The Vikings have had a lot of top receivers over the years. Justin Jefferson. Adam Thielen. Stefon Diggs. Percy Harvin. Sidney Rice. Cris Carter. Randy Moss. Jake Reed. Ahmad Rashad. Sammy White. John Gilliam. Gene Washington.
But one thing the Vikings have never had is a quarterback with a 5,000-yard passing season. Last season Kirk Cousins finished with 4,547 passing yards, just below Daunte Culpepper’s team record of 4,717 yards set back in 2004.
Only a handful of quarterbacks have had over 5,000 passing yards in a season. Dan Marino was the first way back in 1984, a feat that wasn’t repeated until 2008 when Drew Brees did it- his first of five seasons with 5,000 yards passing. Mahomes did it last year for the second time, Tom Brady (second time) and Justin Herbert did it in 2021, and the only others to ever do it were Matthew Stafford (2011), Peyton Manning (2013), Ben Roethlisberger (2018), and Jameis Winston (2019).
Pieces in Place for a 5,000 Passing Yard Season
The Vikings have spent the past few years rebuilding their receiver group, and now have assembled what may be the most potent three-headed receiving monster in the league, with Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and tight-end TJ Hockenson. Add-in KJ Osborn, a couple decent receiving backs in Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler, and ancillary production from depth players Josh Oliver, Jalen Nailor and others, and a 5,000 passing yard season is within reach.
The betting markets appear to be moving in that direction as well.
As it stands currently, Justin Jefferson is the favorite (+650) to have the most receiving yards this season, while Jordan Addison is the favorite (+270) to have the most receiving yards among rookie receivers. TJ Hockenson had nearly 1,000 receiving yards last season between Detroit and Minnesota and could potentially improve on that total in his second year with the Vikings.
All that has worked together to move Kirk Cousins up the list of quarterbacks with the shortest odds to lead the league in passing yards this season. In past seasons, Cousins has been tied for tenth or lower among quarterbacks in that odds category. This season, he’s moved up to fourth at +900, behind only Patrick Mahomes (+400), Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow (+700). All odds are from Fanduel.
This stands to reason as Cousins ranked fourth in passing yards last season, behind Mahomes, Herbert, and Tom Brady. He also came less than 100 yards short of the 5K club in 2016 as well.
Other Factors at Play
Of course other factors beyond quarterback and receivers come into play in whether Kirk Cousins will pass for 5,000 yards this season or not. Pass protection, play-calling, and game situations all factor into it as well.
Last Season a Down Year for Cousins Statistically
For Cousins, while he passed for the second-most yards in a season in his career last season, it was a down year for him statistically in most other metrics. His ANY/A (Average Net Yards per Attempt) went from around a 7.5-yard average over his Vikings’ career to 6.05 yards last year. Similarly, his completion percentage and overall passer rating dipped last year below his averages as a Viking and overall career averages.
A certain amount of that decline was due to the new scheme, as Cousins outlined subsequently. It took him awhile to get used to the new scheme, new reads, and defensive approaches to the Vikings passing game over the course of the season. It’s also fair to say the receivers behind Justin Jefferson were not as efficient at getting separation over the course of the season. Cousins was also sacked 18 more times in 2022 than in 2021. And while QBs can have some responsibility for sacks, Cousins had some responsibility for only 5% of his pressures- the league low among QBs with at least 100 dropbacks according to PFF, and only 2 of Cousins’ 46 sacks were attributable to some degree to him.
With continuity and a year under his belt in the new scheme, Cousins could have a bit of a bounce back year statistically this season, which would likely increase his production.
Improvement in Pass Protection?
A perennial question for the Vikings offense is will we see an improvement in pass protection this season? It’s a mostly unacknowledged truth that, with rare exceptions, great quarterbacks have great pass protection in front of them. The Vikings offensive line ranked tied for 26th in pass blocking efficiency (82.8) last season according to PFF, while they ranked 22nd in pass block win rate (57%) according to ESPN Analytics.
If the Vikings could maintain the same level of pass protection at the tackle positions, while getting a bit of improvement from interior linemen and the tight ends, that could make a difference in overall passing game effectiveness.
Play-Calling and Scheme
While the Vikings have the same overall scheme and play-caller this season as last, there could be some changes within the scheme. First, the Vikings may run more two tight end sets than they did last season, as the Vikings made a big investment in Josh Oliver, the best blocking tight end in the league last season. That may not necessarily result in a greater percentage of running plays, and it could help the Vikings passing game in other ways. First, double tight end sets may cause opposing defenses to play more base, rather than nickel, defense and/or cause them to play more single-high safety coverage shells. These formations could help the Vikings passing game. Additionally, having a good run blocking tight end (which the Vikings did not last season) could lead to the more efficient early down running game Kevin O’Connell has said he wants this season. Having more 3rd and manageables instead of 3rd and longs will undoubtedly lead to a more effective passing game.
The Vikings were rarely in any sort of a blowout situation late in games last season where they could simply feed their running backs to run down the clock and secure a win. And while we can hope for more of those situations this season, I’m not sure that is the expectation. The more likely scenario is for a season with few blow-out victories for the Vikings, meaning the passing game will be needed throughout most games- just like last season.
While we don’t know yet how Jordan Addison will pan out this season, we know from last season that Kirk Cousins is within reach of achieving a 5,000-yard passing season for the first time in his career.
The addition of Addison, should it pan out as sportsbooks are currently projecting, along with leading production from both Justin Jefferson and a full year of TJ Hockenson, could be enough, combined with ancillary production from other receivers, for Cousins to join the 5K club. A bit of improvement from him statistically, and/or better pass protection, could also be enough to get there.
Overall, there are a lot of factors at play in whether Cousins reaches 5,000 passing yards this season, but with the pieces the Vikings have in place, I wouldn’t bet against it.
Will Kirk Cousins pass for 5,000 or more yards this season?
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