cutler. Cutler is a mobile quarterback and his timely injuries are well documented. What happens if Griffin goes down for an extended period of time, like Cutler? Shanahan doesn’t want to get into a scenario like the Bears, where their version of Caleb Hanie (Rex Grossman ) is tanking their playoff hopes. While Grossman will still look to be the veteran backup early on in Griffin’s career, the long term plan is for the Redskins to have a more viable option. Enter Kirk Cousins.
RG3 tore his ACL at Baylor and left games due to some brutal hits while he was on the run. It’s the same fans from Washington that are upset about the pick of Cousins, would be screaming for Shanahan’s head if Griffin went down with an injury and the team didn’t have a backup plan. I could imagine them using hindsight and saying that it would have only cost a fourth round pick for a talented, project type player in the draft. Every team is looking for a more reliable option at the backup quarterback position. Rex Grossman is not the answer. The league is cracking down on concussions. We will not see a quarterback take a shot like Colt McCoy did last year and enter back into the same game. I’m only speculating but I could easily see a trend of backup quarterbacks getting called on more due to the heightened awareness of head injuries.
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2. Bust Factor - Once again, I’m not insinuating that Griffin doesn’t have the unique skill set to be a franchise quarterback but any good business man has a plan B. It’s surprising how many people choose to forget about past draft selections. I evaluate NFL prospects for a living. I trust my opinions deeply but I’ve still been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again. We all will. Projecting how college kids will transition from an amateur game over to playing the most elite athletes in the world, at the toughest position in any sport, isn’t an exact science. I applaud the Redskins for not being over confident and having a plan B in place. Kirk Cousins won’t have the pressure on him that Griffin will.
Cousins will be allowed to sit back and learn the offense at his own pace. He will be able to develop and get comfortable with the offense without the media and public scrutinizing his every decision. The most loved NFL player in almost every city is the backup quarterback. The backup didn’t throw the interception that lost the game. The backup didn’t fumble on the one yard line. Every rookie mistake that Griffin makes will plant a seed in the back of the mind of the couch quarterbacks. As time goes by and if Griffin struggles, those seeds will start to grow and fans will lift up Cousins without even seeing him against live bullets. It happens all of the time.
We don’t know how Robert Griffin will handle the pressure. I think he should be fine and love what he brings to the game, but let’s look at first round quarterbacks from the years 2000-2009:
2000 – Chad Pennington
2001 – Mike Vick
2002 – David Carr / Joey Harrington / Patrick Ramsey
2003 – Carson Palmer / Byron Leftwich / Kyle Boller / Rex Grossman
2004 – Eli Manning / Philip Rivers / Ben Roethlisberger / JP Losman
2005 – Alex Smith / Aaron Rodgers / Jason Campbell
2006 – Vince Young / Matt Leinart / Jay Cutler
2007 – Jamarcus Russell / Brady Quinn
2008 – Matt Ryan / Joe Flacco
2009 – Matt Stafford / Mark Sanchez / Josh Freeman
Sometimes players develop into what they are projected to be and sometimes they don’t. There are a lot of variables and different personalities handle these variables in very different ways. I believe most people like to remember the 2004 draft class and think that they all play out that way. Each class is so uniquely different. Stafford couldn’t stay healthy. The Jets gave up a 4th and a 6th round pick for Tim Tebow and a 7th. Basically that deal comes down to a fourth round pick for a quarterback, despite the Jets trading up to the top 5 pick in the 2009 draft to select a quarterback. Ironically, the fourth round pick that the Jets gave up for Tebow was only six picks after the fourth round pick that the Redskins used to draft Kirk Cousins. Josh Freeman struggled last year after playing well earlier in his career. Joe Flacco thinks he’s the greatest in the NFL but that’s still very debatable. JaMarcus Russell….
Well, you see the list. It’s almost as if for every guy that lives up to his potential, two don’t. If anyone knows how hard it is to find a franchise guy, Mike Shanahan does. I bet Mike wishes that he could go back to when John Elway was about to retire and use this same drafting technique. At least that way, he wouldn’t have had to wait almost a decade before he finally found his guy through the draft. He did add Jake Plummer in free agency and coached him up but he already knew he was adding a guy with limitations. It’s much harder to draft a guy and have him succeed on a long term level.
3. Trade Bait - When Bill Belichick does something, it’s genius. Obviously, if Mike Shanahan does it,… not so much. Last year Belichick was praised for taking the talented, troubled, quarterback prospect, Ryan Mallett in the third round. Shanahan took a talented quarterback prospect in the fourth round that doesn’t have any off-field issues. Of course many will talk about everything the Redskins gave up to draft Robert Griffin III. Regardless, Tom Brady wasn’t close to retiring last year and Robert Griffin III is a much bigger risk than Tom Brady. I’ll agree that Mallett is a better NFL prospect but Cousins was drafted a round later and has the talent.
Kirk just needs to become more polished with handling pressure. Washington had a bigger need for a backup quarterback and after all it was only a fourth round pick. Look back over the last ten years at the success rate of fourth round selections. At that point of the draft, you always go for best available. It doesn’t matter to me that this was the Redskins’ third pick in the draft and the second they used on a quarterback, they still used seven more selections on the remainder of the team. Only six teams had more draft pick in 2012 than the Redskins. They still had the quantity of picks to go for quality.
Last year when the Patriots selected Mallett, I loved the move and felt that they could shop him if he stayed out of trouble. Mallett now has a year under his belt, has stayed out of the headlines, and is a more polished passer. The Patriots could spotlight him this season and trade him away for draft picks. Quality quarterbacks are a commodity in the NFL. The Redskins will now have that option with Cousins or they can use him as a backup.
4. Backup QB - I’ve already touched on the increased value of the backup quarterback in today’s game throughout this article. Reiterating what I said before, Kirk Cousins is in the perfect situation to polish out the rough edges of his game. I didn’t like Cousins as a NFL starting quarterback prospect. I love Cousins as a developmental backup that could compete to start in a few years. Cousins is a very talented quarterback but he tends to struggle versus consistent pressure. His technique and decision making is shot in the face of an oncoming blitz. The Shanahan’s will have plenty of time to coach this out of him. As he develops he could easily be one of the NFL’s most talented backup quarterbacks and will add value to the team in this facet or any of the previously mentioned three.
5. Possibility of being Better - I saved this one for last, due to it being the least likely. I don’t see this playing out but once again history has shown us that anything is possible. If for some reason Robert Griffin doesn’t turn into a great NFL quarterback but does play well, what happens if Kirk Cousins develops into a top notch signal caller. Drew Bledsoe was a very talented NFL quarterback but when given an opportunity, the sixth round draft pick, Tom Brady became the better option. I feel as if I need to repeat this for the fans in DC. I don’t see this happening but many people felt that Kirk Cousins could be a player at the next level. The Washington Redskins were in that group of thinking. I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to add a guy to your roster in the fourth round that could become a quality NFL quarterback…for all of these five mentioned reasons.
Mr. Irrelevant was a quarterback this year. The team that selected first in the draft also selected last. They ended the draft in the same manner in which they began. After selecting Andrew Luck with the first pick overall, they added another quarterback, by the name of Chandler Harnish. Harnish is an intriguing developmental quarterback. The Colts probably had a similar thought process as the Redskins but Harnish is a long shot to stick with an NFL roster. Adding Kirk Cousins in the fourth round may be the best insurance policy that any team added on day three of the 2012 draft.