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Fantasy Football Crossroads: Derek Carr vs. Kirk Cousins

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We continue our fantasy football crossroads series with a look at two of the most underrated signal callers in the NFL in Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins. From a fantasy perspective, both players have hovered around the QB2 range but can either launch into the top-10 this season?

 

Let’s take a look at who fantasy drafters should target for 2022.

Derek Carr, QB, Las Vegas Raiders

Derek Carr Player Bio Fantasy Football Crossroads

The Case for Carr

One of the most underrated signal callers in football in recent seasons, Derek Carr enjoyed another solid season in 2021, tossing 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He set career-high marks in passing yards (4,804) and pass attempts (626), while his 7.7 yards per attempt was the second highest of his career and the seventh-highest mark in all of football. The 3.7% touchdown rate was his lowest since 2018 and the third lowest of his career, but you can bet the touchdowns are going to climb after the Raiders acquired arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Davante Adams

Derek Carr Fantasy Crossroads

But more on that later.

As far as the Raiders offense, we saw a massive uptick in passing. Very quietly, Las Vegas finished with a pass rate of 62.8%, which was the fourth highest in all of football, while also ranking fourth in red zone passing rate (65.39%). Carr averaged nearly 37 passing attempts per game — even with Josh McDaniels now calling plays, I don’t expect the offensive philosophy to change too much, especially after adding Adams. And while Carr’s low touchdown rate and lack of rushing limited him to just 15.9 fantasy points per game, the play on the field was mostly impressive. In fact, per FTN Fantasy’s advanced passing stats, Carr tied for fifth among all quarterbacks in highlight passes (36), which are throws that feature perfect placement in a tight window. And in 2020, only Tom Brady had more such passes than Carr (24). During that same two-year stretch, Carr has also ranked 10th and seventh in adjusted completion percentage among all quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks, and now he is surrounded by the most talent of his career by far.

Adams and Carr have a connection from their time at Fresno State, so it is entirely possible that his presence takes Carr’s passing game to an even higher level. During his eight-year career, Carr has only reached 30 passing touchdowns once in a season — because he isn’t really providing any value in the rushing department, Carr will need to have 32-35 touchdowns to emerge as a top-10 fantasy signal caller. That is where Adams comes in, as he’s been making reservations for six repeatedly over the last handful of years. Of course, he was playing as the clear top target in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense but between Adams’ ability to get off the line and create separation, he is going to do wonders for Carr. In 2021, Carr ranked just 19th in the NFL in red zone completion percentage (55.8%), while only completing 51.4% of his passes from inside the 10-yard line, which was 27th among all passers. Adams, meanwhile, has ranked third and first in receiving touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line over the last two seasons. Between Adams’ brilliance, a healthy Darren Waller (who will no longer see bracket coverage) and Hunter Renfrow’s array of crossover moves in the red zone, don’t be surprised if we see a career high in touchdown rate for Carr in 2022. 

The Case Against Carr

Because the quarterback position is still so deep, it has been difficult for Carr to emerge as a clear top-10 option. And that is especially the case when Carr doesn’t provide much fantasy production on the ground, as he’s recorded six career rushing touchdowns over eight seasons, while averaging just two rushing attempts and about six rushing yards per contest. A second case against Carr is the Raiders offensive line that has fallen off in a huge way as of late. In 2021, Las Vegas quarterbacks were hurried 20.7% of the time, good for the fourth-highest rate in football. Carr was also under duress on about 35% of his dropbacks.

 

Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings

Kirk Cousins Player Bio Fantasy Football Crossroads

The Case for Cousins

During his four seasons in Minnesota, Kirk Cousins has been the definition of rock solid and consistent. In that stretch, the veteran signal caller has eclipsed 4,200 passing yards three times, throwing at least 30 touchdowns in three of those four years. He’s finished as the QB13, QB18, QB11 and QB11 in fantasy since joining the Vikings, presenting a very strong floor each season. The emergence of Justin Jefferson has been terrific for Cousins, who has one of the best receiver duos in football with Jefferson and veteran Adam Thielen. Cousins displayed terrific accuracy this past season, ranking sixth among all quarterbacks with 100 dropbacks in deep completion percentage (44.6%), while also sporting the league’s eighth-highest red zone completion rate (60.8%). Cousins has finished inside the top-10 in passing yards in six of his past seven seasons, while also ranking inside the top-10 in passing touchdowns in five consecutive seasons. 

Kirk Cousins Fantasy Crossroads

Entering the 2022 campaign, Cousins has a new head coach in Kevin O’Connell, coming over from the Los Angeles Rams. I expect Minnesota’s offense to be a lot more creative. and we could see more passing from Cousins and the Vikings. We could also see a slight uptick in pace from the Vikings, too, which could help Cousins reach the 560-pass-attempt mark once again. Cousins also rarely misses games, playing at least 16 contests in six of his last seven seasons. He’ll more than likely rank inside the top-10 quarterbacks in yards, passing touchdowns and completion percentage once again, providing a very safe floor.

The Case Against Cousins

The only real case against Cousins is the overall lack of upside. Like I said, he’s finished as a top-13 fantasy quarterback in three of his four seasons in Minnesota but has yet to crack the top-10. A huge reason behind that is the lack of rushing, as Cousins has yet to reach 160 rushing yards and has failed to score more than one touchdown on the ground in every season since joining the Vikings. 

The Verdict: Derek Carr in a Close One

Both quarterbacks are ranked insanely close for me, but Carr gets the edge because I think he could attempt around 50 more passes than Cousins this season, while the addition of Davante Adams should really help improve his lackluster touchdown totals as. I also think we could see a handful of shootouts in that star-studded AFC West, while Cousins should have plenty of games where he may only have to throw 28-30 times. Both quarterbacks are elite QB2 options with low-end QB1 upside.

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