Grading NFL's next generation of quarterbacks: Gardner Minshew flourishes in defeat, Baker Mayfield struggles mightily

Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns were manhandled by the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football to cap Week 5, but we had a collection of solid performances from first or second year quarterbacks on Sunday, including the best game of Kyler Murray's young career and a dazzling effort in defeat by Gardner Minshew. 

Each week, I dig deep and grade these quarterbacks on a per-snap basis, taking every individual aspect of their performance into account. And I'm now assigning a cumulative grade for the signal callers who've played significant snaps in more than one game.  

Gardner MinshewJaguars

Minshew's start -- a 20-yard pass to D.J. Chark -- was foreshadowing for the rest of this game. After finding Dede Westbrook breaking away from a zone defender for a 15-yard gain, Minshew executed a quick play-action fake before hitting Chark in stride down the field for a 37-yard score. Near the end of the first quarter, he found Westbrook by the right sideline after starting the play looking left. 

He tried to be patient in the pocket and was getting to his second read when his left guard was pushed into him by Mario Addison, which resulted in a scoop-and-score touchdown for Brian Burns. Minshew threw with anticipation on a third-and-10 target to Chark that was an accurate pass but just out of bounds, and he found the void in the zone over the middle on a pass with perfect trajectory to Westbrook for a 30-yard gain later in the second quarter. His touchdown to Chark was a relatively easy throw -- the second-year wideout was wide open -- but he was hit as he threw. On the final Jaguars drive of the first half, Minshew looked left, didn't like what he saw, left a clean pocket and found Westbrook down the field in tight coverage, but the pass was broken up.

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To start the third, Minshew missed an open Westbrook over the middle on third-and-3 before a run from the pocket and nice touch pass to tight end James O'Shaugnessy, who tipped the ball to himself a few times before reeling it in. Minshew then waited, stepped up (while dipping his shoulder away from the edge rusher) and found Chark over the middle on an in-breaker for a 31-yard gain against man coverage before going back to him on a perfect back-shoulder toss in which he kept the safety in the middle of the field with his eyes. Down four in the fourth quarter, Minshew was a tick late on an in-breaking route from right to left after scrambling left. With under five minutes left, Minshew stepped into the pocket then flipped it to Leonard Fournette, but was strip sacked while improvising in the pocket later. 

The sixth-round pick got one more opportunity to tie the game, but he had to go 95 yards to do it and was almost picked on the first play of the drive, then James Bradberry dropped an interception on a downfield corner route. After that, Minshew showed he has quarterbacking amnesia because he maneuvered around in the pocket and located Chark over the middle and got the ball to him despite Gerald McCoy being in his face. There were a few other solid throws on the final drive, but he simply ran out of time and couldn't connect on a trio of Hail Mary attempts -- although the first one was nearly caught in the back of the end zone. 

Minshew was solid from start to finish in the game, and scrambled efficiently. His first strip sack wasn't necessarily his fault. The second one was bad. On the road, against a quality defense, the rookie was the definition of impressive.

Grade: A-
Cumulative Grade: B

Baker Mayfield, Browns

Mayfield's first notable throw came on third-and-13 on the first drive of the game, in which he left a clean pocket but fired a gorgeous pass near the sideline to Jarvis Landry, who was narrowly out of bounds after leaping for the football. After a long 49ers touchdown run, Mayfield went play-action and held the ball in the pocket and hitched as Nick Bosa was approaching from his blindside. The 2018 first overall pick threw down the middle but short of intended receiver Antonio Callaway and was picked by Richard Sherman

On the next drive, he found Odell Beckham Jr. on a deep corner route which was dropped, although the throw was slightly high to the open receiver. Before the end of the first quarter, Mayfield took a few unnecessary steps to his right inside the pocket, reset, then turned his body to run up into the pocket, where a myriad of 49ers were attacking. As he back juked to elude a defender, he was strip sacked. Mayfield's best play of the evening came right before the first quarter concluded. After a play-action fake, he moved way up into the pocket while looking left only to snap his head to the right to hit Landry on a dig route for a first down. He had a pass knocked away in the end zone to Demetrius Harris then threw high to Callaway on third and goal. 

