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One of the biggest hallmarks of a great quarterback is their ability to make their teammates better. Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots system, is probably the most famous example of this in recent memory. However, Brady certainly isn’t the only quarterback to do this. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve seen Aaron Rodgers help a receiver put up big stats and I have no idea who the receiver is.

Since you’re on a Minnesota Vikings website, probably directed here while looking for Vikings content, you probably see where I’m going with this. So, Does Kirk Cousins make his teammates better? To answer that question I’ve isolated the stats from five of his pass catchers throughout his career. I’ve looked at four wide receivers (Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Pierre Garcon, and Desean Jackson) and two tight ends (Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis.)

I picked these six players because they all have significant time played with Kirk Cousins, most over different parts of Cousins’ career when he was in Washington, and because most of them also have played significant time without Kirk Cousins. That means that the comparison of stats with Cousins versus their career averages will be significant, hopefully.

Adam Thielen:

TgtRecYdsY/RTDCtch%Y/Tgt
Career Per Game Average5.183.5947.9013.400.2869.30%9.30
Per Game Average w/Cousins7.735.5068.8812.520.5871.10%8.91

Starting off with Cousins’ favorite target, and now undisputed number one wide receiver, Adam Thielen’s numbers with the 84 million dollar man are certainly impressive. Almost all across the board, Thielen’s stats are better. Of course most of Thielen’s numbers with Cousins benefit from coming in John Defilippo’s high volume pass offense in 2018.

Of course even accounting for the system, Thielen’s run to start 2018 was absolutely incredible. He tied Calvin Johnson’s record of eight straight 100-yard receiving games to start the season. He cooled down in the second half of the season, but still finished with over 1300 yards and nine receiving touchdowns.

Thielen has been an absolute monster catching touchdowns from Cousins, as indicated by his touchdown per game average being more than double his career average under Cousins. This year, Thielen has a chance to improve upon these averages with even more targets following the departure of his good friend Stefon Diggs.

Stefon Diggs:

TgtRecYdsY/RTDCtch%Y/Tgt
Career Per Game Average7.635.2166.0012.700.4368.40%8.70
Per Game Average w/Cousins8.105.5071.713.040.5067.90%8.85

Speaking of the miracle man, Diggs expressed unhappiness with Cousins and the Vikings offense multiple times in 2019. That unhappiness boiling over this off-season and culminating in trading Diggs to Buffalo for the 23rd overall pick in this year’s draft. That pick turned into Diggs’ assumed replacement Justin Jefferson.

So, was Diggs’ frustration warranted? Well, yes and no. 2018 was a great year for Diggs who also benefited from the pass-happy Defilippo system. Diggs put up his first 1000 receiving yard season and made nine house calls in 15 games in 2018. 

When Kevin Stefanski, Gary Kubiak, and Mike Zimmer re-balanced the offense in 2019, Diggs saw a significant reduction in targets going from 149 in 2018 to just 94 in 2019. Despite this dropoff in involvement, Diggs put up even more yards and six touchdowns. As far as his averages go, he was better in every category except catch percentage with Kirk Cousins. 

Diggs was perhaps a bit dramatic with wanting out of Minnesota, and it seemed that he never wanted to play with Cousins, but there is no denying that he was better with Kirk under center. It’ll be interesting to revisit this article after we see what he can do with Josh Allen.

Desean Jackson:

TgtRecYdsY/RTDCtch%Y/Tgt
Career Per Game Average6.883.8667.2017.400.3556.00%9.80
Per Game Average w/Cousins6.173.4366.0019.220.3752.45%11.36

I knew one of these days I would find a way to shoehorn Desean Jackson into a Vikings article. One of the best deep threats of the 2010’s, Jackson made his way to Washington in 2014 after leaving Philadelphia where he played his first six seasons.

Jackson stayed in Washington for three seasons, meaning that he played almost two full seasons with Cousins, accounting for Jackson’s injuries and Cousins not being the starter for most of 2014. The story of the stats is less impressive here with Jackson sitting at or below his career average in most categories. However, he did have more yards per reception and more yards per target with Cousins as his quarterback.

