Last April, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan was widely criticized for his selection of Michigan St.
"We have to have depth on a football team to win and you want quality," he said on April 28, 2012. "So if you see a quality player that you can get in the fourth round like we did, that is one or two plays away from being the starter, hopefully it doesn’t happen, but you ought to be prepared if it does."
Playing behind the eventual NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Cousins appeared in four contests, leading his team to victory in back-to-back games on the way to playoffs.
In a conversation with Redskins.comTV during the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, Shanahan said he never doubted the Cousins selection, calling him a first-round talent in the fourth round.
If he had applied for the draft in 2013, Shanahan believes Cousins would have gone in the first round.
"There’s no question in my mind. I thought he was a first round draft choice last year," Shanahan said. "There are different people that make a living looking at players. I thought he was one of the best players in the draft last year, but you’re not always right. They’ve got to go out and perform at a high level."
In four appearances and one start last season, Cousins finished with 4 touchdowns, three interceptions, 466 yards through the air and a 101.6 passer rating.
"I was really pleased with Kirk in the preseason. I was really pleased when he took advantage of the opportunity when he played against Cleveland," Shanahan said. "But more importantly, it was how he prepares and how he looks at the game."
Cousins was initially hesitant to be drafted behind a franchise quarterback, but embraced his role after Griffin III suffered his initial knee injury in Week 14.
While the Redskins may have made the playoffs without the Week 14 comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens or the Week 15 victory over the Browns, Cousins's performance helped get the Redskins to 10 wins and their first division title since 1999.
"You get a guy like Robert [Griffin III], you get a guy like Kirk, you’re always hoping for those type of guys to set your organization in the right direction and that’s what’s happened to us," Shanahan said. "We’ve got two young quarterbacks that know the difference of how to prepare [and] how to win and hopefully we can keep on doing it."
Although offseason workouts are still several weeks away, the Redskins are already planning to have Cousins run the first-team offense while
Shanahan downplayed the importance of these particular reps, but still called it a good opportunity for Cousins to gain comfort in the offense.
"Usually your first and second team quarterbacks are getting the same amount of reps going into the OTAs," Shanahan said. "But when you do get a chance to work with the first unit, it does give you a chance to work with the number one guys."
"It’ll be great for Kirk. It’ll be a great opportunity for him and he’ll take advantage of it."