Mayfield threw on time to Landry near the sideline on a play-action bootleg midway through the second quarter and was picked on third-and-goal when he threw low to an open Callaway, who bobbled the target and it popped up into the hands of K'Waun Williams. Not exactly Mayfield's fault, but the throw should've had better ball placement. 

Mayfield started the third with a long throw to an open Beckham near the sideline and zinged an excellent deep ball down the sideline that was just out of bounds. Late in the third, he scrambled right and continued toward the sideline without pressure and nearly hit Damion Ratley with his feet planted in bounds near the sideline. The throw was a touch too high. Cleveland's offensive line had issues all evening, but Mayfield was not really on his game. 

Grade: D+
Cumulative Grade: C

Lamar Jackson, Ravens

Jackson started the game with a sidearm first down on the first drive then stepped up but threw behind an in-breaking Marquise Brown. He waited stoically inside the pocket on a drag -- to Hayden Hurst -- something he did often in this contest. Jackson later found Mark Andrews through traffic and threw a dime down the numbers to Brown for the touchdown. It was a sharp start for Jackson. 

He later threw into traffic to Andrews down the field, and the ball was tipped before getting intercepted. He waited in the pocket but didn't feel edge pressure before being sacked, and then was sacked on the very next play too. There were many instances of Jackson running from the pocket -- when it was necessary -- and a handful of designed runs were called. 

Before the end of the half, he didn't see Mike Hilton underneath and was picked on a short out route in his own end. Jackson's third interception was an absolute dime down the numbers to Nick Boyle, but Devin Bush made one heck of a play to wrestle the ball away from the tight end as he fell to the turf. Jackson had a good connection with Willie Snead for a few completions against zone coverage, and he had two bad passes from deep in his own end near the end of the fourth quarter. He wasn't asked to do much on the game-tying drive and narrowly missed a walk-off touchdown to Miles Boykin on a smash corner concept that was a tad overthrown. 

Jackson was willing to wait and scan from inside the pocket and didn't have blatant misses but for the third straight week wasn't really close to being spectacular. 

Grade: C-
Cumulative Grade: B- 

Kyle Allen, Panthers

Allen started with some pop passes on jet sweeps and was strip sacked on a play that was ultimately negated by penalty. After a few short completions, he threw behind D.J. Moore on a slant on a third down. Later in the first, from deep in his own territory, Allen evacuated a clean pocket and threw a strike on the run on a third and long that was a few yards short.

His touchdown to Christian McCaffrey was an easy throw, as the uber-talented running back undressed Myles Jack on a jerk route over the middle, and Jack is one of the most athletic linebackers in the league. Midway through the second, he threw short on a down-the-numbers throw into traffic to McCaffrey then had a pass tipped by an underneath defender on an in-breaking route on third down.

His best pass of a day was a long ball to Moore down the sideline that was a left a little to the inside, but the second-year wideout made a nice adjustment to reel it in. After that, Allen had a string of incompletions before hitting McCaffrey on back-to-back short tosses. Allen ran out of a decently clean pocket and lofted a gorgeous pass to McCaffrey down the sideline that was broken up late. He had a few other passes knocked away before finding Moore on consecutive short throws. 

There were not many impressive passes from Allen in this game, and most of his completions came on slants or throws into the flat. 

Grade: D+
Cumulative Grade: C

Daniel Jones, Giants

After some swing passes to start, Jones narrowly missed a wide open receiver deep. Could've been a great diving catch, and the rookie quarterback was hit as he threw the football. He tried to get the ball to Cody Latimer down the sidelines on the next possession, but it wasn't really there and was almost intercepted. Following a scramble, Jones lofted a gorgeous, in-stride touchdown to Darius Slayton from a clean pocket. 

