Matt Waldman’s RSP shares his scouting report on 2019 NFL Draft pick Gardner Minshew and learn why Waldman labeled the Jaguars starting quarterback “among the best decision-makers in this class” and “if [his] physical skills were on par with his mental and conceptual game, he’d be the best prospect in this class.”
Minshew was my No.9 quarterback prospect. But as you’ll read (and I annually implore my readers to weigh the content more than the ranking spot), he was among the most conceptually-sound passers in this class and a player with starter upside and a player I wrote was much closer to my first tier of quarterback in this class than the bottom of the second tier. I also projected Minshew in my rankings tables (found in the publication) as a potential second-contract starter.
While still early to label a rookie quarterback a success, Minshew is absolutely off to a successful start to his career. Learn more about Minshew’s game in this sample scouting report from my 2019 Rookie Scouting Portfolio publication.
Despite appearances, Minshew is a lot closer to the top of this tier than the bottom. If he can improve his ability to deliver with accuracy after maneuvering from pressure, he’s a lot closer to being at the bottom of the first tier than the bottom of the second tier.
That’s how much of a difference 2-3 parts of a quarterback’s game can make in the course of an evaluation. And the difficult part of evaluation is that all skills blend together differently in their expression, and weighing these skills is an imperfect craft.
It’s why I always emphasize reading these profiles and not simply going by a linear ranking with a final grade. Minshew is an intelligent and intuitive signal-caller with a lot of enviable traits. He starred in Mike Leach’s Air Raid Offense, which spreads the field and expects its quarterback to read the entire field—often with five receivers in routes.
Although the Air Raid’s is at its roots, the West Coast Offense, it is a distilled version that emphasizes streamlined verbiage. It’s a more efficient system that thrives by executing on-field adjustments to what the defense is doing. The WCO is a great system but its greatness is fully expressed only when there are years of experience and rapport developed to make the verbiage second nature. This doesn’t happen as frequently as it did prior to the free agency era in the NFL.
As one would expect from a good Air Raid quarterback, Minshew reads the field well from sideline-to-sideline and high-to-low. He’s adept at finding single coverage and open zones. Like most good college quarterbacks, Minshew will set up his vertical game by looking off a safety to hold him to the opposite side of the field.
Minshew also holds defenders with his eyes and turns with his upper body during his drops. He will incorporate a small but violent shoulder fake into the drop plan to freeze coverage in place. This often sets up quick throws off three-step drops. His shoulder fake also has some ball motion with it.
Because it’s the Air Raid, his library of play fakes was limited. He executed them competently but could be more thorough with the timing and sale of the exchange points.
The offense also limited the range of his drop game. He can execute all of the basic drops but his experience with altering them as needed in-game situations is also limited. Still, Minshew drops with good tempo and makes a lot of plays in rhythm—even when the defense forces him to avoid pressure or create additional space in the pocket between his drops and releases.
In this respect, Minshew will easily carve up a defense if he’s allowed to maintain a consistent rhythm and tempo from the pocket. Minshew’s decision-making is among the best in this class. One of the things that stand out is his ability to vary the depth and order of progressions based on the defensive alignment. He’ll also return to early progression reads if there’s time after he’s exhausted the original order.
Opponents have a tough time reading him. I like how Minshew can open his body to the flat, appear as if he’s delivering the ball up the seam, and then bring the ball down and turn back to the flat for a quick and accurate completion. He can execute these sequences in a tight pocket.
He picks up blitzes but also disguises his intentions until the last possible moment of his setup and release. His ability to hold safeties and flat defenders is a true strength of his game. He often displays patience to wait a little longer for a route to break open against zone coverage if that’s what’s needed. He then places the ball where only the receiver can make a play.
His feel in the pocket is excellent. He maintains his throwing stance as he reads multiple areas of the field while in a compressed and crowded pocket. He has a strong sense of timing to escape the pocket, find his outlet receiver, or throw the ball away.
Minshew will even set up defenders by behaving as if he’s about to break the pocket and then fire the ball to the opening behind the pressure. Or, he’ll climb the pocket— sucking the defense inside—and then throw on the move to the flat, leading the outlet receiver into open space.
His outlet passes lead receivers downfield with uncommonly good placement for a college or pro passer. His ability to pivot and fire at the last moment versus pressure is an asset to his team because he demonstrates strong awareness of the location of his outlets and how to maximize their yardage after the catch with smart ball placement.
He’s consistently aware of ancillary coverage. He’s skilled at splitting zones and lofting the ball over shallow defenders. He integrates his shoulder fakes into his setups of these outlet passes as well.
If Minshew doesn’t think he can wait longer or fit the ball into coverage on a check-down, he’ll pull the ball back and either escape the pocket or throw the ball away. He also has an array of off-platform throws he uses in the short range of the field for effective check-downs. As one might expect, Minshew still has some maturing to do in this area. His overconfidence in throwing to some tight windows leads to defenders cutting off the route or a risky play in traffic that pressure can disrupt.
