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Jaguars’ Minshew magic is real

Updated October 11, 2019 - 5:07 am

NFL fans love different, so it’s no surprise Jaguars backup quarterback Gardner Minshew II has taken the league by storm.

Minshew has the odd name, flashy mustache and viral moments. Plus, those headbands of his might be the most popular in the league since a punky QB named Jim McMahon had “Rozelle” written in marker across his forehead in 1985.

But unless you can actually play, the NFL will just as quickly forget about you. Just ask Johnny Manziel and Chad Ochocinco.

The rookie took over for injured starter Nick Foles one pass into the season. He may be just 2-2 as a starter, but there’s more than flash to his game. If he continues on this trajectory, Minshew might keep the starter spot when Foles, who signed a four-year, $88-million contract with Jacksonville in the offseason, returns in Week 11 from a broken clavicle.

Minshew Mania is no joke.

“I like him,” said NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell. “He’s very refined in his mechanics. I think he’s refined in his understanding of progressions. I think he has a real good feel isolating what is there and what isn’t there within the structure and timing of the play.

“I like what I see of him. In some ways I think he fits what they want to do better than Nick Foles does.”

A different dimension

The Jaguars, at their core, want to be a team that is led by their defense. The offense runs through running back Leonard Fournette. Many of their offensive concepts, which are well designed by offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, start with the run. The pass is built off that running attack through play-action and throwing on the move.

This is one of the areas where Minshew will make it difficult to send him back to the bench. Minshew has an astounding 81 percent completion rate and 12.5 yards per attempt off play-action (first in the league). His 150.5 passer rating on those passes trails only Russell Wilson.

The part of Minshew’s game that has stood out the most, however, has been his accuracy — he ranks fifth in the league behind Wilson, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson with a 119.4 passer rating on deep passes, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

In Sunday’s game against the Panthers — who are fourth in the league in pass defense, according to the advanced analytics at FootballOutsiders.com — Minshew excelled even in incompletions. On a 3rd-and-10 play with 10:58 left in the second quarter, his pass to DJ Chark was incomplete because the defender shoved him out of bounds. But it’s the way Minshew threw it that was impressive.

The Panthers were playing zone and roaming the first-down marker. While Minshew might have had a better option passing to the right slot receiver, he made a strong and highly accurate throw from the right hashmark to the perfect spot high and along the left sideline that gave only Chark a chance to make a play. Chark couldn’t quite get the feet down while being hit.

“He makes some pretty good throws,” Cosell said. “He doesn’t have a gun, and you don’t need a gun, but he can make throws all over the field.

“I like his mechanics because he moves his feet with his eyes, which a lot of quarterbacks don’t do. So when he looks one way and he wants to come back the other way, he moves his feet to throw the ball. That’s one reason he’s consistently accurate — he winds up throwing with a firm base.”

A system quarterback?

While Minshew also possesses other skills — good pocket movement, a feel for pressure and a toughness in the pocket — not everyone is sold on him. Many of the Jaguars’ best plays are expertly schemed by DeFilippo. And opposing defenses will have answers for him the more they see him on film.

“You know, he’s an interesting guy: average physical profile (6-foot-1, 225 pounds), unassuming physical traits and measurables as well as arm talent,” said a senior personnel executive for an AFC team. “But he just knows how to play the position — good instincts, anticipates, mental awareness, appears tough and competitive. But it’s a small sample size. Let’s see where he’s at come November.”

Still, it’s been a stunning rise for a player who began his college career at Northwest Mississippi Community College, stopped at East Carolina and then finished at Washington State, where he led the team to a school-record 11 wins in 2018. He was then drafted in the sixth round by the Jaguars.

“It looks like I was wrong about him,” said a West area scout for an AFC team. “He was undraftable at East Carolina and he was in a dead heat with (now-starter) Anthony Gordon at WSU. But Minshew won out because he was more of a leader and the players followed him.”

Minshew’s performance (37 of 52, 344 yards, three touchdowns) in a near-upset at USC (39-36) put him on the map.

“I had a sixth-round grade on him, with the ceiling in the right system of a second- or third-round pick,” said the scout. “I was wrong. It looks like the kid can play. The Jaguars might not even have a tough choice when Foles comes back. Minshew has been that good.”

Greg Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at gbedard@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.

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