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Comparing Gardner Minshew’s 2020 Vs. 2019 Seasons: Has He Improved?

The Jaguars haven't gotten better this season, but has Gardner Minshew? Gus Logue breaks it down here.
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Through the first two months of the 2020 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars haven't been able to build any positive momentum save for a Week o1 upset. Just seven weeks into the season, the Jaguars are 1-6.

The organization is on its way to its ninth losing season and top-10 draft pick of the last 10 years. Jacksonville’s struggles throughout the last decade can be blamed on countless factors, but especially the consistently poor play of its quarterbacks, as significant investments in Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles and Nick Foles have all failed to pay off.

One of the team’s smaller investments at quarterback, 2019 sixth-round selection Gardner Minshew, has had the largest return on investment of any Jaguars quarterback in the past decade -- but an embarrassing primetime loss to the Miami Dolphins followed by another month of losing this season has made some in the Jaguars fanbase turn its back on the team's supposed savior.

After his rookie campaign, Jacksonville loved Minshew and all of the mania that came with him, but now Clemson and Ohio State football games are gaining more and more popularity in the city with each passing week.

Minshew is not the Jaguars’ long-term answer at quarterback, and it would be wise for the organization to do its due diligence on higher-ceiling prospects in the next NFL draft. But with that being said, Minshew hasn’t regressed from last season to now as much as many believe -- if anything, he may have actually improved. 

SeasonGames PlayedCompletion PercentageY/ATD RateINT RatePasser Rating

2019

12

60.6%

7.0

4.5%

1.3%

91.2

2020

7

65.9%

6.9

4.9%

1.9%

94.4

SeasonaDOTOn-Target Rate PFF Passing GradeEPA/PlayCPOEQBR

2019

7.1

73.6%

70.0

0.001

-3.8%

44.6

2020

7.7

76.2%

68.7

0.088

3.1%

54.5

Passing grade per Pro Football Focus; EPA/play per RBSDM.com; CPOE per Next Gen Stats; QBR per ESPN; all other statistics per Pro Football Reference.

Minshew has improved in many of the most common standard and advanced quarterback statistics from 2019 to 2020. His yards per attempt and interception rate narrowly worsened, but he improved in every other metric save for Pro Football Focus passing grade (which is ironic because Minshew ranked most favorably in PFF grade among advanced statistics in 2019).

Minshew’s improvements in on-target rate, Expected Points Added (EPA) per play, Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE) and Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) is noteworthy because of his accompanying rise in average depth of target (aDOT). The fact that Minshew has been more efficient by most metrics while throwing farther downfield in 2020 is commendable. but while he has improved slightly, he does still rank below-average in the vast majority of quarterback statistics.

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In 2019, Minshew struggled in large part because of his style of play. He was uncomfortable throwing downfield consistently or into tight windows, and as a result, he ranked near the top of the league in both scramble and checkdown rate. Minshew was conservative to a fault, as those plays were rarely optimal and simply didn’t help the offense.

In his second NFL season, Minshew has still been conservative, but not to the same degree. He has decreased his rate of scrambles and checkdowns while increasing his aDOT. According to Next Gen Stats, his rate of throws into tight coverage has increased and his expected completion percentage has decreased since last season, implying that he’s attempted more difficult throws in 2020. But despite the tougher passes, his efficiency has improved, as shown by the advanced metrics above (albeit not by a significant margin).

So why are Jaguars fans calling for the team to draft a new quarterback just a few short months after defending Minshew with their lives? The answer is simple: because Minshew’s winning percentage has decreased from .500 in 2019 to .143 in 2020.

According to ESPN, “a QBR of 75 means that holding all other factors constant (defense, offensive teammates, etc.), a quarterback’s team would be expected to win about 75 percent of time, given that level of QB play.” Minshew had a 44.6 QBR in 2019, which fits his 6-6 record as a starter in 2019, but he has a 54.4 QBR this season, which isn’t reflective of his current 1-6 record. In other words, those “other factors” have not been constant- specifically, the performance of the defense.

As covered thus far, Minshew’s performance hasn’t changed significantly -- and the overall offensive production hasn’t changed much either. The Jaguars have seen minor rises in EPA per play, yards per play and points per game since a year ago- but the defense has dramatically declined, and that has been Jacksonville’s (and Minshew’s) demise.

Jacksonville was not good defensively last season, as it ranked bottom-12 in EPA per play allowed, yards per play allowed and points allowed per game, but it currently ranks bottom-three in each of the aforementioned statistics. The Jaguars rank dead last in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA despite having played the 12th-easiest schedule of opposing offenses so far this season, and it’s just the ninth team in NFL history to have allowed 30-plus points in six straight games.

Minshew simply isn’t built for negative game scripts. In each of his seven career wins, the defense didn’t allow more than 24 points and averaged 16.5 points allowed per game. In his 12 career losses, the defense allowed at least 24 points in 10 games and averaged 29.6 points allowed per game.

To be fair, it would be difficult for any quarterback to win games in Jacksonville considering the current state of its roster and franchise. But Minshew hasn’t really come close to showing that he has the ability to put the team on his back and lead the offense when the defense isn’t performing adequately. 

The Jaguars have never scored more than 30 points in any of Minshew’s 19 career starts, and while the team environment hasn’t been ideal, his conservativeness puts a cap on the offense’s potential. That fact seemingly wasn’t realized by the majority of fans until this year’s defense proved that Minshew doesn’t have what it takes to keep up. The signs were there in 2019, but they weren’t read until 2020.

Minshew is essentially the same quarterback he was last season, in terms of style of play, efficiency ratings, and even which direction he throws the ball. The biggest difference between 2019 and 2020 isn’t drastic differences in his actual performances- it’s Minshew’s inability to overcome Jacksonville’s defensive woes that is finally exposing his limitations as a quarterback.