Near the end of the second, Jones found Sterling Shepard over the middle on a third-and-2 conversion then was almost picked by Harrison Smith ranging from center field on a deep target down the sideline. On the next play, he was flushed from the pocket and forced a pass near the right sideline that ended with a dropped interception by Mike Hughes. Near the beginning of the third, Jones got into a rhythm at the intermediate portion of the field on throws to Slayton, Engram, and Shepard, but threw a bit high to a wide open Shepard in the end zone on third down. The leaping effort from the veteran receiver brought him out of bounds. Had the completion been made, New York would've cut it to a one-possession game. After an unnecessary roughness call on the field goal attempt kept the drive alive for the Giants, Jones was sacked on a role out then abandoned a clean pocket on second-and-20. 

The next possession saw Jones nearly connect with Engram on an end zone fade, then he took a sack on fourth-and-goal. Jones efficiently evaded interior pressure but threw out of bounds down the field before firing a strike to Shepard on a third-and-10 conversion. Jones wasn't able to step into a seam throw in the fourth quarter that was almost intercepted but made his best throw of the day when he waited patiently in the pocket before ripping a long out route to Slayton. There was a deep ball into the end zone against tight coverage that was a solid throw and an interception on a quick out-breaking route near the end of the game. 

Overall, a decent albeit unspectacular performance from Jones against a strong, well-rounded defense. As is becoming normal for Jones, he worked the short areas well and had some issues in the intermediate range and down the field, although he made a few nice throws in this game to those portions too.

Grade: C+
Cumulative Grade: C+

Kyler Murray, Cardinals

Murray had two high throws to start, one of which probably should've been caught. There were a handful of screens and short, easy completions early on. His fourth-down scramble for a touchdown was an impressive display of his speed, change of direction ability, and surprising power, as he had to push through a defender to reach the end zone.

After looking down the middle, Murray zinged a strike to Charles Clay just outside the numbers for a big gain near the end of the first quarter and uncorked a rocket of a back-shoulder throw to KeeSean Johnson that was knocked away by Dre Kirkpatrick at the last second. On a third-and-10 in the second quarter, Murray was patient in the pocket and found Larry Fitzgerald in a void in zone for a first down. Then, Murray threw with anticipation on a deep comeback as he was being hit. Excellent. In the red zone, he missed Terrell Sherfield on an out route with a wide throw but later hit Fitzgerald on a rope of a seam throw on a drive to sneak in a field goal before the half. 

Midway through the third, with the score 13-9 in the Cardinals' favor, Murray surveyed from inside the pocket and hit David Johnson down the field on a back-shoulder throw. The former No. 1 overall pick showcased some of his athletic prowess with a nice fadeaway throw down the seam to Pharaoh Cooper, but late in the fourth he threw low on a few occasions then threw behind Fitzgerald on a deep crosser that was knocked away. After the Bengals mounted a ferocious comeback, with the game tied with under two minutes left, Murray perfectly placed a pass to Johnson down the field for a 24-yard gain. Zane Gonzalez made the game-winning kick four plays later. Murray was a problem on the ground too. 

While far from perfect, this was Murray's most complete game from start to finish in his young pro career, although we do have to consider the quality of competition.

Grade: B
Cumulative Grade: C

Mason Rudolph, Steelers

After a few short passes, Rudolph delivered an accurate pass to James Washington deep over the middle on a dig before stepping up in the pocket -- and shoulder dipping away from edge pressure -- to find JuJu Smith Schuster on a crosser downfield, a play that the receiver took to the end zone for a score. 

Later, he was patient on a pass in which he found Vance McDonald on a jerk route over the middle for nine yards. He faded away from a short out on a third-down target to Smith-Schuster that fell incomplete and was sacked inside the pocket on a third-and-6 in the red zone. He missed Diontae Johnson on a long ball on an overthrow in which he couldn't fully step up but a few plays later had his most impressive play of the contest. 

Rudolph caught the shotgun snap, looked to the left sideline, pumped, then immediately turned his attention to the right sideline and hit Johnson on a comeback. After that, while drifting left and out of the pocket, he had a tried to fit a ball into Nick Vannett that got tipped by Earl Thomas then missed Johnny Holton by a step deep down the field. After a miss to Washington on a deep crosser, Rudolph kept his eyes downfield after looking right and stepping up to the left before finding Washington alone in the middle of the field for a big gain. That was the play in which Thomas hit Rudolph helmet to helmet, and he suffered his concussion. 

