Days after the 2012 NFL draft had completed, the Washington Redskins were universally praised for drafting Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III at No. 2 overall but similarly blasted for taking Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fourth round.
With Griffin III inactive Sunday against the Cleveland Browns because of a sprained LCL (via Albert Breer of NFL Network), the Redskins are looking smarter and smarter for taking Cousins to back up the explosive but vulnerable starting quarterback.
Way-too-early opinions after the draft could have—but certainly did not—foreshadow this kind of scenario.
Here are just a few samples of the negative opinions draft pundits had about the Redskins taking Cousins back in April:
- "This draft, and the future of the franchise, rests in Robert Griffin III’s hands. They sold out for him, and then had a crummy draft after that top pick—Kirk Cousins in Round 4? Downright baffling, even for the Redskins." —Sports lllustrated
- "Their first pick gets an A+. Their third pick gets an F. Why the Redskins would draft two quarterbacks in their first four selections is beyond me." —Matt Miller, Bleacher Report's lead NFL draft writer
- "The pick of another quarterback, Kirk Cousins, obviously created some curiosity. I can see a plan: Washington develops an asset it can deal in a year to regain some draft picks. Is Cousins worth a second-round pick in a year?" —ESPN's Mel Kiper (subscription required)
- "Coach Mike Shanahan and his coordinator son, Kyle, believe they made a smart pick with Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fourth round, but all they did was unnecessarily put more pressure on their No. 1 pick, Robert Griffin III...this team didn't have the luxury of making this pick." —FOX Sports' John Czarnecki
The Redskins, who are still in the hunt for both the NFC East and wild-card races at 7-6, are turning to Cousins Sunday in Cleveland. While a loss does not eliminate the Redskins from either race, a setback would put Washington on the edge of playoff relevancy.
It's now on Cousins to keep the Redskins rolling, which should sound much better than Washington starting a veteran like Rex Grossman or John Beck (released a day after the draft) today in Cleveland.
Cousins has already given the Redskins value as Griffin III's backup.
Filling in for Griffin III after he suffered a concussion against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6, Cousins threw a 77-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss to help get the Redskins back into that game. He then threw two interceptions in the final two minutes as he tried to rally Washington back late.
Two months later, Cousins might have saved the Redskins' season.
Down eight points to the Baltimore Ravens, Cousins replaced Griffin III with 45 seconds left and the Redskins facing a 2nd-and-20 from the Baltimore 26-yard line. The fourth-round pick calmly completed a 15-yard pass to Leonard Hankerson on his first throw, and then found Pierre Garcon for a touchdown on the next play. Cousins tied the game with a two-point conversion on a designed quarterback draw.
In overtime, the Redskins were able to kick the game-winning field goal after a long punt return.
Just like that, Cousins and the Redskins stole a win from the jaws of defeat. The win in Week 14 alone validated Washington's decision to provide Griffin III with a young and capable backup, even if it cost a fourth-round pick.
If Cousins can manage a way to beat the Browns on the road Sunday, the Redskins would have to feel as good about their quarterback situation as any in the NFL currently.
Griffin III is still the face of the franchise, and where the Redskins go will largely depend on him staying healthy and continuing his rapid development under center.
But his body size (6'2", 217 pounds) and playing style (112 rushing attempts in 2012) will always leave him open for injuries, which makes having a guy like Cousins much more valuable as a backup than most other NFL teams.
The Redskins were unfairly blasted for picking Cousins back in April, but they are looking smarter and smarter as the 2012 season has played out.