I’ve just watched tape from Michigan State’s blow out victory over Florida Atlantic and took the opportunity to monitor quarterback Kirk Cousins. He’s one of a number of second tier quarterback prospects behind Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley who will battle to be the #3 ranked player.
The more I watch Cousins though, the more I view him as a project. He looks like a classic reach – the type of QB who goes earlier than he should, starts earlier than he should and struggles. He’s deceptive in that he’s polished but limited.
For starters he’s very neat and tidy, but lacks upper body power and it shows. There’s some zip on his passes and a decent spiral, but there’s not a lot of punch and anything beyond an intermediate level tends to float. He’s got height and a frame that’s capable of holding more weight, but that’s something he hasn’t really improved upon – at least to the untrained eye – during the recent off season. He still looks about 205lbs and 6-3/6-4, but you sense he could hold 220lbs and dramatically improve his physical make-up to complete the more difficult pro-throws.
What I do like is his footwork. He drops back with a degree of comfort and in the shotgun he sets to throw with the ease of a seasoned pro. Cousins’ has a great grasp of play action and can both sell it and execute. When he’s forced to move around in the pocket he’s capable and he’ll extend plays while keeping his eyes downfield. Last season there were occasional errors trying to force the issue under pressure, but this was a cupcake game for MSU and he wasn’t tested. He isn’t a threat to break off runs though, he’s exclusively elusive rather than a scrambler. I have noticed a tendency to panic on inside pressure, often throwing high to his right when rushed up the middle or taking an unnecessary sack. He’s much better against the edge rush, detecting the defender and making room to throw.
The reason I think his footwork is slightly deceptive in the greater scheme of things is that it makes Cousins appear more pro-capable than perhaps he really is. Everything is one read and checkdown, always to the underneath receiver or running back. I get that a lot of college QB’s are in the same boat but you look for evidence that they’re at least capable of more. There aren’t many challenging throws in the Spartans’ offense and I’m not convinced he has the range needed to make difficult passes on a medium-to-deep level, particularly into tight windows. His deep ball can be ugly – it’s high and floats too much. He’s not progressing to a second read - something (for the point of comparison) Cam Newton did do even in Auburn’s offense (and it was an under rated aspect as people assumed he was exclusively one-read and run).
Accuracy wise he’s inconsistent – he goes just too high too often, including on quick shots to the right. Then on the next play he’ll find a receiver in behind two defensive backs for a 18-yard gain, all because of good placement and touch.
There’s every chance he’ll be over drafted because he carries a level of polish that a lot of college QB’s lack, he’s mobile and I supsect MSU will have a good year - possibly an unbeaten year. Yet he’s still a project and some teams may wrongly judge he’s ready to start quickly. He needs a good two years on a pro-weight programme and you’ll be gambling on that extra strength matching solid accuracy on deeper throws. I’d be concerned that a team will draft Cousins - possibly as early as round two – believing they’re getting a polished QB who can play somewhat quickly and they’ll be surprised when he’s completely unprepared to start. He may not even be able to add weight – it was a big issue for Tony Pike in Cincinnati who similarly had a tall, slim frame before being drafted by Carolina.
I want to stress that Cousins is also far from a lost cause. I think he’d be a good pick up for a team like Philadelphia, who can let him sit behind Michael Vick and be groomed in a good passing system by a good offensive coach. I see some similarities between Kevin Kolb and Cousins and like the former, MSU’s QB would benefit from a similar situation. Kolb had the benefit of time to sit, playing behind a veteran. When he started in Philly he was afforded a running game and a receiver combo of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Now he has Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Cousins will need not only a similar environment, but also similar weapons (but which QB doesn’t need Larry Fitzgerald?).