Gardner Minshew was the most pleasant surprise of the rookie class of quarterbacks in 2019. He played in 14 games, completed nearly 61% of his passes, hit the 7.0 yards-per-attempt threshold and tossed 21 touchdowns to just six picks.
He mostly didn't play like a sixth-round pick, yet there were a few games in which his lack of physical tools held him back, and those outings led to his benching. But he returned and played well down the stretch. This offseason, Jacksonville basically did nothing to indicate Minshew's starting job is in jeopardy.
With the fate of the Jaguars firmly in Minshew's hands, let's explore everything about his environment in Jacksonville and what Minshew needs to do to take the next step as a quarterback.
Previous installments in this young QB outlook project:, , , ,
How Minshew has improved since he was a prospect
These positive developments in a quarterback's game are noteworthy because they indicate the distinct possibility of future growth.
Here's a snippet ofbefore the draft:
Like most Mike Leach Air Raid quarterbacks, Minshew flies through his progressions and is willing to wait for someone to come open. His arm is severely lacking -- particularly when forced off his initial drop -- and his pocket management leaves a little to be desired.
He finished with thein my season-long evaluation of all the plays of first- and second-year quarterbacks (out of 17 who played). He had two "A" grades, the same amount of "D" grades, and seven contests in the C range.
Minshew dazzlingly operated Leach's quick-strike, receiver-obsessed offense at Washington State, but it's a scheme in which the deep ball is hardly utilized. While Minshew wasn't bad on downfield throws in 2018 -- 54.2% on-target rate per Sports Info Solutions -- his ball placement actually got better on deep balls as a rookie -- 57.7%. No, not a large jump, yet most young quarterbacks are less accurate on those long passes early in their pro careers.
Trapasso joined Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to talk about what Minshew and other young QBs must do to take the next step; give it a listen below and be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.
It's been a while since the Jaguars boasted dynamic playmakers at receiver, but they quietly have a young, exciting group out wide. D.J. Chark erupted in his second season in the NFL with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games.
Free-agent add Chris Conley set career highs with 47 receptions for 775 yards. Dede Westbrook has proven to be a quality, underneath No. 3 pass catcher, and yards-after-the-catch monster Laviska Shenault was drafted in Round 2. Per the PFF Draft Guide, Shenault forced 44 missed tackles over the past two years, the highest total of any receiver in the 2020 draft class, and he did that in just 20 total games at Colorado. Unreal.
The Jaguars line is average. Minshew was pressured on a rather high 35% of his drop backs last season -- part of the percentage being his fault -- but beyond Ben Bartch in Round 4, Jacksonville didn't add to its blocking unit for 2020. That's concerning.
Out of nowhere, Leonard Fournette caught 76 passes in his third season and posted the highest yards-per-carry average (4.3) of his young career. He's not a make-you-miss runner by any means but is still just 25 years old and has freaky speed (4.51) for a large, power back.
Jay Gruden and his West Coast Offense are perfect fits for Minshew and his quick release and rapid processing abilities. While he ultimately flamed out as a head coach with the Redskins, he did work well calling the plays for Andy Dalton at the outset of his career as a quarterback in Cincinnati and Kirk Cousins in Washington.
Improving his weaknesses
Minshew's weakness most in need of improvement isn't really quantifiable. Minshew simply needs to get smarter with his propensity to ad-lib when he doesn't like he what he sees down the field.
His creative bouncing around in/out of the pocket is fun, but he's not a high-caliber athlete for the position, although he had a vertical and broad jump in the 75th and 80th percentiles respectively. While Minshew shouldn't completely erase the improvising element from his game, he can't lean on it in the long-term because it'll lead to more sacks and fumbles.
He fumbled 13 times on his 553 drop backs, a decently high rate of 2.3%. While not in Daniel Jones territory of 3.4% (18 fumbles on 524 drop backs), Minshew improving his ball security needs to be a top priority in Year 2.
Strengthening his strengths
Minshew has the decisiveness, ability to scan through his reads, and accuracy on short passes to be a quarterback who can methodically move the football down the field in Gruden's West Coast attack.
More quick throws and fewer over-extensions of plays when nothing is there will be vital facets to his growth in his second NFL season. It'll lead to more yards after the catch for his young receiver group and will mask deficiencies of Minshew's offensive line.
But he can't shy away from the deep ball. He was surprisingly good on deep shots as a rookie, so I'd like to see Minshew push it downfield more often in Year 2. In 2019, averaged just 7.6 Intended Air Yards, per Next Gen Stats, the 11th-lowest in the NFL among qualifying passers. Minshew only threw it 20-plus yards down the field on 11% of his attempts according to PFF, a low figure.
There's plenty to be encouraged about regarding Minshew's future based on what he showed as a rookie. He played with zero fears as a sixth-round pick thrust onto the field in Week 1 after Nick Foles' injury.
The speed of the game (typically) didn't seem to overwhelm him, his accuracy was solid, and he surprised down the field. However, because Jacksonville's defense is still a major work in progress with a lot of young players, the Jaguars are likely to be in holes often, which will probably entice Minshew into trying to do too much too often. His ad-libbing needs to be an ultimate last resort.
I won't be shocked if Minshew plays a fair amount of good ball once again. Will it be enough for him to enter 2021 as the team's unquestioned starter? Probably not, but I do think he'll find himself in a legitimate competition with a first-round pick in a year.