Gardner Minshew: The Man, the Myth, the Mustache
No 2019 rookie has done more to endear themselves to fans than has Gardner Minshew. His flashy, retro-hipster style and goofy antics make him easy to like; his mustache became an instant icon for a fan base that didn’t have much to cheer about coming into the 2019 season; his capacity to step for an injured Foles and win a few games made him a feel-good underdog story. NFL fans everywhere became caught up in Minshew Mania.
Yet no 2019 rookie has an NFL future that is harder to predict. Minshew well outperformed his draft stock, playing well enough to send incumbent Foles and his $24M contract back to the bench at the end of the year, and to Chicago this offseason; but erratic play and losing four of the last six games stopped him from solidifying himself as the future of the franchise.
Was Minshew mania just a flash in the pan, or could this young man and his mustache have staying power in the NFL?
Let’s find out.
Minshew played two seasons at East Carolina before transferring to Washinton State for his senior year, where he promptly set the PAC-12 on fire. Minshew finished the 2018 season ranking 1st amongst all 2018 CFB players in completions, 2nd in passing yards, and 4th in TDs, beating out NFL draft 1.01 Kyler Murray in all three categories. While it’s true that PAC-12 defenses are weak, it’s also true that the only other offensive NFL talent on his roster was RB Max Borghi.
Gardner’s final-season-heroics drew some minor attention, but ultimately weren’t enough to move him far up draft boards, and the Jaguars took him at 6.5 to compete for a backup spot behind Nick Foles.
Here’s some things scouts said about him in the draft process:
Minshew possesses the arm strength to drive balls effectively and plays with good poise/mobility within the pocket to extend plays. There are flashes of high end talent but Minshew’s erratic throwing platforms and decision making yield a lot of irregular targets and inaccurate footballs.Kyle Crabbs
Could he stick because coaches love his demeanor and work ethic as a QB3 or practice squad guy? Sure, maybe. But Minshew doesn’t have the arm, accuracy, athleticism or mental processing to compete at the NFL level. His tape is riddled with poor play, bad decisions and erratic passing.Jon Ledyard
In terms of athletics and measurables, Minshew was generally below-average, though his 10 ½” hands and 77th % Burst Score were bright spots in his profile.
In the NFL
When Nick Foles went down week one of 2019, Minshew stepped in without missing a beat. He thew for 3271 yards with a 21 to 6 TD/INT ratio in just 14 games and added another 344 yards on the ground.
These are pretty good numbers, especially for a rookie.
Let’s put that into some context. Here’s all the rookie QBs in the past 20 years that have passed for at least 3200 / 21 with 7.0 AYA (Minshew had 7.2):
That’s some pretty nice company to be keeping.
How Did He Compare to the Other 2019 Rookie QBs?
Over a 12-game sample, Gardner managed an average QBR of 99.14, the best of the 3 rookie QBs that played at least 12 games.
He threw for more yards/game than Murray and rushed for more yards/game than Daniel Jones.
Here’s how Minshew compared to the other rookies in some key metrics:
It’s easy to see that- at least statistically- Minshew held his own against his more highly-drafted classmates.
Everything in Context
Clearly, Gardner put up some good numbers, but numbers need context. We need to consider the situation surrounding Minshew to determine if it’s likely he can repeat or improve upon his 2019 numbers.
First, riddle me this: What does Minshew have in common with Kirk Cousins and Nick Foles?
Answer: John DeFilippo.
While he’s struggled to find staying power- he’s been one-and-done at all three of his OC stints to date- DeFilippo’s offenses have been quite kind to his QBs.
In 2017, playing under OC Frank Reich and QBs coach DeFilippo, Nick Foles went on a tear during the playoffs, averaging a rating of 133, 323 yards, 9/2 Y/A while completing 73% of his passes. His career averages are 88.2, 205, 7.0, and 6.9.
Kirk Cousins had one of his best statistical seasons in 2018 with DeFilippo as his OC. He threw for the highest completion rate and TD total and the second-highest yardage total of his career; he did this despite DeFilippo getting fired and the Vikings instituting a new OC and a run-first scheme for the final three games.
DeFilippo has never coordinated an offense that finished lower than top-12 in passing attempts or better than the bottom-13 in rushing attempts. The 2019 Jaguars were no exception to his rule of throwing early and often, ending the season with the 9th highest passing play rate of any team at 61.86% despite having a healthy Leonard Fournette for nearly the entire season.
Jacksonville’s struggling defense certainly contributed to this, as did their 27th-ranked o-line, but some of this must also be attributed to play calling.
How Much Will These Factors Change for Jacksonville in 2020?
