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Football Outsiders looks at Kirk Cousins and his fit in Minnesota

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Are the expectations realistic?

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve followed our humble little corner of the internet for any length of time, you know that we’re generally big fans of the folks at Football Outsiders and their take on the National Football League. As we’ve done in past years, we got the opportunity to ask the folks from FO some questions in conjunction with the release of their annual almanac.

This year, Scott Kacsmar is the man that wrote the Vikings’ chapter in the Football Outsiders Almanac, and so he’s going to be answering the questions that I’ve sent his way. You can follow him on the Twitters at @FO_ScottKacsmar for more good, solid football analysis. We got five questions, and hey. . .there’s five days in a (work. . .should have clarified that earlier) week! So, we’ll be doing one question each day this week, and we start with the big question about the purple going into the 2018 NFL season.

Let’s get the big, obvious question out of the way first: How significant of an upgrade is Kirk Cousins at quarterback for the Vikings? Are the expectations that come with his contract realistic for him in Minnesota?

First, I think we should acknowledge that Case Keenum’s 2017 Cinderella season turned into a pumpkin in Philadelphia in the playoffs. But if we were to go with the assumption that Keenum would have been able to replicate his performance in 2018, then I don’t think it’s a huge upgrade with Kirk Cousins this year. Keenum really excelled under pressure in a way that almost no other quarterback has in the last eight seasons. Tom Brady’s 2017 is also comparable in having positive DVOA under pressure, which just never happens from a full-time starter. Of course, Keenum was the second-worst quarterback under pressure with the Rams in 2016, so these things usually aren’t consistent given the chaotic state that pressure puts on football.

I think Cousins of the last three years is an upgrade over what Minnesota has had at quarterback under Mike Zimmer. He’s more consistent and accurate. I think he hasn’t peaked yet, and could greatly benefit from having such a well-rounded roster with two great wideouts, a potential workhorse back in Dalvin Cook, and hopefully a great defense for the first time in his career. Washington had a lot of injured squads while Cousins was there and he always kept those teams afloat near .500, so why not take things a few steps further with this talented roster that has won with Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater in the past? I think the contract is worthy of high expectations, but at the same time, a 13-3 team that was one game away from the Super Bowl should have the highest expectations.

You can’t help but like this answer for our favorite team. If Cousins, who turned 30 years old just a few days ago, hasn’t “peaked” yet, it’s going to be fun to see what he can do with a full season of being able to work with the likes of Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, and a healthy Dalvin Cook. As I’ve said plenty of times in this space before, this is probably the best supporting cast that Cousins has ever played football with, and given the way he’s looked in the past few seasons with Washington, it’s not a stretch to think that he should look significantly better in Minnesota this year.

We’ll have Part 2 (of 5) of our Football Outsiders question series with Scott Kacsmar tomorrow, so keep your eyes right here for that. And, for some of the best analysis of the NFL you can get your hands on, head on over to their store and grab a copy of the 2018 Football Outsiders Almanac.