In the spring and fall of 2009, Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol were deadlocked in a battle to be the starting quarterback.
My take at that time: Nichol was the quarterback to take you to the next level, win Big Ten championships and go to the Rose Bowl. Cousins, on the other hand, was the second coming of Brian Hoyer -- he would win MSU some games and probably go on to be a decent backup in the NFL.
Well, Cousins ended up winning a LOT of games, 27 in fact. He also won a Big Ten title and a Legends Division title and came close to taking MSU to two Rose Bowls. So, if history continues to write itself in the opposite direction of what I said almost three years ago, Cousins will be more than a decent NFL backup someday.
A player who came in as untouted and a relative question mark as a recruit can be left as a major winner and three-time captain. He rewrote the record book and cemented a legacy in Spartans history.
These accomplishments were recognized by former NFL coach Jon Gruden on his show, QB camp, on Monday night when Cousins made an appearance. When Gruden asked Cousins if he felt like he accomplished what he wanted to at MSU, he summed up his career like this:
"You know, it wasn't perfect and it never is. But more than than anything, I gave all I could. I gave all I could for five years and I'm proud of that. I have no regrets in the sense that I prepared as hard as I could and did all I could."
** More after the jump. **
Here is a clip of Cousins on QB Camp:
After all that, when he wrapped up his senior season and career with a win against Georgia, the doubting and question marks returned and he was labeled as somewhat of an afterthought and a mid-round draft pick.
Gruden, who was one of the on-air commentators for the Outback Bowl, felt he got to know Cousins well in that week of practices and felt he has a lot to offer to an NFL team.
"What you’re getting is a three‑time team captain at Michigan State, so that tells you what type of leader he is," Gruden said. "He does have, I think, NFL prototype size. He’s in a very good offense at Michigan State. They ask him to do a lot of different things. He’s under the center, he’s in the shotgun, there’s a two‑back attack, there’s a no‑back attack."
About a month after the Outback Bowl, Cousins went to the Senior Bowl, and was labeled as the best quarterback on the North team by just about every analyst who spent the week watched the practices and games.
He drew praise from Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline in particular, who said:
"Kirk Cousins (QB/Michigan State) has shown the best arm of any signal caller on the North and it's of legitimate NFL strength. He's powered the ball into the tight spots and has challenged the hands of his receivers."
Once the NFL Combine rolled around, Cousins' arm strength was the talk of the quarterback workouts, being clocked at 59 mph -- tied for the highest velocity among the quarterbacks who participated in throwing workouts.
"The senior from Michigan State threw an accurate football in every drill and made it look easy," Russ Lande of the Sporting News said. "Cousins' performance since the season ended has helped him move up draft boards by showing NFL teams he can get rid of the ball quickly and next-level throws with the zip and accuracy. There were concerns about inconsistent play and untimely interceptions."
Finally, at the MSU Pro Day, Cousins directed and ran his own workouts -- which attracted the attention of analysts and scouts.
"That's atypical -- most of these quarterbacks are using quarterback gurus," draft expert Mike Mayock said on the NFL Network's Path to the Draft. "It was pretty cool to watch the kid throw the ball very well, with better arm strength than I expected, but the fact that he scripted and directed the entire workout was impressive to all the coaches here. I think the more all these coaches get involved with the evaluation process, the more this kid's stock is rising."
And among the hardest to impress, Gruden gave Cousins credit and expects him to be a second-round pick.
"I see him going in the second round, and I think he’s got a very bright future in the NFL because he’s all business all the time," Gruden said. "He’s a meticulous preparation freak. I think he’s got very good athletic ability, and he’s got a lot of experience as a starting quarterback in a big arena."
Reports indicate Cousins had either a private workout or a visit with the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. Interest also has come from the Pittsburgh Steelers (head coach Mike Tomlin had dinner with Cousins before MSU's Pro Day), Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens.
Draftcountdown's Shane P. Hallam said the best fits for Cousins would be with the Browns or Eagles.
Here is some insight into the former MSU captain heading into the NFL Draft on April 26-28:
Strengths: Everyone knows he is a leader. As quotes indicated, his arm strength is a strong point. Incredible smarts.
Weaknesses: Question marks remain about his decision making under pressure.
Best Fit: A team where he can be a backup for a couple years and learn and grow under a solid quarterback, and then have the chance to start.
Here is a career highlight tape put together by an MSU grad. Check out his YouTube channel and all his videos.