How Did Gardner Minshew’s Rookie Season Compare to the Early Careers of Past Jay Gruden Passers?

John Shipley

It is hard for any young quarterback to step into the NFL and play like a seasoned veteran from day one. The learning curve from college is astronomical. Things happen faster, defenses play differently, and coverages they have never seen before are now the norm on every snap.

But amongst the most successful teams in today's NFL are those quarterbacked by young passers. Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the poster boy for how much fo a prized asset a young quarterback is, though there are countless other examples.

Only in his second season starting, Mahomes has already won a Most Valuable Player award, quarterback two teams who have hosted AFC Championship games, and is now slated to star in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

While the Jacksonville Jaguars ironically passed on Mahomes in the 2017 NFL Draft, the team may have found its young passer to build around in 2019 sixth-round draft pick Gardner Minshew II.

Minshew clearly didn't play anywhere near the level of Mahomes in his early starts, but he did surpass most expectations and rightfully make a case to start Week 1 for the Jaguars 2020. Whether or not he is the answer at quarterback is up in the air, but the Jaguars at least have a chance to have uncovered a starter on a rookie contract.

In year one, Minshew went 6-6 as a starter and had flashes of brilliance, but he also had stretches of less than stellar play that also served as a much-needed reminder that he was a rookie who was never drafted to be the starting quarterback.

Now, Minshew will have to fend off Nick Foles for the starting position in 2020. The key to doing this will be to leave an impression on new offensive coordinator (and potential quarterbacks coach) Jay Gruden. Luckily for Minshew, Gruden has an extensive history working with quarterbacks -- specifically, quarterbacks who are in the early stages of their career like Minshew is.

In 2011, Gruden was the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals as rookie quarterback Andy Dalton entered the season as the starter. And in 2014 and 2015, he oversaw Kirk Cousins in his first extended stint as an NFL starter.

Dalton and Cousins could both serve as possible development track scenarios for Minshew. The three have similar tools, pedigrees, and strengths, though Minshew performs in unstructured situations much better than either of Dalton or Cousins.

And of course, Minshew will now be exposed to the ability and schemes of Gruden, much like those two were. The connections are endless at this point.

To examine how Minshew's early career (first 14 games) compared to the first 14 of Dalton and Gruden. Of course, Dalton's first 14 games were all starts, compared to Minshew's 12, and Dalton was coached by Gruden. Minshew was coached by John DeFilippo, who lasted one season as the Jaguars offensive coordinator.

And while Cousins played most of his games under Gruden in Washington, the first eight games of his career (four starts) came without Gruden.

So, how did Minshew's early impact compare to Dalton and Cousins? We examined with help from stats via

Minshew's first 14 games

  • 285/470 passing (60.64%). 3,271 yards passing.
  • 21 touchdowns and six interceptions.
  • 91.2 quarterback rating.
  • 6.96 yards per attempt.
  • 7.28 adjusted yards per attempt.
  • 67 rushes for 344 yards (5.13 yards per attempt).
  • 13 fumbles (seven lost).
  • 1.5 touchdown passes per game. 0.4 interceptions per game.
  • 233.6 yards per game.

Dalton's first 14 games

  • 260/441 (58.96%). 3,012 yards passing.
  • 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
  • 81.0 quarterback rating.
  • 6.83 yards per attempt.
  • 6.32 adjusted yards per attempt.
  • 28 rushes for 87 yards (3.11 yards per attempt) and one touchdown.
  • Four fumbles (two lost).
  • 1.3 touchdown passes per game. 0.9 interceptions per game.
  • 215.1 yards per game.

Cousins' first 14 games

  • 240/407 (58.97%). 3,030 yards passing.
  • 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
  • 77.5 quarterback rating.
  • 7.44 yards per attempt.
  • 6.23 adjusted yards per attempt.
  • 14 rushes for 56 yards.
  • Six fumbles (four lost)
  • 1.3 touchdown passes per game. 1.4 interceptions per game.
  • 216.4 yards per game.

So by comparison to Dalton and Cousins' early starts, Minshew performed completed a higher percentage of his passes, threw more touchdowns, threw fewer interceptions, had a better quarterback rating, had a higher adjusted yards per attempt number, rushes for the most parts, threw the most touchdown passes per game, threw fewer interceptions per game, and threw for more yards per game.

To say that Minshew makes the other two passers pale in comparison would be an accurate statement. Minshew, of course, fumbled far more often than either Dalton or Cousins, but he edged the veteran passers out in every other area.

Even more impressively, Minshew did this without Gruden, who assisted the other two passers. The scheme Minshew played in wasn't exactly creative and was never designed for him to begin with. Under Gruden, the hope is his numbers would only improve.

It remains to be seen where Minshew's future lies. He still has to be named the starter for 2020 after all, and how long the Jaguars would even remain committed to Minshew in the event he is named starter is a question as well.

But when looking at the numbers, Minshew compares well to two quarterbacks who have had successful careers, especially considering each was a non-first round pick like Minshew was.

Minshew isn't perfect, and he isn't Mahomes. But he may be able to give the Jaguars serviceable quarterback play on a cheap deal. This would be music to the ears of a team that needs any breaks it can get right now.

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Comments (2)
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Older Fan
Older Fan

Minshew is smart and learns quickly. If he had the proper tools he could be the franchise quarterback that the Jaguars desire. Please remember that he learned two offenses in two years and excelled in both which is far more than most quarterbacks do. He is also mobile and creative in his play making and can think on the fly. Many quarterbacks are not good out of the pocket or thinking when plays get broken. Gardner Minshew excells at play action plays yet very few were called for him this year. That could change with John Gruden.

I remember a quarterback from the Seattle Seahawks in the 1980s by the name if Dave Kreig. He has been listed as one of the top thirty quarterbacks in the history or the NFL recently. If he had had a good running game to go along with his passing he was good enough to have taken the Seahawks to the Superbowl. He also won about half of his games against John Elway and the Denver Broncos during his run.

But alas, The Seahawks only had one good running back in those days and his career ended in injury. Having seen both quarterbacks play he could easily play at the level of Dave Kreig who was a franchise quarterback and from a small school.

One of Dave Kreig's favorite receivers is now in the NFL Hall of Fame. You might be familiar with the name of Steve Largent. Having a good quarterback is also how DJ Chark got in the ProBowl this year. Give Gardner Minshew time to develop he could surprise all of us. I am looking forward to watching him grow.