Taken as the second quarterback by the Redskins in the 2012 NFL Draft, Kirk Cousins came to Washington with an undefined role and unknown expectations.
If all went according to plan, he would be an unnecessary insurance policy for Robert Griffin III, who was named the starting quarterback during rookie mini-camp.
But, as so often happens in the NFL, things did not go according to plan and Cousins appeared in four-of-17 games, making his first career start in Week 15 vs. Cleveland.
He finished the season 33-for-38 for 466 yards and four touchdowns, with only three sacks and three interceptions.
His fourth-quarter comeback against the Baltimore Ravens and victory over the Browns preserved the Redskins' seven-game winning streak and delivered the franchise's first NFC East title since 1999.
While the success may have come as a surprise to those outside of the organization, his teammates said he set the bar high from Day 1.
"Kirk's done a great job all year of keeping himself prepared, having himself ready to be the starter," said tight end Chris Cooley. "He has a mindset that allows him to do that.
"He has the mindset of a leader, and he's done everything he's been asked to do since he's been here."
With Griffin III in the game, the Redskins had great success running the read option offense, particularly out of the Pistol formation.
With Cousins in the game, the Redskins turned to a more traditional offense with Cousins under center, keeping defenses off balance with play action handoffs.
But when called upon, Cousins used his mobility to execute bootlegs and rollouts out of the pocket.
"A lot of faith was put in Kirk. I think Kirk did a great job of selling those boots, getting himself on the edge and making some plays," Cooley said. "He kept his eyes downfield, made a ton of good reads. He has savvy—a ton of savvy—not only for a rookie, but a rookie who hasn't played."
Despite attempting only 48 passes this season, Cousins showed a knack for the highlight reel, completing touchdown passes of 77 yards to Santana Moss and 54 yards to Leonard Hankerson.
As Cooley revealed after the 38-21 victory over the Browns, the pass to Hankerson was a great read by the rookie quarterback.
"We don't throw that ball on the [quarterback] keeper very often, so when it comes out of his hand, my first reaction is, 'Wow, he threw it!'" Cooley said. "We knew we needed something to happen, and for Kirk to throw that ball was a big spark for us."
Even Cousins's teammates on defense were unfazed by his success, having watched his development each week against the starting defense in practice.
"Nope, not at all surprised," cornerback Josh Wilson said of Cousins's development. "He's been going against us all season as the scout team quarterback. Like I said about Robert [Griffin III] I'm going to say about Kirk: I'm glad he's on our side.
Wilson continued: "I'm proud of him because there were a lot of guys that questioned the Redskins' scouting department when they drafted him, and obviously they knew something. They knew they were going to need him to step up big, and he did."
For Cousins, the opportunity to play in the NFL was the product of years of hard work and dedication.
Even so, he admitted after his start in Cleveland that he still had a lot to learn.
"We were a little too passive, too lethargic early on," he said of his zero-for-six start to the game. "Maybe as a quarterback, I learned a lesson from that to bring more energy to the start and be a little more vocal and intense from the beginning."
Cousins Pleased With Team's Success:
Even though the players and fans were understandably disappointed with the early exit from the playoffs, Cousins anticipates a lot of exciting Redskins football in the immediate future.
"There is only one team happy at the end of the season. There are 31 teams that feel like this at some point," he said. "It has been a great year to win seven in a row and pull ourselves out from where we were.
"We have a lot to be proud of and remembering this feeling going into the offseason, I think, will strengthen us as a team and bring us together when we go into our preparation in the spring.
"I think this will help us going into next season in having a better year."
Teammates and coaches described Cousins as "the ultimate team player" and were happy to see him get his opportunities to compete this season.
For Cousins, team success came first, but the personal success was another step to validate his hard work.
"I view every opportunity I get as a chance to sell myself to these coaches here in D.C., to 31 other coaches, 31 other teams. Every opportunity I get I want to make the most of it and be fully prepared for those moments when they come.
"As opportunities present themselves down the road, I need to be ready and be able to show what I can do because I'm not going to have two or three years worth of games to show. I'm going to have a game here, a game there, a preseason half here or there.
"I'm hoping that will be good enough to show what I can do."