Nothing overly flashy from Rudolph in this game, but a clear step forward from his first two starts. He was very patient and effective drifting inside the pocket and when he needed to scramble, he didn't drop his eyes. 

Grade: B
Cumulative Grade: C+

Josh Allen, Bills

The first throw of the game from Allen -- a strike to Brown between zone defenders after looking off one of them -- was an indicator of the type of outing it'd be for the second-year quarterback after his worst performance of the season against the Patriots in Week 4. 

After that find to start the contest, Allen threw a rope on an out to Brown then ripped a slant on an RPO to the small but dynamic wideout. Later, Allen had to improvise and threw a purposely low pass to a crouched Cole Beasley to convert a third down. He was hit as he threw on a third-down stick route down the field to tight end Dawson Knox that was broken up and soon thereafter made his finest throw of the game -- the year? -- to Brown. On the play, Allen kept his head up as he stepped into the pocket and fired a laser on an out route just beyond the first down marker. Near the end of the second quarter, Allen calmly scanned the field and got it to Duke Williams on a third down. 

His touchdown to Lee Smith was a relatively easy throwback to the tight end off play-action but did need ample touch to get over the pursuing linebacker. Allen had a few coverage sacks in the game and did take a few hits after scrambling. He did show the willingness to slide, and one of those instances resulted in personal foul in the fourth quarter. 

Allen tossed an interception on an "overextended" play in which he rolled left, stopped, and was hit as he threw a sidearm pass into traffic. Kevin Byard snagged the pick. Later, the second-year quarterback was impressively patient inside the pocket and found Beasley on an intermediate crosser before Byard broke up a RPO slant. Allen had a play which waited then stepped up into a sack, and the game-winning touchdown was a somewhat easy RPO slant to Williams that had plenty of zip. One of his last throws of the game was a weird, off-balance throw into the flat that came up well short.

The Titans defense wasn't porous in this one, and Allen was patient inside the pocket. Outside of his forced interception, he threw with good accuracy to the short and intermediate portions of the field.

Grade: B-
Cumulative Grade: C+

Luke Falk, Jets

Falk was sacked on his first drop back of the game, from the blindside, on third down. After good velocity on an out route to Le'Veon Bell for a first down, he heaved the ball into traffic to Robby Anderson as the pocket collapsed. The pass was incompletion despite Anderson nearly making a ridiculous catch near the sideline. On fourth-and-1, Falk didn't see an underneath defender on a play-action roll out, and it was taken back for six. After a few screens that netted positive yardage, Falk was nearly intercepted when he threw late on an out on third down, but that drive led to a field goal attempt. 

Late in the second quarter, Falk made a nice long comeback route throw to Anderson but was later picked when he threw high -- while being pressured -- down the middle. The Jets offensive line had its fair share of problem against the Philadelphia pass rush all game, but Falk wasn't very decisive getting the ball out quickly, and his pocket-drifting efforts were not good. That combination led to him being sacked nine time.

Falk's best throw came late in the third quarter with inside pressure mounting. He lofted a moon ball to Demaryius Thomas, but the ball was dropped. After a nice-looking drive midway through the fourth, Falk was sacked twice, and he fumbled on the second takedown, which was returned for a touchdown. 

There were some tiny glimpses of decently competent quarterback play from Falk, but overall, it was another poor effort. 

Grade: D+
Cumulative Grade: D+

Devlin Hodges, Steelers

Hodges entered the game near the end of the third quarter after Rudolph's concussion and threw a rope to Johnson on a long out on third down. With the score tied at 20 in the fourth quarter, Hodges stood in and ripped a strike to Smith-Schuster on a crossing route against zone coverage and found him on a similar route off playaction a few plays later. A nice scramble set up the Steelers for a field goal late in the fourth. 

At the start of overtime, it was that same deep crosser to Smith-Schuster -- this time against man -- in which Hodges threw a bit behind the talented wideout, but he made the grab. However, he was stripped by Marlon Humphrey, and the Ravens recovered. 

Given the circumstances, Hodges fared well. 

Grade: B

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