The other quarterbacks I’ve reviewed so far in this series all came into the NFL with a high pedigree. They were first-round draft picks after all. This player went much later in the proceedings. Yet in his way, he was perhaps the most exciting of all the first-year signal-callers. Let’s look back at the rookie year of Gardner Minshew.
By The Numbers
Minshew started 12 of his 14 games in 2019 after coming off the bench in Week 1. He helped to ensure that the Jaguars offense continued to function despite the loss of marquee free agent Nick Foles. Minshew passed for 3,271 yards and 21 touchdowns. Both of these marks were Jaguars’ rookie records. But they are also the most ever by a rookie drafted in the 6th round or later. Ever, like in NFL history. Not bad for a guy who was on his way to holding a clipboard at Alabama before Mike Leach offered him a chance to start in college football.
Minshew passed for multiple touchdowns in seven games and amassed over 250 yards in six. In fantasy terms, Minshew was among the top 12 at the QB position six times. This included a run of three QB1 finishes in four weeks between Weeks 5 and 8.
Minshew offered something with his legs too. He rushed for more than 20 yards in a game eight times, with three outings of more than 40. Minshew only had 43 rushing yards total in three seasons of college ball. But when you consider that he managed 119 (and four touchdowns) for Washington State, your math skills should tell you that in two seasons at East Carolina he didn’t do a lot of running forwards.
It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for Minshew. He did toss only six interceptions, which is encouraging. But he also had a slight fumbling issue. In all, he fumbled 13 times, losing seven. Protection was also something of an issue. Minshew was sacked 33 times, enduring two or more sacks in 12 games. But for a sixth-round draft pick, you have to say that Minshew’s rookie year was a roaring success.
In order to find players who enjoyed comparable seasons, I did what we’ve done in the past when carrying out this series. I set the RotoViz Screener to find rookies from 2010 to 2019 and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player — in this instance, Minshew.
Considering the draft pedigree of these comps, with the exception of Dak Prescott, it is hard not to be impressed with what Minshew achieved as a rookie. These players were first-round talents, with Baker Mayfield the first player taken in his draft. In this hallowed company, Minshew does not look out of place, especially in terms of passing efficiency.
As a possible range of outcomes for Minshew, let’s take a look at how these players fared in their second seasons.
OK, Year 2 wasn’t too kind to these guys, at least in terms of taking a giant leap forward in development. But only Mayfield of this group really went backward in his sophomore campaign. The others improved slightly or stayed at a similar level.
The first year of Minshew Mania was a wild ride. It was also one that several members of the Jaguars passing game, namely Chris Conley and D.J. Chark, seemed to enjoy immensely.
Indeed, Chark’s breakout season was almost entirely due to his production when Minshew was the guy throwing him the ball.
But the truth is that we just don’t know at this stage what Minshew’s role will be in 2020. The Jags still have Nick Foles on their books, a status that would incur a $33m dead cap charge if they attempted to change it. Financially, it makes sense to ride with Foles again in 2020, knowing that they have Minshew waiting in the wings should Foles get injured. This is a fairly safe assumption — after all, Foles has never played more than 13 games in a single season. It’s not a fun choice, but it will likely be the choice.
This uncertainty has made itself known in drafts already if the FFPC ADP data is anything to go by. Minshew is currently going off the board after 30 other QBs. Foles is the QB37 on average. This is a situation that will need monitoring. Genuine clarity will only be obtained very late in proceedings. It does mean that maybe, just maybe, fantasy owners will get a chance to stream Minshew at some point in the 2020 season. And what are you gonna do when Minshew Mania runs all over you?