Before you invade my mentions, I really like Kirk Cousins.
Cousins is one of the best quarterbacks that has played for my favorite team the Minnesota Vikings in my lifetime. In fact, compared to some of the guys that we have seen start at the position, Cousins looks like an elite quarterback. When you have had Brooks Bollinger, Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson start the majority of games during the middle of the 2000s and the failed Joe Webb, Donovan McNabb, and Christian Ponder experiments, few fan bases have seen as much bad quarterback play as the Vikings have.
On the flip side, we have had some good quarterbacks play for the Vikings as well. Cousins, Sam Bradford, Brett Favre and Teddy Bridgewater were all good to great quarterbacks in the time they played for the purple and gold. In fact, I tried to make the argument that I would take a healthy Sam Bradford over Andrew Luck because I believe that the peak is higher than that of Andrew Luck. The biggest issue for Bradford was his glass knees. He could never stay fully healthy and playing behind poor offensive lines didn’t help any either.
This may sound like a hot take but I really don’t believe it should be: Daunte Culpepper is the best quarterback to suit up for the Vikings in the 21st century.
Before you start yelling at your computer or phone, context is always king and this is no different. Brett Favre is a top ten quarterback of all-time and Donovan McNabb is a fringe hall of famer. With that being said, I am talking about who they were when they played for the Vikings. When you break it down, there really isn’t much of a debate in my mind.
After finishing the 1998 season, the Vikings traded quarterback Brad Johnson for a pick in each of the first three rounds over the next two years. Yes, you read that right. Brad Johnson once landed a haul similar to that of Khalil Mack. He had lost the starting job to Randall Cunningham after getting injured in week 2 against the St Louis Rams and Cunningham led the Vikings to a magical season before the devastating loss against Atlanta in the NFC Championship game. Because of that season by the resurgence of Cunningham, Johnson became expendable which landed the Vikings the 11th overall pick in the quarterback heavy 1999 NFL Draft in which some analysts were comparing to the legendary 1983 draft which netted 3 hall of fame quarterbacks drafted in round one. The 1999 class ended up having 2 really good quarterbacks: Donovan McNabb who went number two overall to the Eagles and Culpepper who the Vikings took at pick 11.
As a rookie, Culpepper was the third string quarterback who only saw the field in a late season blowout. He spent the year learning behind Cunningham and former first round pick Jeff George, who took over mid-season and led the team to an 11-5 record with an offense that was fifth in the league in scoring and third in yards. After the season, head coach Dennis Green cut ties with both of them and went with the second year signal caller out of Central Florida.
In college, Culpepper showed himself to be both an excellent runner and passer, setting the NCAA record for completion percentage at 73.6 percent. He also threw for over 3,600 yards with 28 touchdown passes and rushing for 463 yards and another 12 touchdowns. Once he became the starter in Minnesota, he became everything that he was at UCF and more.
Culpepper Can Run
At 6’4″ and 265 pounds, Culpepper was not your average starting quarterback. He was a defensive lineman with a cannon for an arm. Not only did he excel as a passer but he was a great runner as well. In his 5 full seasons as a starting quarterback, he was very good as a runner.
While he struggled mightily from 2001-2003 with fumbles, Culpepper was dangerous as a runner.
This was a designed naked bootleg for Culpepper ran to perfection. At 265 pounds, he is a powerful runner but he was fast as well, running a 4.52 40 yard dash at the combine in 1999. He could run with and over a defensive back, something that you see at the end of this play. While there were a lot of designed runs for him, he wasn’t a running quarterback. He was looking to pass more often than not, as you can see in the play below.
Culpepper Was A Great Passer
Rounding out his ability as a true dual-threat quarterback, Culpepper has what I believe is the strongest arm to ever play for the Vikings and they had Jeff George before he left his prime. Without stepping too much into the throw, Culpepper could chuck the ball 60 yards downfield with ease.
The deep ball became Culpepper’s specialty, which makes sense considering his number one receiver was Randy Moss, but it wasn’t just Moss that excelled in the offense. While he did miss 7 games with injuries during his first 5 seasons as a starter, he had no issue spreading the ball around, including a favorite of mine Nate Burleson having his only 1,000 yard season in 2004.
Not only could Culpepper make all the throws, he was very accurate as well. While he never hit the heights of his accuracy in college, Culpepper made a real case to be the MVP of the league in 2004 after breaking two league records: most total yards in a season (5,124) and completion percentage (69.2).
