What's the Jacksonville Jaguars' Outlook With Gardner Minshew at Quarterback?
Going into the offseason, we didn't know what the Jacksonville Jaguars' quarterback situation would look like for 2020. They benched Nick Foles in favor of Gardner Minshew after Foles returned from his collarbone injury, but there was a boatload of money tied up in Foles' contract.
We got our answer there Wednesday afternoon.
QB trade: Jacksonville is trading QB Nick Foles to Chicago for the Bears’ compensatory fourth-round pick, sources tell ESPN.
Bears’ coaches such as Matt Nagy have worked with Foles in past and know him well.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 18, 2020
With Nick Foles trades to Chicago, Jacksonville now hands its starting QB job to Gardner Minshew.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 18, 2020
Fans of banana hammocks and sweet 'staches rejoice; Minshew Mania ain't goin' nowhere.
With 14 games and 470 pass attempts as a rookie, Minshew gave us a solid sample from which to draw conclusions. What can we learn from that debut, and what does it mean for the Jags in 2020? The outlook may not be as rosy as the Minshew hype would indicate.
Signs of Fragility
The overall numbers on Minshew last year weren't bad, especially when you compare him to other rookies. Some of the underlying data, though, makes things look just a bit shaky.
Straight up, Minshew ranked 25th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back out of 42 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. NEP is the efficiency metric we use at numberFire to track the expected points added or subtracted on each play, and Passing NEP includes deductions for expected points lost on plays such as sacks, incompletions, and interceptions.
Ranking 25th isn't bad, and it was first among rookie quarterbacks (unless you count Drew Lock, who had just 161 drop backs and ranked 14th). Minshew was one spot ahead of Kyler Murray, and both Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins were outside the top 35. If we grade Minshew on a curve (which we should do), that's a solid season.
The problem is that this came against one of the league's easiest schedules. Minshew's average drop back came against the league's 18.7-ranked pass defense, based on numberFire's metrics. Only three quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs had an easier road than Minshew's. Of his 503 total drop backs, only 55 (10.9%) came against top-10 pass defenses, the second-lowest percentage in the league.
This is important when evaluating quarterbacks because the NFL season is a small sample, and it can lead to major gaps in the strength of each player's opposing schedule. If we had looked into the easy schedule Baker Mayfield faced during his rookie season, we may have been able to predict his struggles as a sophomore. Once you adjust for the schedule, Minshew's Passing NEP per drop back was 0.09 worse than you'd expect, putting him behind both Murray and Lock among the rookies.
The other red flag with Minshew is that he didn't do much to push the ball downfield this past year. Only 14.9% of his attempts traveled at least 16 yards downfield, ranking him 36th among qualified quarterbacks.
That in itself isn't a terrible thing. Both Drew Brees and Jimmy Garoppolo had lower deep rates than Minshew, and they had successful seasons. You can be successful in a dink-and-dunk offense. You just need to be really good when you do decide to let it rip.
Minshew definitely wasn't bad on deep passes this year, generating 0.84 Passing NEP per attempt, ranking sixth among qualified quarterbacks. The sample there was just 70 passes, though, and he was well behind both Brees (0.95) and Garoppolo (1.08).
When the sample was larger -- on shorter passes -- Minshew struggled. His 0.10 Passing NEP per attempt there was 32nd, trailing both Jones and Haskins in that department. We had 391 passes to look for that split, and Minshew's numbers were underwhelming at best.
We need to ask whether Minshew's deep-ball efficiency numbers are something he can duplicate in 2020. If he can, then it's possible he repeats his rookie season and provides middling production at quarterback. If not, this thing could collapse in a hurry.
All of the above focuses exclusively on Minshew and the offense. Defensively, the Jaguars have already lost Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye in addition to the in-season trade of Jalen Ramsey. This team is in full-on re-build mode, so the pessimism around them is justified.
If you are more drawn toward Minshew Mania, the Jaguars are +12000 to win Super Bowl XV at FanDuel Sportsbook and +4000 to win the AFC. Only Washington and the Cincinnati Bengals have longer Super Bowl odds.
As a result, it's not a shock to see the Jaguars' opening win total at 5 at DraftKings Sportsbook. They do have a pair of first-round picks and did add Joe Schobert in free agency, but losing talent from a 6-10 season is the perfect recipe for another disappointment.
Minshew certainly wasn't a bad player for the Jags, and given his salary relative to Foles', you can understand why they made this move. Unfortunately, with the easy schedule from last year and concerns about Minshew's aggressiveness, there are reasons to expect Minshew's play to potentially decline in 2020. Add into that the talent exodus on defense, and it's hard to get jazzed about this Jaguars team even with bookmakers setting the bar so low.