It didn’t take long for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew to become a rookie phenom. Despite being drafted in the sixth round, his playmaking ability, his outlandish personality, and his mustache quickly turned him into a fan favorite. However, when you look past Minshew’s flashy play and persona, it quickly becomes clear that his statistics were largely unspectacular. Which makes you wonder if, despite his popularity, Minshew really has the potential to lead the Jaguars towards a brighter future.
Under some circumstances, this question wouldn’t matter. However, Jacksonville currently holds both the ninth and 20th pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. That gives them multiple options in a draft that contains several promising quarterbacks. Jordan Love will likely still be available for selection with their first pick, but they also have the ammunition to move up and select either Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert. All three of those quarterbacks have their flaws, but they are also undeniably more talented than Minshew is. This situation poses an interesting question: did Minshew show enough potential in 2019 that the Jaguars can afford not to spend at least one of those picks on a quarterback?
Despite promising statistics, there are reasons to be concerned about Minshew’s future potential
In 14 weeks of play, Minshew managed 3271 yards, 21 touchdowns, and six interceptions. It’s more touchdowns and fewer interceptions than fellow rookie Kyler Murray had, and he started two more games than Minshew did (and was drafted five rounds earlier). For a rookie, those statistics are quite impressive. However, they don’t tell the full story; Minshew’s play last season showed multiple flaws in his game.
To start with, Minshew’s arm strength is substandard for an NFL quarterback. That’s part of the reason he was drafted in the sixth round despite having a phenomenal senior season at Washington State. It is an unfortunate fact of life for NFL quarterbacks that arm strength is something that truly great players cannot do without. There is a certain point at which a player’s arm is simply too weak for them to be an elite quarterback. Now, Minshew’s arm isn’t quite that poor, but it is undeniably below the level of the NFL’s best players at the position.
Minshew’s OSM grade does not bode well for his future as the Jaguars quarterback
If arm strength was Minshew’s only problem, there might not be too much reason for concern. However, his 2019 PFN Offensive Share Metric (OSM) grade, which measures how responsible a player was for the statistics they produced, was the third-worst of any quarterback at 17.57. A grade that low indicates that most of Minshew’s statistics were the result of his situation and the play of his teammates, rather than his own abilities.
Additionally, it generally implies that a player was doing something very wrong. In Minshew’s case, that “something” relates to another concern about his play coming out of college: his accuracy. In 2019, he completed only 60.6% of his passes, the seventh-lowest percentage of any qualifying quarterback last season, including several backups forced into starting roles. Even worse, according to the NFL’s advanced metrics, that percentage was 5.2% lower than it should have been given the passes he attempted. That differential was the second-worst in the NFL last season, surpassing only Detroit Lions backup quarterback David Blough.
In fairness, those numbers are just averages, so naturally, not every grade Minshew received this season was that terrible. He actually started the season very strong, with a grade of 38.93 in Week 1. However, the range between his highest and lowest grades was incredibly high, all the way down to a low of 6.53 in Week 6, a difference of more than 32 points.
If Minshew’s grades were generally closer to the upper end of that spectrum, it would indicate that his overall grade wasn’t quite as bad as it appears. Unfortunately, as you can see in the graphic below, Minshew was never able to replicate that Week 1 performance. His play went downhill until he was benched, and while it rebounded slightly after he regained the starting role, he stayed well below the league average (For those curious about the data, PFN’s Chief of Analytics, Brett Yarris, goes into more detail here).
Much like in his overall grade, Minshew’s week-to-week grades depended primarily on his accuracy. In Week 1, he was exceptional, completing 88% of his passes, the highest percentage of any quarterback that week, and 16.2% higher than expected. Meanwhile, he had three separate games in which he completed less than 50% of his passes, including an abysmal 41.94% in Week 16.
The reason to optimistic about Minshew’s future potential
To Minshew’s credit, the strongest aspect of his game does not appear in any of these statistics. As anyone who watched him play during the season will know, his ability to improvise is truly impressive. It is a quality he shares with some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, including Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes. Minshew obviously does not possess the same physical gifts as either of those players, but the ability to make plays off-script is invaluable in the modern NFL.
In theory, that unique talent could overcome Minshew’s lack of physical ability. Think of someone like Joe Burrow. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but his unprecedented levels of efficiency combined with remarkable ability to make plays under pressure led to him having one of the best seasons ever produced by a college football quarterback, launching his draft stock into the stratosphere. Unfortunately, as we have already seen, Minshew was far from efficient in 2019. Improvisation alone cannot make up for failings in every other aspect of his game. It might be that Minshew’s deficiencies place a cap on his overall potential, creating questions regarding the future of the Jaguars quarterback situation.
What should the Jaguars do about their problems at quarterback?
Minshew showed real flashes of brilliance in 2019. If he could maintain that level of play throughout an entire season, he could be a great quarterback. However, in his first season, we haven’t seen evidence that he can do so. Of course, it’s always possible that he will improve in his second season. However, Minshew’s primary problems, arm strength, and accuracy are very difficult for a quarterback to improve significantly. But who knows; maybe Minshew will be an exception.
Minshew has that non-quantifiable “it” factor that is necessary to be a great quarterback. But that won’t matter if he doesn’t have the talent to back it up. If the Jaguars don’t believe that he will be able to overcome those deficiencies, it makes more sense for them to move on and find their quarterback in the draft. Remember, this is a franchise that has never reached the Super Bowl in its short history. If they want to take the next step, they will need to make sure they have the right man for the job. And based on his statistics in his first season, that might not be Minshew.