Not long ago, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins was expected to be drafted in the fifth round. But following strong outings at the NFL Scouting Combine and his Pro Day, Cousins moved up the draft boards. What “up” means in his case? Well, let’s see. “I see him going in the second round,” said ESPN expert and former NFL headcoach Jon Gruden, who added that he’d like to work with Cousins. Len Pasquarelli of CBS Sports adds that: “A quick survey this week of personnel directors and scouts indicated that Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins is the likely No. 4 quarterback prospect after Luck, Griffin, and Ryan Tannehill.” That’s what “up” means. In general, it means that Cousins is projected to go in Rounds 2 to 4 – with a strong tendency towards the second rather than the fourth round. But where will he end up? And how do the experts seize him up? Statebeat.com sums up experts’ judgments and ranks Cousins’ possible NFL destinations.
- Jon Gruden (ESPN Expert, former NFL headcoach): “What you’re getting is a three-time team captain at Michigan State. So that tells you what type of leader he is. He does have NFL prototype size (6-foot-3, 214 pounds). … You’re getting a winner … I think he’s got a very bright future in the NFL because he’s all business, all the time. He’s a meticulous preparation freak. I think he’s got very good athletic ability. He’s got a lot of experience as a starting quarterback in the big arena. I don’t know who he reminds of. … He just reminds me of guys that play on Sunday for a living. That’s the kind of kid he is. That’s the serious background that he’s had. That’s the future he wants. He’s one of those kids that just won’t take no for an answer. He’s going to be successful. And I think if he gets with the right group of guys, he can really take off and enjoy great success. And I think communication is his winning edge. Some people get it, some don’t. The ability to communicate the game is vital at the next level. And he finished out strong. The best he played in his entire career was the two-minute drill against Georgia.”
- Trent Dilfer (ESPN Analyst, former NFL quarterback): “A highly refined and sophisticated player. Next to Luck, Cousins has the most graduate-level tape. He keeps an advanced understanding of protections, run game, pass concepts and situational football. He has more juice in his arm than given credit for; the system and personnel around him didn’t allow him to showcase it. I spent five days with him this summer through our camps, and was thoroughly impressed with his football IQ, leadership, communication skills and ability to learn. Mechanically, he’s very sound, which will allow him to maximize his athletic potential. He needs time on the sideline to take in the NFL. His challenges will be a false perception that he’s not an athletic talent and that he lacks a “wow” factor in his game. Given a system that emphasizes line-of-scrimmage control, game management and mid-range completions (most offenses rooted in West Coast principles), he can thrive. I can see him developing into a more dynamic version of Matt Flynn given the proper training and opportunity.”
- Nolan Nawrocki (Draft Analyst, Pro Football Weekly): “Teams need to let him develop. To me, on tape, he’s a bit too over analytical. He just thought too much. He’s a gym rat, he’s extremely intelligent, very well spoken and he can represent a franchise well. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if teams running precision passing games look at him very closely at the end of the first round, just because of the premium on the position.”
- Tony Pauline (NFL Draft Analyst, Sports Illustrated): “At his Pro Day, his deep passes were on the money throughout the entire workout, and every throw had terrific velocity. NFL decision-makers on hand were amazed at the way Cousins handled himself, saying the senior basically ran the workout, organizing his receivers in position drills and coming across as a real field general. His leadership stood out and this bodes well for Cousins, who also come across incredibly well during interviews. He seems like a second-round lock at this point.”
That’s all good and well, but where will Cousins end up? Cousins himself states that the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns are the teams that have shown the most interest in drafting him – and that he paid visits to all of them. However, some destinations are more likely than others – and with the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos, two other teams also seem to be in the mix for Cousins. Here are some of the more likely draft scenarios…
- Rank 1, Cleveland Browns: The Browns wanted RG3 – and failed badly. But did they quit their pursuit of a Quarterback to put some pressure on Colt McCoy? According to Nate Ulrich from the Akron Beacon Journal, the answer is: No. “The Browns have the fourth overall pick, so they could target Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill early in the first round, perhaps even if they decided to trade down a couple of spots. They also have another selection in the first round (No. 22) and one early in the second round (No. 37), so Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden could be in play at those choices”, he writes. Weeden – or Cousins? Nawrocki believes Cousins would be a better fit for the Browns than Tannehill or Weeden. “The Browns decided to use more of a precision-based, West Coast, timing, rhythm, passing game,” Nawrocki was quoted after a conference call. “If you look at this year’s draft, the guy that stands out after Andrew Luck, in that category is Cousins. I think he’s the best fit. He’ll probably sit in there early in the second round. He’d make a lot of sense for the Browns. I’ve got a feeling that whoever they take, Browns President Mike Holmgren will spend some time with him, make him his pet project, make sure that talent is developed well. I can see Holmgren playing a part with whomever they bring along. I think he’d have a very easy time working with a player like Kirk Cousins.” However, Cousins himself said in a radio interview with “92.3 The Fan” in Cleveland that he had not visited with them, but talked to them during the Combine: “I don’t have one scheduled to visit with them. They came up to pro day. I visited with a bunch of their staff at the combine, including their head coach, Coach Shurmur.
