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Is Gardner Minshew 2020's top late-round QB?

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: June 2, 2020, 11:22 am ET

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

The Jaguars weren't close to anything resembling a good football team in 2019. This doesn't figure to change in 2020 after they somehow managed to lose even more key defensive pieces and failed to truly upgrade any single positional group on offense.

Here's the catch: Gardner Minshew is the undisputed starting QB and might just be good enough to keep the Jaguars annoyingly competitive.

What follows is a breakdown on what Minshew brings to the table and what we should expect in 2020.

Minshew was plenty productive when under center in 2019

The Jaguars' 2019 sixth-round pick wasn't supposed to find the field as a rookie. After all, the front office had $88 million reasons to give Nick Foles every chance to keep the starting QB job.

And then Week 1 happened. Foles lofted one of his token tear-drop deep balls into the arms of D.J. Chark for a beautiful 35-yard score midway through the first quarter ... and promptly was removed from the game due to a broken clavicle.

Minshew entered and managed to complete 22-of-25 passes (88%) for 275 yards (11 YPA) with two scores and an interception despite spending the entire offseason as a clear-cut backup QB. They lost to the Chiefs by 14, but at least the Jaguars' mustached signal caller gave the offense a bit more flair and upside than most thought was possible.

Foles' IR stint resulted in Minshew starting the next eight games and compiling a 4-4 record along the way. Foles would eventually return and briefly retake the starting job before Minshew finished the season by splitting the team's final four games.

A .500 record as a starter is hardly anything to write home about, but Minshew undoubtedly exceeded expectations as a rookie. This was particularly true if we dive into the numbers, as he largely functioned as an average to above-average passer in everything other than raw completion percentage:

  • Completion rate: 60.6% (No. 29 among 32 qualified QBs)
  • TD rate: 4.5% (No. 16)
  • INT rate: 1.3% (No. 8)
  • QB rating: 91.2 (No. 16)
  • Yards per attempt: 7 (No. 18)
  • Adjusted yards per attempt: 7.3 (No. 13)
  • Adjusted net yards per attempt: 6.44 (No. 14)
  • QB rating kept clean (PFF):96.7 (No. 25)
  • QB rating under pressure (PFF): 77.7 (No. 10)
  • QB rating throwing deep (PFF): 129 (No. 1)

That's right: Minshew was the only QB better than Patrick Mahomes when throwing 20-plus yards downfield on a per-attempt basis.

The only rookie QBs (min. 8 starts) to average more adjusted yards per attempt than Minshew since 2000 have been: Dak Prescott, Robert Griffin, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Nick Mullens, Matt Ryan, Baker Mayfield and Marcus Mariota.

Obviously there are some busts in that above group. The league has had an entire offseason to study Minshew, and there isn't a guarantee that he'll gel with new-OC Jay Gruden.

Still, the rushing floor might just be high for Minshew to function as a solid fantasy asset with 16 starts. Overall, only Lamar Jackson (1,206 rush yards), Kyler Murray (544), Josh Allen (510) and Deshaun Watson (413) had more yards on the ground than Minshew (344) last season. The former four QBs combined for 27 scores on the ground, while Minshew failed to find the end zone with his legs. Positive regression could be due in 2020.

This isn't to say that Minshew is the same-caliber threat on the ground as those other QBs: Minshew literally picked up all of his rush yards on scrambles. Nobody took off on non-designed runs more often than Minshew (PFF).

Even if Minshew begins to stay in the pocket more often, it's clear he's far from a statue under center. We also have reason to believe he could be a bit more efficient in 2020 after the Jaguars managed to add a few pieces to the offense.

The Jaguars have several fun skill-position weapons

Minshew is expected to be mostly surrounded by the following eight players throughout the 2020 season:

  • D.J. Chark's 97 targets were the most among all Jaguars in 14 games that Minshew threw at least 25 passes. The 2018 second-round pick finished the season with 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and eight scores, easily emerging as this passing game's undisputed No. 1 target along the way.

  • Dede Westbrook's 86 targets were the second-most pass-game opportunities during Minshew's time under center. The 2016 Biletnikoff Award winner took a step back in 2019 after a solid 2018 campaign, although a starting spot is likely thanks to Westbrook's combination of sure hands and after-the-catch goodness.
  • Chris Conley averaged a career-high 16.5 yards per catch in his first season with the Jaguars. The souped-up athlete (98th-percentile marks in 40-yard dash, speed score, burst score and catch radius per PlayerProfiler) has shown the ability to be a solid boom-or-bust field-stretching option throughout his five-year career.
  • Laviska Shenault was selected in the second round and has received praise for his excellent ability with the ball in his hands after the catch. This type of big-play ability helped the likes of A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel emerge as strong fantasy producers as rookies despite their meh target volume. He's more of a threat to Westbrook and Conley than Chark at the moment.
  • Tyler Eifert played in 16 games for the first time ever in 2019 and averaged career-worst efficiency marks across the board for his efforts. The soon to be 30-year-old TE scored 13 TDs in 13 games back in 2015. Otherwise he's found the end zone 11 times in 46 games. It's probably best to keep expectations in check.
  • Josh Oliver was selected in the third round of the 2019 draft, but played just four games in an injury-riddled debut season. There's plenty of untapped potential here considering the combination of size (6-foot-5 and 249-pounds) and speed (4.63-second 40-yard dash). Expect a rotation of sorts between Eifert and Oliver.
  • Leonard Fournette was one of 38 players to get at least 100 targets in 2019. Only Tarik Cohen was less efficient in yards per target. Big plays do come from time to time, but targets to Fournette are usually a net negative for the offense.
  • Chris Thompson spent his entire career in Washington, catching at least 35 passes per season from 2015-2019 under Gruden. It'd be shocking if Thompson (with good health) doesn't seriously eat into Fournette's target share.

Minshew and company will be operating behind the exact same usually-porous offensive line in 2020. Overall, this offense was the league's fifth-worst group in yards before contact per rush. They need to address guard and center in particular considering 2020 fourth-round G Ben Bartch marked the first time the Jags drafted an interior offensive lineman since 2015.

Add it all together and ...

Minshew is 2020's premiere late-round QB

We're using a pretty strict definition of late-round QB here. There are plenty of QBs that you should draft ahead of Minshew, and definitely don't rely on him as your starter in single-QB formats.

Still, a starting job, rushing floor and already-proven pass-game ceiling are more than enough to warrant exposure to Minshew at his current QB27 ADP. Only Jarrett Stidham (QB31) and Dwayne Haskins (QB32) are being drafted lower among locked-in Week 1 starters. I'd take Minshew before the likes of Derek Carr, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, Philip Rivers, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo and Drew Lock.

Minshew will need to reign in his off-script style a bit in order to become a great real-life QB. However, we don't need him to even be anything close to great in order to provide fantasy value in 2020. Minshew functioned as the QB12 in Weeks 1-9 before Nick Foles returned. His average of 16.8 fantasy PPG in 13 games with at least 80% of the snaps would've been good for the 15th-highest mark behind Carson Wentz and Aaron Rodgers, but ahead of Tom Brady (per 4for4's John Paulsen).

Make no mistake about it: Minshew can ball.

Minshew possesses the type of upside to warrant consideration as your fantasy squad's second QB. None of the other signal callers being picked around him have close to the same rushing floor, and the Jaguars' offseason additions to both their skill-position core as well as coaching staff *should* be a positive for all of us on the Minshew Mania hype train.

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.