Now that the dust has begun to settle in what was one of the craziest free agency periods that I can remember, we can begin to assess some players that have signed with new teams and predict how these new relationships will play out.
One thing we do know is that the golden goose of this free agency period was quarterback Kirk Cousins. In his three seasons with the Redskins as the full-time starter, Cousin’s threw for over 4,000 yards and 25+ touchdowns each year.
The runner-up or consolation prize for quarterback-needy teams seemed to be Case Keenum. Keenum has had a bit of a tumultuous career, but after taking over the reigns as the starter in Minnesota last season, he led the Vikings to the NFC Championship game and finished the year with 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns.
So everyone seems to have pegged these QBs as option one and option two, but what does the tape say? Let’s break it down.
Kirk Cousins Vs. Case Keenum; A Talk Of The Tape
Let’s begin by taking a look at Case Keenum.
Coming out of the University of Houston, Keenum was the most productive college quarterback to date. He still holds the record for most passing yards in a collegiate career. While he was not highly sought after by NFL teams due mostly to his size, Keenum did, and still does, possess quality attributes.
According to his draft profile from NFL.com:
“He is a good, mechanical thrower who makes quick decisions within the scheme. He understands how to read defenses and pick his spots in zones. He is an accurate thrower who puts good touch on his throws to lead his receivers. He is good to extend the play and work outside the pocket.”
Keenum displayed these qualities last season when he had a career year. What worries people is his inconsistency and poor play prior to last season. Is it a scheme fit more than bad quarterback play? This certainly plays a role in it.
Throughout film study, it is easy to assess that Keenum is a very accurate thrower. He has surprising arm strength and put’s a decent amount of zip on the ball. Look at this play where Keenum stands strong in the pocket and throws an absolutely perfect over the shoulder pass while being hit.
Not many quarterbacks can make that throw or would be willing to make that throw. Not only does he move his eyes from his initial read perhaps looking off a defender, but he is able to get the throw off to his second option while an unblocked bitzer is running full speed towards his midsection, and to cap it off, drops the pass to a miraculous spot where only the receiver can catch it. An Al Dente Dime of a pass.
Throughout Keenum’s career he hasn’t been known to have elite arm strength, however, his arm strength is highly underrated. Let’s take a look at his long ball.
Keenum throws this ball from his 27-yard line to the opposing 22-yard line. That’s 55 yards through the air and he hits the receiver in stride where only he can catch it.
Here is another 50-yard pass that Keenum hits on the numbers. Some of his long balls have a tendency to loft and hang in the air, but he does a better job with this pass to lower the trajectory and not let the ball sail.
Here is another example of Keenum’s tremendous pocket presence. Instead of feeling the pressure and bailing with his legs, he steps up in the pocket and delivers a dart down the left sideline right before taking a big hit. That is something you cannot teach. Quarterbacks either have it, or they don’t.
The biggest knock on Case Keenum and where is critics will continually doubt him, is the idea of him being a “one-hit wonder.” A journeyman quarterback that has traveled around the league, fighting for every roster spot, and then has a breakout year in 2017 when he is thrust into a tremendous situation with great coaches and a stellar supporting cast. But can he do it again or was it a fluke? Perhaps the answer lies in the past.
No one wants to remember the Rams 2016 campaign, but Keenum did show flashes of his talent while he was a starter, and the tape shows that his accuracy and skill set translates from year to year. The supporting cast is what is different.
I feel like I don’t need to say much, but here is another great throw from the pocket down the sideline hitting his receiver in stride. Textbook.
This throw is Kennum’s bread and butter. Play-action, quick decision, 12-yard slant on a rope. Mix in a flurry of play-action slants, screens, bootlegs, and deep routes and Keenum will find success for the second year in a row. The Denver Broncos are counting on it.
Keenum has the talent and tools to be successful. The tape proves it. But it will be up to Bill Musgrave to draw up a scheme that will utilize his tools and give him the best ability to succeed. Adding a legitimate tight end and beefing up the offensive line wouldn’t hurt either.