As you can see above, his 2004 campaign was statistically remarkable. Even though the team finished 8-8, that was not the fault of Culpepper but more so the fault of the defensive struggles. Culpepper’s best defense was 23rd in points allowed in 2003 and his worst was 30th the year prior in 2002. That didn’t affect Culpepper from leading dynamic offenses having 4 top-ten offenses in his first 5 seasons as the starting quarterback. Putting up these kind of numbers consistently at that time was still impressive, as the rules for the passing game had not loosened up close to the point where they are now.
Daunte Knew What To Do And When To Do It
For Daunte, decision making is complicated. He has high turnover numbers but in order to fully understand those numbers, you need to understand the context.
His statistically poorest season in 2002, the Vikings boasted the eighth best scoring offense but also the 30th ranked scoring defense, allowing over 30 points 6 times and 40 points twice! Those kind of defensive performances are not conducive to good quarterback play. The Vikings turned the ball over a total of 41 times that season with 31 of them coming in losses. Daunte threw 23 interceptions and fumbled the ball another 23 times (losing only 9) accounting for a whopping 32 turnovers (78 percent). Along those same lines, head coach Mike Tice introduced the “Randy Ratio” signaling that they would make an effort to target Moss with at least 40 percent of all passes. Having the entire team on his shoulders along with being asked to force the ball to Moss led to some difficult numbers.
When you watch the film of Culpepper, his in game decision making was relatively solid. He knew where to throw the ball and when to run when the time came.
The vision and awareness to see this developing is excellent. Right off the bat, the game was in the control of the Vikings and they didn’t let off the gas. They beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in the wild card round 31-17 which happened to be the game where Moss mooned the crowd. Even though that moment is what the game is known for, it should be known for Culpepper having a fantastic game where he threw for 284 yards and 4 touchdowns and ran for another 47 yards. Sadly, just 7 games into the 2005 season, Culpepper tore his ACL, MCL and PCL in his knee and never played another down for the purple and gold, starting a chain reaction where devastating knee injuries would plague the team for years to come.
How Does He Compare To Other Quarterbacks This Decade?
When comparing Culpepper to other quarterbacks of the last twenty years, the smartest thing to do is to start by eliminating the players who are obviously not in contention. Guys like Tarvaris Jackson, Christian Ponder and even Teddy Bridgewater. Once we do this, we are left with 3 players: Kirk Cousins, Brett Favre and Sam Bradford.
Sam Bradford had a really good 2016 and was primed to have a great 2017 until another knee injury kept him from fulfilling his true potential in Minnesota. In 2016, he had his struggles, mostly coming from having a very bad offensive line forcing him to check the ball down more often than he would have liked to. That did lead him to break the NFL completion percentage record posting a percentage of 71.6. While I believe Bradford could have been one of the best quarterbacks of this era, his knees prevented him from doing so and it also has him below Culpepper.
Brett Favre led a truly magical season in 2009 for the purple and gold getting them within seconds of the Super Bowl before he pulled a Brett Favre and tried to force the ball to Sidney Rice and caused a season ending interception. In 2009, Favre threw for 33 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions reminding us all of his greatness in his early years. In 2010 however, he fell off a cliff, throwing for only 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions before suffering a season ending injury in week 15 in a 40-14 loss to the Chicago Bears, the first home game after the Metrodome roof collapsed. Ultimately, Favre was a better career quarterback than Culpepper, but not a better Viking.
Now comes the real debate: Kirk Cousins. Whether you think the Vikings made the right choice by paying Cousins instead of Keenum or Bridgewater, it’s hard to argue that Cousins has been nothing short of really good. Throwing for 7,901 yards, 56 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions with a completion percentage of 69.7. As always, context is important so having that completion percentage is less impressive than what Culpepper did in 2004 due to the nature of the passing game. Even with that context, Cousins has been really good. He has been relatively consistent as well, but his biggest issue has been disappearing the biggest games. In both games against the Packers this past season, his ineffectiveness lost both games, along with the 3 games against the Bears and the playoff game against the Saints. While he did somewhat get the monkey off of his back against the Saints, his up and down nature of how he plays the game really hurts his argument. When you compare him directly to Daunte, the passing numbers are similar, but you get two things from Daunte that you don’t get from Kirk: a credible rushing threat and he doesn’t disappear. Pair those with the arm talent he has and Culpepper gets the advantage.
One of the tough parts of a conversation like this is comparing across eras. While they are relatively similar, the rules have changed quite a bit in favor of the passing game over the last twenty years. Having watched throughout the last twenty years, it makes it just a little easier to make that comparison. While I do not know if Daunte will stay the best quarterback this century for too much longer, what he did in a Vikings uniform makes him in my opinion, without a doubt the best Vikings quarterback this century. If you never watched Daunte play live or need a refresher as to how good he was, watch this game.
You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you might just fall back in love with him and the infamous Daunte Roll.