This is probably because of his being used as Washington’s exclusive deep threat for the time he was there. It also shows once again that Cousins has one of the best deep balls in the game and he makes speedsters look good.

Jordan Reed:

TgtRecYdsY/RTDCtch%Y/Tgt
Career Per Game Average6.865.0651.9010.200.3773.80%7.60
Per Game Average w/Cousins7.505.6858.6810.340.5676.05%8.18

I almost didn’t include Reed in this list because I thought he had played almost his entire career with Kirk, but it turns out that he played 30 games with Cousins and 35 games without him. The oft-injured Reed was one of Cousins favorite targets when in Washington and Reed can thank Cousins for still being relevant despite never playing a full season.

Yes, Reed has talent, but Cousins was the quarterback that most effectively utilized that talent helping Reed put up 7.22 more yards per game and scoring touchdowns at nearly double his career average. Including Reed also illustrates Cousins effectiveness making tight ends better, and especially giving tight ends chances in the red zone. If Reed could have stayed healthy, his numbers with Cousins would probably be even more impressive and he likely would be one of the top tight ends in the NFL today.

Pierre Garcon:

TgtRecYdsY/RTDCtch%Y/Tgt
Career Per Game Average7.034.2453.112.50.2660.30%7.50
Per Game Average w/Cousins7.715.1261.8111.90.3362.50%7.48

The man on this list who has played the most with Cousins. Garcon arrived in Washington in 2012, the same year that Cousins was drafted by the Redskins. He stayed in Washington during Cousins’ entire tenure in Washington.

Garcon’s numbers wouldn’t be that compelling for a case claiming that Cousins makes his receivers better, except for the fact that he put up nearly nine more yards per reception with Cousins as his quarterback. He also put up 1041 receiving yards in 2016, his last 1000 receiving yard season, all with Cousins under center. 

Vernon Davis:

TgtRecYdsY/RTDCtch%Y/Tgt
Career Per Game Average4.692.9438.213.000.3262.80%8.10
Per Game Average w/Cousins4.002.7238.4714.150.1668.00%9.62

The last man on this list and the second tight end. Davis played with Cousins in Washington in 2016 and 2017. He’s the most compelling player on this list because he certainly was on the downslope when he started playing with Kirk, being 32 in 2016.

Davis was the second tight end in Washington’s offense, when Jordan Reed was healthy. This means that he shouldn’t have had any especially prolific seasons with Kirk. He’s also who I would say was the worst on this list at the time that played with Cousins.

So, his stats with Cousins are generally at or above his career averages. His yards per catch and yards per target are both better by more than a yard. He also was putting up more yards per game, all with less targets and receptions. The other thing that he did that was worse than his career average was his rate of scoring touchdowns, doing that at about half his career average.

Conclusion:

So, does Kirk Cousins make his teammates better? I think so. However, it’s not that clear cut when you look at the stats of these players. I think it’s more prevalent in watching film and how he executes play action and makes reads to get to his best option. That is unfortunately a bit hard to convey through writing though. If we’re going just based on these stats it’s a bit inconclusive as I don’t know that there is significant enough differences in averages with Cousins vs career averages.

He doesn’t have a slew of one-off receivers who succeed with him and then do nothing after they leave like Brady or Rodgers. The best cases for him are still out there. It remains to be seen if Stefon Diggs will be better or worse with Josh Allen. The thing to remember with Diggs is that his career averages are a bit low due to his playing with Teddy Bridgewater, Sam “Glass Knees” Bradford, and Case Keenum. All guys who weren’t prolific with the deep ball, or didn’t have time to throw that deep ball.

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Kjocon
Kirby O'Connor is a graduate of Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, where he studied Electronic Publishing and minored in Art. Kirby is a lifelong, die-hard Vikings fan thanks to his father. You can find him on Twitter @kjocon14.
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