4 Reasons Why Kirk Cousins Is the Perfect Fantasy Football Late-Round Quarterback Target
A little over a year ago, I wrote an article that could probably get my fantasy football analyst card revoked.
Truthfully, I'm not ashamed of that column. Because the idea around it had just as much to do with strategy and game theory as it did Sam Bradford himself.
You see, if you're planning on drafting your fantasy football quarterback late -- which you should plan on doing -- upside is what you should be looking for. And, believe it or not, Bradford had that entering last year. He just didn't come close to reaching his ceiling.
Your worst-case scenario with the quarterback position in single-passer leagues is streaming -- at worst, you're looking to the waiver wire for a quarterback to use each week. That may feel and seem uncomfortable, but it can bring really solid results. Like, QB6 results.
With your goal being upside, there's one quarterback you should be aiming for in the late rounds of your fantasy football drafts this year: Kirk Cousins.
Here are four reasons why that's the case.
1. He's good at throwing footballs.
It's true that a quarterback doesn't have to be the best thrower of footballs in the world to finish as a top-five fantasy football option. Look at Blake Bortles last year, as volume drove his fantasy season -- he actually finished 23rd in per drop back efficiency, per our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, among the 37 passers with 200 or more drop backs.
Among that same group, Cousins ranked seventh -- his per drop back Passing NEP rate of 0.24 was 0.13 points better than the league average.
It's not as though Cousins threw the ball like Tim Couch in 2014, either. That season saw his Passing NEP per drop back average get to 0.09, which was barely below the league's average of 0.10. And that was just a small sample size of games after being thrown under center for Robert Griffin III.
But, like I said, a quarterback doesn't have to be super efficient to be a super effective fantasy asset. This is just to say that the potential is there, and that certainly doesn't hurt.
2. He should have plenty of scoring opportunities.
No quarterback raw statistic correlates to fantasy output better than passing touchdowns do. Shocker, I know.
What may be surprising is this: Kirk Cousins has 30 touchdowns and not a single interception in the red zone at the NFL level.
Cousins has been a touchdown producer in the NFL, with 4.9% and 5.3% touchdown rates in his only two relevant seasons so far in his career. For reference, the average touchdown rate in the NFL over the last five years has been 4.5%.
That may be cause for concern -- perhaps some regression is about to hit Cousins -- but digging deeper, it seems like this type of touchdown rate can continue for him.
Going back to Bortles, a huge reason he was able to put together the fantasy football season he did last year was because he led the league in attempts in the red zone at nearly every yard marker. Opportunities drive success in fantasy, and it can help you throw 35 touchdowns.
For someone like Bortles, regression is more than likely going to hit next season. Not only is it difficult to continue to lead the league in red zone attempts -- he had 95 last year, fifth-most over the last three seasons -- but the team itself has made improvements both on defense and with the ground game, which will naturally change the way they approach the red zone.
With Cousins, you have the volume issue -- he was fifth in red zone attempts last year with 83 -- but the regression shouldn't be as large (83 attempts versus 95), and Cousins also doesn't have the same type of improvements to his supporting cast.
Washington's lead rusher, Matt Jones, is entering 2016 as the team's top back after putting together a somewhat forgetful rookie campaign. Last season, Jones finished with a Rushing NEP per rush of -0.19 when the league average among backs was -0.03. Jones had the worst rate among all 44 100-plus attempt running backs last year.
Looking at Jones' red zone and close-to-the-end-zone numbers from last year won't do us much good because the sample size is so small, but given his fumbling issues, it's logical to think Washington will continue to use Cousins, their efficient red zone passing weapon, instead.
That's especially true when you consider who he's throwing to.
3. He's got great weapons.
There's some worry here: Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson have both had injury issues in the past, and they're more than likely going to be the most important targets for the Washington offense in 2016.
But if they're healthy, watch out.
Reed proved to be one of the most reliable tight ends in football last year, finishing the season with a 0.73 Reception NEP per target rate, 0.14 points above the league's average. Of the tight ends with 50 or more targets last year, Reed finished in the top 10 in Success Rate (percentage of positive plays made in terms of NEP), catch rate, cumulative Reception NEP, and Target NEP (points added on all targets, which includes incompletions and interceptions).
Not bad, I guess.
Jackson, meanwhile, has consistently been undervalued by the masses, not just because he's always a strong fantasy player, but because of what he can do for an offense. We've written about how he helped make the Chip Kelly offense successful, and Cousins' splits with and without D-Jax last season are pretty telling (excludes the fantasy irrelevant Week 17):
|Games||Yards per Game||TDs per Game||FP per Game|
Cousins averaged 21.40 standard fantasy points per game with Jackson in the lineup last season, a number that's lower than only Cam Newton's and Tom Brady's fantasy points per contest average from 2015.
Maybe it's just noise? Yeah, maybe. But maybe Jackson -- someone who, again, we've talked about being an underrated asset -- was an underrated asset last year. Maybe this is what Cousins could have and should have been doing all season long.
And I haven't even mentioned the fact that Washington selected wideout Josh Doctson with their first-round pick in April's draft.
Remember, we're looking for upside -- we have to ignore the negative angle to the argument.
4. He's shown a high ceiling.
We're not going into this thing as blind as we did last year with Sam Bradford.
Kirk Cousins has actually shown that he has a high ceiling. Bradford? Not exactly.
I've talked through the splits with and without DeSean Jackson, and that second half of 2015 -- when D-Jax was back -- really showed us that Cousins can be an elite fantasy passer.
Over Cousins' final nine fantasy football-related games, he finished with three number-one, top-ranked weekly performances at the quarterback position, while six of the nine were top-12, QB1 performances. Last year, only 14 quarterbacks had more than six QB1 weeks, and that's across the entire year. In this case, we're essentially only talking about weeks where Cousins was with DeSean Jackson.
Have I mentioned that you want upside with your late-round quarterback? Yeah, I'd say Cousins gives you that.