- Rank 2, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs were one of the first teams to bring in Cousins for a visit. And for them, drafting a rookie QB would make perfect sense, since the Chiefs don’t have a ton of pressing needs – so this might be the time to try to snag the quarterback of the future. “Starter Matt Cassel turns 30 in May. It would behoove the Chiefs to look for a young prospect to develop. And the Chiefs probably have a better chance to draft Cousins rather than Tannehill. Kansas City has the No. 11 pick in the draft, and Tannehill is expected to taken before then. Cousins is expected to be a second-round pick. The Chiefs have the No. 44 pick in the second round and could have a real shot at Cousins”, writes ESPN’s Bill Williamson. However, Dan Rose of the Kansas City Chiefs Examiner questions whether Cousins will still be on the board when the Chiefs make their second-round pick.
- Rank 3, Philadelphia Eagles: FoxSports reports that the Eagles have closely studied quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M) and Cousins (who already visited with the team), and that it wouldn’t be a shock if they make a play for either one considering Michael Vick’s age and injury history. Especially considering the lack of an ideal backup (signed Trent Edwards to a one-year contract; plus 2nd year QB Kike Kafka, who did not play much so far). Since Tannehill is expected to be drafted in the top 10, Cousins seems a reasonable choice. It would allow them to address more pressing needs (LT, S, OLB, DT) in the first round and then spend the 46th overall pick on Cousins. Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com also reports: “The Eagles appear to have some level of interest in Tannehill. But if they can’t get him (which is likely), it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team invest a second round pick in someone like Brandon Weeden or Kirk Cousins.”
- Rank 4, Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning is the franchise quarterback. No doubt about that. But who’s going to back him up? Let’s face it. Manning is 36 and comes of an almost career-ending neck injury. After the departure of Tim Tebow to the New Yok Jets, neither Caleb Hanie (who came from the Bears as a free agent) nor Adam Weber (who was signed from the practice squad after Brady Quinn’s contract expired) seem to be long-term solutions. Mike Klis of the “Denver Post” reports that: “The Broncos are planning to bring in Cousins and San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley, after a group from the Broncos’ organization traveled last week to watch Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler during a private workout”, and that drafting a quarterback is a serious option. “Whichever young quarterback winds up in Denver, it seems clear that the Broncos are making sure they have some other option for a future when Manning is no longer on the job”, writes Josh Alper of “PFT”.
- Rank 5, Buffalo Bills: As Jay Skurski of the “Buffalo News” writes: “The Bills do not have a project quarterback on the roster.” Tyler Thigpen is No. 2 behind Fitzpatrick, while Brad Smith is the Wildcat quarterback. Toward the end of last season he was moved to receiver. And none of them seems to be a viable backup to Ryan Fitzpatick. So the consensus is: they are obviously looking. The Bills have already met with Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson and Cousins; Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler will be the third quarterback on that list after he told reporters at his pro day he’d meet with the Bills. What the Bills seem to be concerned about is Cousins’ arm strength – which points more towards Wilson or Osweiler. However, the Bills reportedly stated scouting Cousins as early as the 2010 season and were one of the first teams to invite the QB. As far as draft position goes, the Bills are lined up at No. 41 overall (9th in the second round) and could have an advantage over KC (44) and Philly (46).
- Rank 5, Green Bay Packers: “The Packers haven’t drafted a quarterback since they took Brian Brohm in the second round and Matt Flynn in the seventh round in 2008. It’s a good bet they end that streak this year”, writes Pete Dougherty of the “Green Bay Press Gazette”. The team is looking for a developmental player to compete for the backup job to Aaron Rodgers. But as Dougherty also points out, “chances are strong they won’t be looking at taking a quarterback until at least the fourth round and possibly not until the fifth round or later” – which would very likely eliminate cousins from the race. However, at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the Packers were one of the first teams to talk to Cousins and very few experts deny the fact that this scenario would be a very good fit for both sides. As Dilfer argues, Cousins could become an even better version of the recently departed Flynn. And on the other side, Cousins would be able to learn a system that fits his characteristics from an experienced Quarterback without any pressure to play immediately. “I think there certainly is a benefit from being able to learn from someone,” Cousins said, referring to Aaron Rodgers and how the Packers had built him up behind Brett Favre. Packers bloggers have been praising Cousins as a perfect fit for months.
- Rank 6, Pittsburgh Steelers: After Cousins met with headcoach Mike Tomlin for dinner earlier this year, the Steelers seemed to be a reasonable option. Their backup options to franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger were limited (at least in quality) and rumors said that they were looking for a young player to mold into Big Bens successor. However, since the Steelers just recently re-signed backup QB Charlie Batch and rumors are that number three QB, Byron Leftwich, will also be re-signed, it seems more and more unlikely they will bring in Cousins.