Am I becoming a provocateur or what? The Minnesota Vikings quarterback is not the favorite, but with two games remaining, he’s certainly in the running for the big award.
Minnesota did what the Green Bay Packers were unable to do this year: bring in a relief quarterback who quickly started racking up wins – Keenum has led the Vikings to 10 wins, while losing only three games.
What did the Vikes do right that the Packers did wrong?
Keenum was a journeyman at best at the start of the season. You might even label him a “flunky” based on his previous four years in the league. As a part-time QB with three other teams prior to going to Minnesota, he never had a passer rating in the 90s. His win-lose mark was 9-15. His TD-interception ratio was 44-27.
The Texans didn’t want to keep him, twice. The Rams picked him up and eventually waived him. A year later they invested a seventh-round draft choice to get him back. The Rams even started him in 2016 until Jared Goff was felt to be ready to step in.
The Vikings picked Keenum up in March, as insurance for Sam Bradford. His $2 million contract is for one year. Keenum will be making mucho dinero for some team in 2018.
Sam Bradford started off 2017 with a big win over the Saints — for which he was named offensive player of the week. But he succumbed to continuing knee problems, an aftermath of two ACL surgeries, and he was finally placed on IR in early November.
Keenum started the Vikings’ second game of the year, inauspiciously losing to the Steelers, 26-9. But he then rapidly improved, winning the next nine out of 10 games, and sealing the NFC North championship.
Keenum is probably the hottest quarterback in the league at the moment. His passer rating average over the last six games is 112.4. The league leader is Alex Smith at 105.4.
Keenum vs. Hundley
There are a bunch of similarities, and differences, between these two NFC North backup QBs who were thrust into starting roles this year.
Both had great college careers, but Hundley excelled at UCLA, whereas Keenum was a six-year man at Houston, in Conference USA. He red-shirted in 2006, and missed much of the 2010 season due to an ACL tear, finishing his college career by being named C-USA MVP in 2011.
Hundley was the more coveted coming out of college, being drafted by Green Bay in the fifth round in 2015. Keenum went undrafted in 2012.
At 6’3” and 226 pounds, Hundley has better size than Keenum, who is 6’1” and weighs 215 pounds.
In his four previous years, Keenum started 24 games in the NFL. Hundley now has started seven NFL games – all this year.
Hundley is only 24; Keenum will turn 30 in February.
Keenum, though not previously known for his running ability, has run 33 times for 162 yards in 2017, a 4.9 yard average. Hundley likes to run — in essentially eight games he’s rushed 28 times for 207 yards, a 7.4 average. He’s had seven rushes in each of his last two games.
Here’s a noteworthy stat: in almost eight games, Hundley got sacked 24 times; in 13 games, Keenum has only been sacked 17 times.
On the year Keenum has a passer rating of 98.9, eighth best in the league. After a horrendous start, Hundley has his rating up to 78.0. Keenum is also second in completion percentage, and he’s only thrown seven picks.
Despite some differences – mainly Keenum’s prior NFL experience – I would say that the two quarterbacks’ abilities and potential are fairly commensurate. Keenum has beyond dispute proven he’s a starting-quality NFL signal caller. I do think Hundley has the potential to also be a winning quarterback in this league, though not a top-tier one.
At any rate, Minnesota is going on, and Green Bay is going home. That’s because Minnesota’s coaches got their backup quickly up to speed, and Green Bay’s staff did not.
I’m not knowledgeable enough about Case Keenum’s season to try to explain his sudden rise in competence. All I can say for now is the Packers were slow to get Hundley game-ready – whether through poor game planning, poor play calling, poor training/practice sessions, or poor coaching, generally.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, along with the rest of his staff deserve a great deal of credit. No one foresaw Keenum being in the MVP conversation with the likes of Tom Brady, the favorite. With the injuries to Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, and Antonio Brown, Keenum might well be in the top three when the votes are counted.
For this achievement, Mike Zimmer should sweep the various upcoming coach of the year awards. The Packers got massively outcoached and out-prepared this year by their rival to the west.