Cousins had an interesting start to his NFL career. He was drafted in the 4th round of the NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. The strange thing was that the Redskins took quarterback Robert Griffin III with the 2nd overall pick in that same draft to be their franchise QB. The Head Coach at the time, Mike Shanahan, clearly saw something in Cousins that he couldn’t pass up.
Three consecutive 4,000+ yard seasons didn’t lead to the Redskins seeing the same thing as they decided to let the 29-year-old quarterback test free agency.
Now he is the highest paid QB in NFL history after signing a 3-year, $84 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings, fully guaranteed.
So what did Minnesota see in Cousins that they didn’t see in Keenum? Let’s break down the tape, shall we?
Let me begin by mentioning all of the strength’s that Cousins’ possesses that I noticed in the collective film that I have been watching. If you want a prototypical passer then Cousins is what you are looking for. He is good under center, and he is good out of the gun. He can make throws on the run and while rolling out, but he is also extremely patient in the pocket and allows plays to develop. Like Keenum, he has underrated arm strength but does put a little more zip on the ball. Perhaps one of his greatest attributes is his effectiveness pre-snap. Cousins has the ability to command the offense at the line of scrimmage, which is one of the biggest differences in good quarterbacks and elite quarterbacks.
What is the first thing that most fans remember about the great Peyton Manning? One simple word. OMAHA! But what this word stood for was his ability pre-snap to be in absolute control and command his offense while fooling opposing defenses. Cousins may not be on the Peyton Manning level of this skill but his ability pre-snap goes unnoticed by many. But I digress, let’s get to the tape.
Here you see Cousins with great footwork in the pocket, avoid the rush, roll out to his right, and throw a strike for a first down. Aaron Rodgers has made a living making this throw, and Andrew Luck is another name that does this at a high level. Extending the play with his feet without tucking and running is a major quality for a top-tier quarterback.
This is a simple pitch and catch but Cousins carries it out perfectly. After the snap, he quickly looks off the safety by following the receiver at the top of the screen and then delivers a 25-yard strike for a touchdown. This should be an easy throw for an NFL quarterback, but surprisingly a lot of mid-tier QBs under or overthrow it, or they don’t look off the safety and throw an interception.
This is just another example of Cousins looking off a corner and then throwing the underneath throw on soft coverage for the touchdown.
Where Cousins is better than a lot of quarterbacks in the NFL is throwing the corner route. He is extremely patient in letting the route develop, and he is deadly accurate. Just watch as he pumps twice as the pocket is collapsing but he hangs on for a few more tenths of a second and then delivers a perfect fade for a first down. Underrated pass.
Like Keenum, Cousins is very good throwing on the run and on the bootleg. This allows him to extend plays and let routes fully develop. This specific play is more of a deep play-action with a slight boot before he stops to make the throw. Once again, very accurate.
So what can we conclude from all of this?
With Keenum, you get a very accurate quarterback that is mobile when he needs to be. He’s not going to blow you away with his arm talent but he can make all the throws and is an underrated deep ball thrower. The biggest difference between his 2016 and 2017 campaigns was his supporting cast and the offensive scheme. If the Broncos can emulate what he had in Minnesota, there is no reason that he cannot produce another Pro Bowl caliber season.
The Broncos will need to solidify the tight end position and draw up passing options that have a bleeding running backs out of the backfield as a safety net, and I think we could see Keenum put up even greater numbers than he did in 2017. His tape is actually very impressive.
With Cousins, you also get a very accurate passer that is a playmaker. He elevates the play of the players around him. He tends to struggle with the deep ball; if you noticed I didn’t have any clips of him throwing it deep because, quite frankly, he didn’t have that many completions deep. However, he is great at buying himself time in the pocket and can work through his progressions to find the open man. I expect him to be even better in Minnesota with the weapons that he will have around him. Some of the pressure can be taken off him and he can just go out there and sling it. Great move for the Vikings, and a great move for Cousins; should be a bountiful relationship.