Let’s start with the defense. The Jags notably traded away both their top CBs in Ramsey and Bouye, and they lost All-Pro Calais Campbell to free agency. They replaced them with Rashaan Melvin and Rodney Gunter, huge downgrades; they did add Joe Shobert to bolster their LB core. It’s hard to look at this roster and expect better results than we saw from the this unit in 2019.
The offensive line hasn’t changed, though many think they’ll look to improve the position group in the draft.
The one area where we might see a substantial shift is in the play calling, as ex-Washington HC Jay Gruden slides into the OC role for the 2020 Jags. We have a long history of Gruden’s offenses to examine- 3 years as Cincinnati’s OC, 6 years as Washington’s HC- to try to guess what he might do this year. While the personnel he had to work with likely influenced tendencies- as can be seen from several outlier years- the data seems to suggest enough of a pattern that we can guess what Gruden’s inclinations might be.
First, while the 2019 Redskins had a pass/rush ratio that was near the league average, their 3-year average was substantially higher, suggesting that the lower rate was likely a result of the personnel on the field this past season. This makes sense as Washington scrambled to bring in Keenum to replace Alex Smith after the latter’s horrific 2018 injury; when Keenum went down in 2019, the ‘Skins were forced to throw struggling rookie Dwayne Haskins into the fire.
Looking at Gruden’s teams finishes in terms of rushing and passing attempts, we find that they’ve generally finished below the league average in both (average ranks 18th and 19th, respectively).
This at first glance seems off- it’s unusual that a team would be below average in both passing plays and running plays- but it makes sense when we look at the average plays/game. The 2019 Washington Redskins finished dead last in plays per game; more concerningly, their 3-year average is a bottom 8 number, and from 2014-2017 they were ranked in the bottom 3.
While it seems that Gruden has generally aimed for balanced offenses, his pace of play in Washington was pure molasses. The numbers from Cincinnati look quite different- the Bengals were a top-3 team in plays/game during his tenure as OC- but it’s wise to weigh his more recent experience more heavily when projecting future practices.
It’s unlikely that the volume completely disappears for Gardner- that o-line and defense are going to prevent a complete ball-control, run-first play style from being viable for the Jags- but a drastic reduction in the pace of play and total plays run will definitely sap the stats of everyone involved. Even if it’s four fewer plays a game- the difference from the Jaguar’s 2019 figure to Washington’s 3-year average- that’s 64 fewer snaps for Minshew over the course of the season.
Level of Competition
Of Gardners’s 255 pass attempts, 110 of them were against a bottom-12 defense; only 48 were against top-10 pass defenses. It seems unlikely that the Jaguars draw this advantageous of a schedule again.
To his credit, Minshew performed well against top-10 defenses, completing 74.6% of his passes and posting a 5-to-1 TD to INT ratio.
While it seems like much of the situation is trending down around Minshew, there’s some undeniable positives to his outlook for 2020 as well.
DJ Chark’s 3rd year
It was out of the blue that D. J. Chark rose up and grabbed a stranglehold on the WR1 job in Jacksonville. Yet, despite being a non-factor as a rookie, the 23-year-old speedster surely looked the part. With 4.3 speed, a 6’4” frame and burst for days, it’s likely we haven’t seen the best of Chark yet.
Addition of Tyler Eifert & 2nd Year of Josh Oliver
Yes, Eifert is more-or-less always hurt, and he’s not the playmaker he was before injury derailed his career. But he’s still a big, skilled target in the middle of the field, and a veteran presence to help steady the offense.
Minshew also gets back the Jag’s promising 3rd-rounder from 2019, Josh Oliver; one thing I noticed in my film review was that this kid was open quite a bit, and he made plays when given a chance.
2nd-Year for Minshew
It’s also reasonable to expect Minshew to make some strides himself heading into his second year, though that might be to some degree derailed by the coronavirus. He definitely didn’t have much opportunity to work with the first-team offense last summer as a 6th-round rookie.
Ultimately, I want to use my eyes to answer the question: is Gardner Minshew any good?
First, some general notes from the Jaguards offense:
They’re calling a lot of quick passing plays, screens, flat routes, particularly on 1st & 10, 2nd & 4. A lot of them to Fournette; it seems like a substantial amount of his involvement in the passing game was designed. It seems that this was both a way to overcome the weak pass blocking and also to give the young QB quick, high-percentage targets.
At times it looks like some of the other WRs are half-assing or quitting on their routes when they know the ball is going to primary read. And there’s also a few brutal drops on the film here, and plenty of the receivers just not getting open.
Here’s clips from the HOU game, one of Minshew’s worst performances of the year.
In this play, Minshew’s decision to check down is the right one, but he’s late with the pass. If he throws this a second earlier he gives Fourtnette a chance to make a play. ‘
In this 3rd & 4, we see some of Minshew’s escapability; he extends the play and gives Fournette a chance to make a play. Seems like his touch might have been a bit off on the pass though. And would he have been better off just tucking it and going for the 1st?