Like many intelligent, aggressive quarterbacks used to finding downfield routes, Minshew lacked patience when he faced the occasional defense that could drop eight and earn consistent pressure with three linemen. This is a maturity issue that Minshew should address as he gains more experience and perspective.
The final frontier of decision-making for Minshew to master is making optimal pre- and post-snap diagnosis. Although he’s skilled at using pre-snap motion to identify coverage holes, he will occasionally miss pre-snap intelligence that would lead him to find the easiest solution. Instead, Minshew will target receivers who have to do more work to earn the same result.
If Minshew’s physical skills were on par with his mental and conceptual game, he’d be the best prospect in this class. However, a lot of his flaws are the result of a heady player whose reach exceeds his grasp. He spots solutions in the moment, but he lacks the athletic ability or technique to execute them. Some of these issues will be easier to address than others.
While he’s strong enough to break through reaches and wraps at the line of scrimmage and earn positive yards, he’s not likely to earn more than 3-4 yards on a regular basis in the NFL. A gain of 10-15 yards will be the reason for celebration with his marginal speed and quickness.
Minshew isn’t a bad athlete; he’s just not a great one— even by the standards of limited pocket passers. This is a subtler issue than scrambling or game-breaking skill as a runner.
He’s had some success accessing passing lanes from off-balance platforms while under heavy pressure, but he’s about to face a step up in competition and there’s a reason for concern that he’s already maximized these avenues and better athletes might shut down more often.
Minshew’s arm strength may also limit him in this regard. His range of accuracy with velocity is about 45-50 yards. If he can reset after breaking the pocket, he still has accuracy in the range of 40 yards.
His optimum range for throwing the post route with accuracy and velocity is 30 yards. This is an important route for a quarterback because defenses can’t stay in specific coverage types if they have to respect the post. This isn’t a great range for a post route, but it’s enough if the accuracy and timing are consistent and he can threaten the boundaries with greater range.
Opposite hash, Minshew can deliver pinpoint at 20-25 yards. His accuracy deteriorates as the ball travels beyond that range but he has flashed potential for pinpoint delivery in the vertical range of 29-42 yard. If he can do this consistently, it will be good enough for him to play on Sundays in many offenses.
Minshew demonstrates anticipation and placement in the short and intermediate ranges of the field—especially with the curl, hitch, and spot out. However, Minshew needs to slow his release or make faster pivots into his setups. On these plays, he often sails the ball or leads his receivers too far for them to reach the target.
Footwork will determine the level of success that Minshew has in the league. His stance gets a little too wide for his frame after his drops. He also has difficulty getting his feet pointed to the target after maneuvering from pressure. His footwork can also bog him down on
high-tempo plays with quick releases to receivers in the wider ranges of the flats and sidelines.
This might be Minshew’s thorniest issue and the one that will make or break him as a potential starter—if he earns this opportunity.
Conceptually, Minshew is great at the initial part of maneuvering the pocket. He anticipates pressure and times his movement well. He can also combine movements to reach open space. Physically, his footwork doesn’t match his conceptual prowess.
He can move too dramatically in the pocket and it leads to his back foot not earning the position it needs for him to deliver with pinpoint placement. He must learn to ground his feet after avoiding pressure or he increases the chances of the ball sailing or flying behind his targets like they did at Washington State.
Minshew often rushes his process and he will resort to off-platform throws under pressure that he could have addressed with better footwork. When pressure becomes a factor, Minshew begins hopping into position and throwing from on-platform stances that lack proper balance. He must slow his mind and do a better job of stopping, hitching into position, and firing from a balanced position rather than hopping or pivoting.
This isn’t a career-killer for Minshew, because many throws he’ll deliver will only call for catchable accuracy. However, the difference between Minshew having franchise-caliber potential and being a contributor, journeyman or below-average starter could be those 4-6 plays per game where a more accurate pass would lead to first downs rather than misses, drops, or turnovers.
Ball security is also a major issue. Minshew is working on keeping two hands on the ball while in the pocket but when things get harried in the pocket, his ball security is abandoned. When he’s in open space, he’s more conscious of ball security.
“When things get harried,” is really the theme of Minshew’s game and developmental needs if he wants to become a starter. If he can slow his mind and develop more ingrained footwork and ball security habits at fast tempos and under pressure, he could become a good NFL starter in a system that doesn’t require him to be a power-thrower.
If he doesn’t, he’ll have a career as a backup who will be in demand for his football smarts.
RSP Boiler Room: Two Telling Plays
Mark Schofield’s RSP Scouting Lens: Pocket Footwork
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Minshew is worth a mid-to-late pick in dynasty drafts. He might even be worth a practice squad spot in leagues with 25-30 roster spots. In shallow leagues, he’s a player to monitor from afar.
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