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2019 NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Gardner Minshew, Washington State

2019 NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Gardner Minshew, Washington State
Davis Mattek February 24, 2019 3:23PM EDT

Gardner Minshew NFL Draft Scouting Prospect Profile

Evaluating quarterbacks is not an exact science. You will notice in my QB prospect scouting reports that there will be admissions of not knowing certain things. The nature of projecting college quarterbacks to the NFL is fraught with difficulty for many reasons; there are no specific size/speed thresholds to compare prospects to one another unlike wide receivers, different college conferences play different styles of football, and even teams inside of specific conferences play in different ways. Gardner Minshew from Washington State is no exception to this rule. The only quarterback in the 2019 class that I can say with complete certainty is ready to be an NFL starter is Kyler Murray.

Gardner Minshew has one of the most interesting stories of any of the quarterback prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft. He had practically spent his entire life preparing to be an Air Raid quarterback per this excellent ESPN profile. He threw for 11,222 career passing yards and 105 touchdowns in an Air Raid offense in high school. He spent one fall at Northwest Mississippi Community College, won the Junior College National Championship while throwing for 421 yards and five touchdowns in the title game. He then transitioned to East Carolina and took over for Phillip Nelson towards the end of his first NCAA season. In two seasons at East Carolina, Minshew had 3,487 yards, 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on 506 attempts. He didn’t look much like a future NFL QB at that point.

Minshew considered transferring to Alabama but was swayed by Mike Leach to attend Washington State with one simple pitch. Mike Leach, one of the most innovative and intelligent Air Raid offensive play-callers in all of football told Gardner “Do you want to be a backup at Alabama or lead the nation in passing? We’re going to lead the nation in passing one way or another.”

What has me (and NFL teams) interested in Gardner Minshew is his final season as a Washington State Cougar. Minshew threw an unreal 662 passes for 4,779 yards and 38 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions. He had the 2nd most passing yards in the FBS, the 4th most touchdowns while adding 119 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns.

The crux of the issue with Minshew is this: Mike Leach quarterbacks almost always have good numbers. Luke Falk, the preceding starter before Gardner, was the highest drafted Washington State quarterback and went in the sixth round of the NFL draft. Falk was a three-year starter at Washington State and had similar passing numbers to Minshew (with a few more interceptions). Connor Halliday was the starter before Falk was an undrafted free agent who has yet to draw an NFL start. The next Mike Leach quarterback to start an NFL game will be the first one!

However, things are different in the NFL now. More teams are implementing Air Raid concepts and focusing on spacing, pre-snap motion and checking into runs at the line of scrimmage instead of calling them outright. Gardner is pretty much the perfect QB for this system. Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network wrote about Minshew “Gardner Minshew projects as a potential low-end starter to the NFL level. With recent spacing trends at the NFL level, Minshew’s style of play has become more friendly to a pro projection. Minshew possesses the arm strength to drive balls effectively and plays with good poise/mobility within the pocket to extend plays.”

For my part, I see a lot of parts of Gardner Minshew’s game that works at the NFL level. His anticipatory skills are at an NFL-level, which should be expected from an Air Raid quarterback. There were several occasions in his film, particularly against Arizona and Oregon State where he made throws that did not seem to be there at the release point. Minshew is fairly mobile within the pocket and as again, would be expected, has above-average pocket awareness even if his arm mechanics suffer once he is put on the move. Per Pro Football Focus, Minshew led the FBS in adjusted completion percentage at 80.9 percent which would contradict some of the NFL scouting reports claims that he is not an accurate thrower. Something that we have learned over the years is that accuracy isn’t really a skill that can be taught or learned by young NFL quarterbacks so I want my lower-end prospects to have that skill existing already.

The most bandied about comparison for Gardner Minshew is Case Keenum. Keenum was another semi-athletically deficient quarterback who played in Air Raid offense at a non-traditional powerhouse school but I actually think Minshew has better am strength than Keenum. Baker Mayfield was CLEARLY a better prospect than Minshew but their footwork and throwing base often mirrors one another. Minshew is two standard deviations “worse” as a prospect than Mayfield but the similarities in their play style are there.

Gardner Minshew Final Verdict

The idea NFL situation for Gardner Minshew to land in would be a team that drafted him to be their long-term backup. Hopefully, the team that drafts him will have an offensive coaching staff using Air Raid concepts and spread formations which will accentuate what Minshew does well and minimizes what he is not (currently) capable of. For example, the New Orleans Saints have a hole at backup quarterback with Teddy Bridgewater likely leaving in the offseason and Minshew would be an ideal student for Brees and Payton. If a team wanted to start him immediately with low expectations, Washington could work immediately. Washington has no chance of being a good team in 2019, a progressive head coach and are in such a bad salary cap spot that getting a potential third or fourth round pick to start for a few years could be a drastic help to the franchise. The Detroit Lions are in desperate need of a viable back up to Matt Stafford but their archaic 1994 offense is not a fit for Minshew.

Minshew had a rough Reeses Senior Bowl (completing only one pass) but if his throwing workouts go well at the combine and the new wave of offensive head coaches have their say in the draft process, I could see Minshew going as high as the third round though being picked on Day Three of the NFL draft feels more likely.

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