The play of the 2011 Redskins quarterbacks was nothing short of a scalding hot mess, so the team’s epic pre-draft trade for the second pick to draft Heisman Trophy quarterback Robert Griffin III was far from surprising and rather welcome by Redskins fans. Upon the deal being finalized, Griffin immediately became the face of the Redskins, but he’s not the panacea for the franchise’s myriad of problems.
Prior to the draft, the team cut LaRon Landry and OJ Atogwe and was left with Brandon Merriweather and DeJon Gomes at the safety position. That’s not exactly an ideal situation. Perhaps even more troubling was an offensive line that allowed 40 sacks, faced debilitating injuries, and endured lengthy suspensions in 2011. Griffin might be one of the most athletic quarterbacks the NFL has welcomed in quite some time, but visions of him running for his life behind a little improved offensive line haunt Redskins fans.
So, after Griffin, the remainder of the Redskins draft would be focused on addressing the offensive line and secondary concerns, right? The team had no second round pick, but in the third round, the Redskins selected SMU guard Josh LaRibeus. (High five, Bruce!) However, once again, Redskins nation released a collective groan upon hearing, “With the 102nd pick in the fourth round, the Washington Redskins select quarterback, Kirk Cousins.” WHY BRUCE WHY?
Two quarterbacks in the first four rounds? It hadn’t been done since the Packers drafted Anthony Dilweg and Jeff Graham in the third and fourth rounds of the 1989 draft. Selecting Michigan State’s Cousins in the fourth round was completely unorthodox, but even with the team’s great needs not yet addressed fully, it was the correct decision.
College football fans know about Cousins’ talent. He left Michigan State as the school’s leader in passing touchdowns, passing yards, completions, passing efficiency, and total offense. He compiled a 27-12 record as the Spartans’ starting quarterback, including a 22-5 record his final two seasons. Over his four years, Michigan State won the Paul Bunyan Trophy four consecutive years by defeating its in-state rival Michigan.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, Jr believed Cousins would be drafted no later than the third round, and Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan had him ranked as the draft’s number three quarterback behind Griffin and number one pick Andrew Luck. Cousins was one of ten quarterbacks to sit down for one-on-one sessions with former NFL head coach Jon Gruden for ESPN’s “Gruden’s QB Camp.” Gruden described the 102nd pick as a “meticulous preparation freak” who reminds him of the “guys that play on Sunday for a living.”
There has been no consensus opinion among NFL pundits about why Cousins remained available in the fourth round, but the Redskins could not pass on such recognizable talent even with Griffin as the team’s undisputed starter.
The lack of quarterback depth had been a decade long problem for the Redskins. Drafting Cousins provides the team with two young capable quarterbacks for much needed depth at the position. Furthermore, injury is a part of football at all levels, particularly for mobile quarterbacks in the NFL. Shanahan will want to utilize Griffin’s tremendous speed and mobility by getting him outside of the pocket at times, but a quarterback is most vulnerable to devastating hits from the defense when operating outside of the pocket. Griffin had to leave a few games at Baylor after taking brutal hits, and professional defensive ends and linebackers are bigger and faster and hit harder than those he encountered in college.
If Griffin needs to leave the field for a series or two or even sit out a game, the coaching staff may not have to worry about Cousins stepping into a starting role to the same degree they worried about Rex Grossman. Scouting reports on Cousins refer to him as “polished,” “a fantastic leader,” and “a hard worker,” so if past precedence is an indicator, Cousins will practice and prepare as if he was starting every game.
Griffin brings new promise to my dear beleaguered and much maligned Redskins, but the Cousins selection is an additional reason to rejoice. That said, Redskins fans should prepare for Cousins to be traded before the expiration of his rookie contract. He will be a valuable commodity for any team seeking a young, talented starting quarterback.