How Gardner Minshew is taking the leap: From better anticipation, quicker releases and more

There aren’t many mustachioed, jort and bandana wearing starting quarterbacks in the NFL, and there aren’t many who were picked in the sixth round. Gardner Minshew does not care about either of those statements.  

He’s on his way to earning the long-term quarterback gig for the Jaguars. After an impressive rookie year in which he led first-year passers in essentially every major category. He’s basically played lights out to start the 2020 season. The development is happening.

Every drop back from his first two starts this season has made two things abundantly clear with Minshew’s game — he’s throwing with more anticipation, and he’s getting it out of his hands quicker. 

Combined together, those facets of playing the quarterback position typically lead to pinpoint execution of a West Coast Offense, in this case, Jay Gruden’s. 

Let’s start with the speed at which Minshew’s gotten the football out of his hands this year compared to last season. The short, quick passing game is the cornerstone of the West Coast Offense and needs to be the calling card of a passer with a limited arm like Minshew. 

Gardner Minshew 2019





Gardner Minshew in 2020





(All stats via TruMedia)

It’s actually amazing Minshew played as well as he did as a rookie considering how long he held onto the football. He’s clearly much more comfortable now that he’s in Year 2, and Gruden’s system must speak to him more than John DeFilippo’s did. 

And about that system difference — Gruden has started the season utilizing play-action just about twice as often as DeFilippo did with Minshew a season ago (14.2% vs. 28.2%). He’s completed 76.5% of his play-action passes at a hefty 9.2 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and no interceptions. 

On film, Minshew’s been exceptionally in rhythm in his drop backs before releasing the football. And that’s bred the impressive anticipatory throws, especially toward the sideline when he identifies softer zone coverage. Those intermediate gains not only have kept Jacksonville’s offense “ahead of schedule” when it comes to down and distance, but they indicate Minshew understands he needs those type of throws in his repertoire if he’s to stick — and thrive — as a starter in this league due to his lower-level arm strength. 

The fast-paced element to the Jaguars’ passing game along with Minshew’s ability to routinely connect on short-to-intermediate throws has also kept opposing pass rushers at bay through two contests. Despite Jacksonville starting the same five offensive linemen from last season, he’s only being pressured 25.6% of the time this year, as opposed to his 35.1% pressure rate from 2019. Minshew can creatively extend plays, but he’s below average throwing on the run, so the fewer pressured drop backs for him, the better. 

Lastly, a major reason for Minshew’s uptick in efficiency is pretty simple — the Jaguars are more dynamic at the skill positions than they were during his rookie campaign. After using Keelan Cole a ridiculously low 33.9% of the offensive snaps last year — per Pro Football Reference — the reliable veteran receiver has been on the field 67.2% of the time in 2020. And, unsurprisingly, he’s produced. The 27-year-old wideout has 11 catches for 105 yards and two scores. His expanded usage has essentially amounted to having a new pass catcher on the roster. 

Second-round rookie Laviska Shenault has amassed 119 yards from scrimmage on 13 touches (seven carries, six grabs). Tyler Eifert’s past his prime but has pitched in with four catches and a touchdown. And then there’s D.J. Chark and Chris Conley. Altogether, the Greatest Show On Turf 2.0 it is not, however, Jacksonville’s front office did a decently admirable job giving Minshew more legitimate weapons out wide. It’s aiding his development. 

Minshew knows exactly who he is as a quarterback and, to date, hasn’t tried to do too much. During a time when big, cannon-armed, scrambling specialists are beginning to dominate, the results of Minshew’s self-confidence in his unique style have been outstanding.

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