Every year, it’s worth remarking that the Vikings haven’t seen stability at the quarterback position in over a decade, and though Kirk Cousins’ guaranteed contract should remedy that going forward, Minnesota will have had another new starting quarterback for the majority of the year six times in the past seven years – Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Cousins (or, if he’s injured, a backup new to the roster). Going back to 2005, that list includes Daunte Culpepper, Brad Johnson, Tarvaris Jackson and Brett Favre – 10 quarterbacks in 14 years. And that doesn’t include Donovan McNabb, who was yanked before you could say he was the ‘established quarterback’ for the 2011 season. Should the Vikings achieve stability over these next three years, it will be an accomplishment the franchise hasn’t seen since Culpepper’s 2000-05 run. And the Vikings forked over a lot of money for Kirk Cousins to be that streak-breaker.
[expand title=”KIRK COUSINS”]
The Vikings handed out the only fully guaranteed three-year contract for a veteran quarterback in free agency, committing to Kirk Cousins for the next three years. The Vikings have committed themselves to a quarterback in a way they never have before and they’ll hope that their coaching staff can get the most out of Cousins – a player that didn’t receive much faith from the very team that drafted him.
Strengths: Excellent at pre-snap read diagnosis. Great timing; gets the ball out on rhythm. Fast release, aids in preventing DBs from jumping the ball and prevents edge rushers from getting easier strip-sacks. When in rhythm, difficult to stop – demonstrates good decision-making, accuracy, mechanics and so on. Great short accuracy over the past two years, fitting in tight windows and leading receivers on screen passes. A good understanding of what defenses are attempting to accomplish and takes advantage of what they give him. Shows toughness and poise in the pocket; doesn’t tend to panic and his footwork stays strong. When he does make mistakes under pressure, they tend not be huge mistakes; not a high interception rate under pressure.
Weaknesses: When he does misdiagnose pre-snap read, he falters significantly and is prone to make mistakes. Will miss open receivers more often than many quarterbacks. Very poor third down conversion rate – in the bottom quarter of the league last year, and even worse (bottom 16th percentile) on third-and-long. In 2015 and 2016, had a better overall third-down conversion rate but still suffered on third-and-long compared to contemporaries. Poor accuracy under pressure in 2017 and 2015. Stays in the pocket a little too long — one reason he leads the league in fumbles over the last three years despite a quick release. Even though he can be tough in the pocket, he clearly struggles at times with pressure. Poor deep accuracy. Even though the number of “catchable passes” on balls traveling over 20 yards is high, he generally has worse ball placement than his peers and has been rescued by receivers a few times on these passes. Overall depth-adjusted accuracy is middling.[/expand]
[expand title=”TREVOR SIEMIAN”]
A second-year seventh-round pick who started over a rookie first-round pick, Trevor Siemian seemed an odd choice for a placeholder. But he proved to be more than that, wildly exceeding the standards set for him and proving himself better than Paxton Lynch when they competed directly. While Siemian couldn’t hold on to a long-term starting spot for Denver, he might be a capable backup in the NFL, especially with how quickly he brought himself up to speed once he entered the league.
Strengths: Very aggressive quarterback that attacks tight windows and throws downfield. Good movement in the pocket and solid quickness. Clean at play-action ball handling. Good instincts in improvisation. Incredibly fast learner; development curve from college to NFL was big, and he exceeded expectations in an enormous way.
Weaknesses: Poor arm strength, making it difficult to drive downfield, to the outside or in tight windows. Seven of his 14 interceptions came under pressure; one of the highest interception pressure rates in the league. Movement in pocket doesn’t translate to clean mechanics on the move or poise. Statistics when kept clean are equally bad – and that’s an even bigger indicator of an issue, because those statistics are more stable from year to year. Deep accuracy problems. Likely because he’s confident in his athleticism, he holds on to the ball under pressure and takes more sacks in the same situation than other QBs. Throws a high number of “interceptable passes.” Low accuracy – below 60 percent completion rate in both starting years is a little bit the result of an aggressive passing style, but also just poor overall accuracy; has poor accuracy against NFL average at every depth of target. Combined with poor arm strength, that’s a big problem. Can miss open receivers and misdiagnose defenses.[/expand]
[expand title=”KYLE SLOTER”]
A quarterback-turned-wide-receiver-turned-quarterback, Kyle Sloter represents a fairly unlikely path to the NFL. The potential he showed in his first preseason was enough to stoke the flames of Broncos fandom and encouraged the Vikings to snipe him off the Denver practice squad with a better practice squad salary offer. Interestingly, the Vikings may have found the better of the two backup quarterbacks from Denver’s potential practice squad instead of with Denver’s starter.
Strengths: Really had a stellar preseason. He was accurate to all three levels of the field – not just hitting the receiver’s hands, but excellent ball placement to keep the ball away from defenders and enable YAC; nearly every pass hit its mark against the Arizona Cardinals. Very good sideline accuracy and timing – really fantastic for receivers with good ball tracking. Pretty athletic, though not as athletic as you’d expect a wide receiver convert to be. Good timing and anticipation to hit tight windows. Solid-to-very-good arm strength, and can change the throttle to fit the situation. Good pre-snap reads and can identify which side of the field to target based on pre-snap diagnosis. Quick trigger when he sees what he expects. Throws well moving to his right and left.
Weaknesses: Looping throwing motion that will need to be tightened up – exposes his intentions and increases sack and fumble likelihood. Sometimes slow to react to pressure and can tighten up against it. If first read is covered, seems to turtle a little bit. Didn’t face a lot of complex looks in the preseason, so it remains to be seen if he can replicate some of his strengths in a more complex environment. Hasn’t played quarterback long enough for good habits to really be ingrained, and with only a small sample to evaluate, he could snap back to his true ability in a lot of areas pretty quickly.[/expand]
[expand title=”PETER PUJALS”]
A five-year starter at Holy Cross due to extended injury eligibility, Pujals brings a surprising amount of experience for an undrafted rookie to the Vikings roster. Though it seems very unlikely that he’ll beat out any of the quarterbacks on the roster for a spot given how enthusiastically the Vikings pursued all of them, he could be better practice-squad fodder than they’ve had in some time.
Strengths: Aggressive quarterback that likes to attack defenses more than simply take what’s given. Had significant control of the offense despite spread-style system, changing protections and playcall given what he saw. Good on-field athlete and great workout tester – 4.60 40-yard dash, 38” vertical and 6.90-second three-cone seem much closer to a receiver’s numbers than a quarterback’s numbers. Uses athleticism to elude blitzers or threatening edge defenders as well as to gain yards upfield. Good balance when being tackled or sacked. Generally makes good decisions, choosing which half of the field to read and which receiver to prioritize based on pre-snap and post-snap looks. Can work in a muddy pocket.
Weaknesses: It can be an issue when both accuracy and arm strength are weaknesses. Final year completion rate 55.4 percent isn’t representative – was a deeper thrower in his final year. Still, career completion rate of 59.4 percent matches overall issues with ball placement. Arm strength isn’t fatal – nothing like Kellen Moore or David Fales – but can cause issues, particularly on throws to the outside, as he moves up several levels to the NFL where defenders are faster, especially given his overall aggressiveness. Sometimes quick to use athleticism to leave the pocket too early. Not great throwing on the move.[/expand]
Check out the rest of the training camp guide:
Sam Ekstrom’s Position Battles
Sitting Brian O’Neill: Have “Developmental” Day Two Offensive Linemen Succeeded?
Pay Attention to Tryout Players
How to Watch Training Camp Drills
Can Kirk Cousins Be the Savior? (COMING SOON)