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How Kirk Cousins' game can help Vikings rookie QB Kellen Mond

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Kellen Mond's NFL draft profile (1:08)

Check out the best highlights from Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond's college career. (1:08)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kellen Mond wasted no time getting acclimated to the Minnesota Vikings' offense.

Immediately after being drafted, the quarterback the Vikings selected in the third round received a tablet loaded with film cut-ups. He went to work and watched every game from the Vikings’ 7-9 season multiple times.

Mond saw some really ugly moments from a season that featured a 1-5 start, but that didn’t deter him from being inspired about his transition to the NFL, namely because of who he’ll be learning from -- veteran Kirk Cousins.

“Being able to watch Kirk on certain cut-ups are things I really enjoy,” Mond said. “Just really enjoy watching his execution, his footwork, just watch how he’s able to go through reads and pretty much master the offense. The more I watch him, the more I’m able to mimic his footwork, his cadence, which is huge in the NFL.

“There’s so many things I need to learn, but I feel like I’m in a phenomenal organization with phenomenal talent and obviously can’t wait to get to work with Kirk also.”

Mond is eager to learn, but the Vikings don’t want him to mold himself into someone he’s not.

“I want him to be himself,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We brought him in here as a talented, athletic quarterback, and I just want him to be himself. But the things he can learn from Kirk are the way that he handles the games, the way that he goes about his business in the classroom and on the field, how to work.

“A lot of these guys when they come in, they don't know how to be professional. Part of that is in the locker room and in the weight room. All those types of things.”

Mond’s dual-threat abilities and physical tools could provide the Vikings' offense a different element. Mond improved his completion percentage every season over four years starting in the SEC. Texas A&M’s scheme, which had a heavy rushing attack coupled with play-action in 2020, brought out the best in Mond, who improved his pocket presence, accuracy and rhythm.

Mond can learn a lot from Cousins as he begins his NFL career vying to become the Vikings' backup quarterback. And there are things Cousins does that Mond should avoid.

What to watch for

Many rookie quarterbacks experience a steep learning curve as they transition from simplified spread offenses that don’t require them to audible, call plays in the huddle or make pre-snap reads.

The pro-style offense Mond led under coach Jimbo Fisher should give him a leg up in the transition, particularly his introduction to taking snaps under center. The key to mastering that element will come from watching how Cousins executes various drops and goes through multiple progressions.

“It’s really all just about foot placement, foot speed, just being efficient with your feet,” Mond said. “It’s all about angles on play-action. That’s something I continue to watch on film. Just how he’s able to master certain angles and make his play-action look the same as the runs.

“Obviously, he’s done a tremendous job. Those are just certain things I like to watch and I like to learn so I’m able to mimic that and still be effective on the field.”

Play-action is a Vikings staple and few other quarterbacks execute them as well as Cousins.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cousins has a league-high 12 passing touchdowns on designed roll outs since joining the Vikings in 2018. Eleven of those have come off play-action passes.

Mond’s 70 play-action rollouts at A&M since 2018 were the fourth-most in FBS. However, he averaged just 2.0 per game with a 60.7% completion percentage on such throws for 540 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

Cousins has been praised as a top deep-ball quarterback with an ability to throw into tight windows. Since 2018, he has completed 41.3% of those tight-window attempts traveling 10-plus air yards, according NFL Next Gen Stats.

Cousins has also only been off-target on 15.6% of throws outside the numbers (second-best in the NFL since 2018). Mond struggled with accuracy and overthrowing receivers on deep balls at Texas A&M. His anticipatory throws were highly inconsistent. Mond completed 26% of his deep throws and 35% of his intermediate throws outside of the numbers in 2020.

Another area Mond struggled in college happens to be one of Cousins dominates: the red zone.

Since 2018, Cousins has thrown 61 passing touchdowns inside the 20-yard line to just one interception. In the red zone, Mond struggled with his accuracy, completing 50.7% of his attempts for 51 touchdowns and six interceptions over four years as a starter. Those 51 TDs were tied for the third-most in FBS -- and his six interceptions were tied for the third-most in that same span.

What to stay away from

Minnesota viewed Mond as the most experienced quarterback in the draft. His improvement from year to year backed the Vikings’ belief that if they gave him time to develop under a veteran QB, his chance for success would be high.

One area Mond struggled was protecting the football. His nine fumbles lost from 2018-20 were the most among SEC quarterbacks.

While there’s plenty he can learn from Cousins, costly fumbles are something the veteran has also battled. Cousins has lost 15 fumbles since 2018, the fourth-most in the NFL over that span.

Reading defenses takes time for rookie quarterbacks to learn. Mond excelled in picking apart man coverage (31 TD and nine INTs) but was less effective when he faced zone defenses (27 TDs and 12 INTs).

The caliber of defenses in the NFL are vastly more difficult, but this is an area Cousins has also struggled. Most of the mistakes Cousins has made have been throwing into zone coverage, whether it be trying to force a pass or misreading a coverage or certain window. Since becoming the Vikings’ QB, Cousins has thrown 23 touchdowns and 21 interceptions against zone coverage while he’s dominated against man (68 TDs and seven INTs since 2018).

The Vikings made a conscious effort to improve their offensive line through the draft. They hope that will improve their pass protection so Cousins has more time to throw. But even behind units that have blocked effectively, Cousins holds on to the ball longer than most (2.86 seconds after the snap, eighth-highest in the NFL since 2018).

Some of that has to do with the time it takes to go through his reads, his targets not getting open or Minnesota calling play-action. Most of the QBs in the NFL who hold on to the ball longest are primarily dual-threat quarterbacks such as Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson.

Mond ranked in the middle of the pack in this category, averaging 2.71 seconds after the snap from 2019-20. Given his dual-threat ability, this might not be a considered a concern for Mond, whose ability to take off and deliver the ball on the run while also making off-platform throws helps him extend plays.