In this play, Minshew makes a good read going to Chark on the short crosser- the downfield options were in tight coverage, and it’s 2nd-and-1- but his pass is high and behind Chark instead of hitting him in stride. Minshew lacking good ball placement on these short touch throws is definitely a theme.
This is a 1st & 10 in the red zone. He’s looking for Chark, who is double covered; he does well to get off that read and spot the TE coming out of his break, but, again, he doesn’t anticipate the window; by the time the ball arrives the DE is able to make a play, and the ball is a bit high and behind the receiver. At least he’s cautious with the ball; you don’t often see Minshew forcing it into tight windows.
It’s 1st-and-10 here in the 3rd quarter; JAC is down by 6. Minshew does a great job escaping the pressure, but he doesn’t keep his eyes downfield. He missed two nice opportunities- he could have hit Conley as he breaks outside or Chark as he torches the deep safety down the boundary.
This is one of Minshew’s nicer throws in this game. He hits Conley coming out of the break on this comeback for a nice gain on 2nd-and-9.
Its’s 3rd-and-6 here in the 3rd and the Jags are down 9. Gardner does a good job extending the play- and ultimately catching Armistead working his way into open space for a nice gain- but he also misses Chark with at least five yards of separation and a lot of green in front of him.
This 3rd-and-15 is early in the game. Minshew doesn’t have anyone open downfield, but he waits too long on the checkdown for Fournette to have much of a chance to work.
Here’s it’s 3rd-and-6 at the 10. Minshew escapes the pocket and extends the play, but he misses Oliver coming across the middle for what could have been a 1st down. I like that he throws it away instead of forcing it, but Oliver has leverage and would have had a good chance at making a play.
This is one of the nasty INTs Minshew threw against HOU (all in the 2nd half). This one is 1st & 10 in the 4th, with the Jags down 16. Minshew is under pressure and he throws off-platform; the ball is off-target and with no velocity and it’s an easy pick for he DB (nearly a pick-6).
These next clips are from the week 14 Colts game, which was one of Minshew’s best games of the year.
This is just a nice pitch-and-catch, but I like that Mishew anticipated the break and had the ball on target when his WR turned. This is what he was failing to do in the HOU game- but against HOU he was nearly always under pressure.
Minshew does a good job of standing in the pocket here and letting Armistead work his way open, and it turns into a huge gain. Oh- and go buy Armistead. This kid looks great, and he’s nearly free.
The play before this Armistead drops a TD pass out in the flat. In this 3rd & 2 (but really 3rd & goal) Minshew rifles it over Dede’s head when an accurate pass would likely have been a score.
Minshew throws a nicely timed pass for a long gain on this Chark post route; I would have liked to see more velocity on the ball, though.
I’m just including this clip in case you think Conley’s a good WR. He had a brutal drop in the HOU game as well.
Minshew’s scrambling panic checkdowns finally get him in trouble here.
We’ll end the film study on a high note. Gardner roll out on the bootleg and slips this pass right into the soft spot in the zone, hitting Dede in stride for a TD.
Clearly, there’s a lot for Minshew to work on for him to develop into a steady QB1 in the NFL. Mechanical flaws and problems indecision making are quite obvious in the clips above, but there are also some things he does well.
It’s nearly impossible to say if Minshew will be able to work through his issues and improve. We’ve seen some players come in very rough and then improve each year, like Josh Allen; we’ve seen other players flash physical gifts but never put it all together, like Mitchell Trubisky.
Trading away Foles was certainly a vote of confidence, or at least an attempt to give Minshew a chance to show what he can do without the constant pressure of a QB competition. Plus, if he sinks, the Jags will be in a good spot to make a run at Lawrence or Fields in the ’21 draft, so it’s a win-win for the franchise.
In fantasy terms, Minshew is almost certain to deliver you a solid season in 2020. He’s going to throw the ball a good amount and he’ll provide some rushing floor as well. You should be able to expect midrange QB2 numbers at the very least.
Unfortunately, if he doesn’t clean up the mistakes, this will be the only year you’ll have him as a starting QB. As much as his stats compare favorably to the more highly-drafted rookie QBs, what he put on film leaves a lot to be desired, and it will take some big strides for him to earn himself a third season at the helm.
It might be wise to put Minshew up on the trade block after a few decent games; a QB1 outing or two to open the season and you’ll certainly find someone who thinks he’s the next late-round QB to break out. If I can get a ’21 1st and then another piece for him come September I’m going take a hard look at that trade offer.
As always, thanks for reading, and stay safe out there!
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