Forget Nick Foles, Gardner Minshew II Might Be Jaguars' Future at QB

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystSeptember 20, 2019

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 19: Gardner Minshew #15 of the Jacksonville Jaguars passes during a game against the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field on September 19, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The stories of three quarterbacks overlapped when the Jacksonville Jaguars took on the Tennessee Titans on Thursday at TIAA Bank Field. The least likely of the three came out looking the best. 

Really, it's less of a story and more the start of a bad joke: "So, three quarterbacks were all on the same field. One was a No. 2 overall pick, the second signed for $88 million this offseason, and the third was a sixth-round afterthought three weeks ago."

Yet Gardner Minshew II, the sixth-round afterthought, helped lead the Jaguars to a 20-7 victory over their division rivals by going 20-of-30 for 204 yards and two touchdowns. 

Two questions arose from the performance. 

First, how can anyone other than opponents not love Minshew? Second, how can the Jaguars go back to Foles once he recovers from a broken left collarbone suffered in Week 1 if Minshew continues to play as he has in his first two starts? 

The rookie's journey is a Hollywood script waiting to happen. It's the perfect underdog story of a lightly recruited quarterback no one really wanted who went to four different colleges and nearly gave up playing football to become a coach before finding a home at Washington State and setting a single-season Pac-12 passing record with 4,779 yards. 

Though he won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, little interest emanated from the professional ranks.

"Minshew's ascension from unheralded graduate transfer to Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year is indicative of the enigma he is in the 2018 draft," NFL.com's Lance Zeirlein wrote in Minshew's scouting report. "He might not have the desired traits, but he has very good intangibles and accuracy. He could become a good QB3 in a timing-based passing attack that conceals his average arm talent."

Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

The Jaguars used the 178th overall selection to find what the organization had to believe was Foles' long-term backup. Instead, Jacksonville might have unearthed something so rare other franchises don't even consider the possibility: a late-round pick who could actually turn into a franchise quarterback.

Yes, Minshew displays that kind of potential, and it shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone who watched Washington State last year. Apparently, some didn't. 

"The funny thing is, people would call me about him, and they'd [ask], 'How's his arm?'" Wazzu head coach Mike Leach told NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano during a May interview. "Well, his arm is good. 'Is he accurate?' I mean, and I'm wondering if they're real scouts when they start asking me if he's accurate. And then, 'How strong is his arm?' And again, it's running through my mind, Did you really watch any film?"

The NFL's flexibility toward non-traditional quarterbacks has improved in recent years. Drew Brees and Russell Wilson paved the way. Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray went No. 1 overall in back-to-back drafts.

But Minshew didn't fit the physical profile of most quarterbacks. He's probably a little shorter than his listed height of 6'1". He doesn't have a cannon, but ample arm strength is present. Most importantly, he knows how to play the game.

The term "moxie" is often used as a substitute for less talented prospects who don't have the requisite physical tools, even when it's applicable.

"He's fearless," Leach added about his former protege, per John Oehser of the Jaguars' official site.

Minshew's goofy personality draws people to him. His willingness to wear any outfit or barely anything at all makes him a walking meme. But he has the necessary traits to be a successful starting quarterback. 

"A lot of people never thought I would get this opportunity, so now that I do have it, I make the most of it," Minshew said, per ESPN's Michael DiRocco. "I'm super grateful for it, but I know through everything I've learned in my career, with the situation I'm in, I know I may only get one, so you gotta make the most of it, so that's what I'm trying to do now."

His former coach mentioned his fearlessness, which is why situations aren't too big for him. He's unflappable, even as a 23-year-old rookie when he has every right to be overwhelmed by the pressure of his current position. He's willing to take on the responsibility and stare down defenders.

Minshew doesn't get rattled in the pocket, and perhaps the most impressive thing he's done over the last two weeks is show tremendous poise, pocket presence and escapability to extend plays when necessary. 

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 19: Gardner Minshew #15 of the Jacksonville Jaguars throws a pass during the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field on September 19, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Ima
James Gilbert/Getty Images

Those traits don't overshadow the fact Minshew continues to drop dimes. His accuracy borders on uncanny.

Entering Thursday night's contest, the season-opening NFL Offensive Rookie of the Week ranked third overall with a 77.6 completion percentage, trailing only Wilson (78.2) and Dak Prescott (82.3). According to Pro Football Focus, Minshew posted a perfect 100 percent adjusted completion percentage during his first taste of NFL action. He wasn't quite as accurate in Week 2, with a near 70 percent completion rate.

The trend continued against the Titans.

The actual number dipped to 66.7 percent, but that doesn't take into account three obvious drops by wide receiver Dede Westbrook and the fact that they were playing in a downpour. Meanwhile, Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota looked like a deer in the headlights as the Jaguars sacked him nine times and hit the failing No. 2 pick 13 times

None of Minshew's early success is unsustainable. 

His ball placement is exceptional. He led major college football last season with an 80.7 adjusted completion percentage, per PFF. The number improved to 83.1 percent when he worked from a clean pocket

The combination of timing, pinpoint accuracy and touch makes up for Minshew's limited arm strength. Deep passing hasn't been a problem, though. ESPN Stats & Info (via NFL Next Gen Stats) noted he has completed all four of his attempts of 40 or more yards downfield so far this season. 

The ball can't be placed any better than in the following two tosses: 

The first-year signal-caller dropped those in a bucket while his receivers worked outside the numbers. Minshew isn't a dink-and-dunk specialist, as many intimated when he entered the NFL ranks. 

Elite accuracy, calmness in the pocket and a personality toward which others gravitate portend a franchise quarterback, which could create problems, albeit good ones, down the road. 

The Jaguars made Foles their top priority this past offseason, and he's certainly not a terrible option. He's expected to return from his broken clavicle by Week 11. By then, it may be too late.

There's absolutely no reason for Jacksonville to make a switch if the rookie continues to play exactly as he has since his days on the Palouse. The organization can absorb Foles' exorbitant contract this season—and possibly next, as well—since its current starter is on a rookie deal. Then it could move on from the veteran when it becomes possible to do so. 

If the Jaguars ride or die with Minshew as their starting quarterback, they could live happily ever after. 

       

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.

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