It is that time again, New York Giants fans. Time to work our way through a list of college quarterbacks who may — or may not -- be given the keys to run the finely tuned machine that is the Giants’ offense for the future. Whether the Giants address the quarterback position early in the draft, late in the draft or not at all, we want you to be ready for the selection. So let us begin this process, as we work roughly towards the top of this quarterback draft class. At the end of this series we’ll have a final ranking and grade on each of these quarterbacks.
Our first quarterback to look at, Gardner Minshew II from Washington State.
Minshew’s road to the NFL draft followed a long and winding path. A three-star recruit coming out of high school, Minshew originally committed to play football at Troy University. After graduating high school early, he attended Troy for one semester on an academic scholarship. But that pairing did not last, and he left Troy and enrolled at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
While at NMCC, Minshew continued to play football. He led the Rangers to the NJCAA championship as a starter in 2015, completing over 60 percent of his passes and throwing for over 3200 yards.
Minshew then enrolled at East Carolina, where he would spend the next two seasons. He appeared in seven games for the Pirates in 2016, making two starts. The following season Minshew split time with Duke University transfer student Thomas Sirk, but still put up some impressive numbers. Appearing in ten games, Minshew completed 57.2 percent of his passes for 2,140 yards and 16 touchdowns, against seven interceptions.
Minshew graduated in 2017 and looked to finish out his college career as a graduate transfer. The University of Alabama was an option, and Minshew originally committed there as Nick Saban indicated that he could get a position as a graduate assistant eventually, which would put Minshew on a path to becoming a coach. But then he was given a shot by another coach, who told him he could come to his institution and “lead the country in passing.”
That brought him to Pullman, and Mike Leach.
Minshew immediately took over Leach’s offense, and his final year in college was filled with awards and exploits. He completed 70.7 percent of his passes for 4,779 yards and 38 touchdowns, against just nine interceptions, and had the Cougars ranked as high as seventh in the nation before a loss in the Apple Cup to in-state rivals Washington saw their bid for a playoff spot dashed. Minshew’s success in his final season saw him earn an invitation to first the 2019 Senior Bowl, and then the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine.
Minshew’s season under Leach allowed him to develop and strengthen an area of quarterback play that might be lacking in some of the other available options in this draft class: Processing speed and full-field progression reads. An element of Leach’s offense that is somewhat understated is its reliance upon full-field read structures. Whether on Mesh or Y-Cross or any other concept in the system, the quarterback is tasked with reading the field from sideline to sideline and making decisions based upon the coverage in the secondary. What stands out with Minshew, in addition to the mental component of his progression read process, is how his footwork in the pocket is tied directly to his mind. As Minshew scans the field and works through his options on a given play, his feet mirror his mind perfectly.
Here is an example of this in action. On this play the Cougars run a variation of the Y-Cross concept. In its basic form, Y-Cross has a go route on the backside from the X receiver, then the crossing route, then a curl route as the final read. This variation pairs the go route with a smoke screen look. Watch as Minshew (#16) pumps on the smoke screen to try and open up the go route. When that is covered, he works from the go to the crossing route, to the frontside curl route, and finally to the checkdown:
As Minshew scans through his reads, his feet stay under him perfectly, keeping him in as close to perfect throwing position as possible. The way into the mind of a quarterback is through his feet. If a quarterback’s feet are slow as he makes his reads, it will cause problems when the QB finally decides to pull the trigger. Minshew’s ability to keep his mind and feet paired is a huge bonus for him.
Minshew is also a master manipulator. You can see it on the previous play, and on a number of his plays during last season. Form pump fakes, shoulder shrugs, eye manipulation and a number of other means, Minshew can get defenders out of position and then attack the resulting breakdown in coverage. You can see this show up on big plays, such as a deep touchdown he threw in the second quarter against the University of Utah on a divide concept, when a pump fake helped get a safety out of position. Or on this deep throw against Utah, when he pumps to the middle of the field before throwing a corner route to the right sideline:
But you can also see this on more subtle plays, such as this fourth down conversion against the University of Southern California:
The Cougars face a fourth-and-2 on this play, and run the Mesh concept against a zone coverage look from the Trojans. Minshew pumps on the swing route to his running back, to try and widen the linebackers in underneath coverage. THhen, he comes to one of the underneath crossing routes sitting down against the underneath zone coverage, and thanks to a bit of added space, Washington State converts the fourth down. This play is a good example of how there is a method to Minshew’s madness with pumps and shoulder fakes. He times them up with route concepts very well, which adds credibility and increases their effectiveness.
Arm talent is an interesting question with Minshew. He might lack the upper tier velocity and a downfield passing game is probably not his best schematic fit, but he can deliver with increased RPMs in the short and intermediate areas of the field. This play against USC is a good example as he moves the chains on the deep out route to convert a third down:
Minshew is athletic enough that he can extend plays with his legs and can pick up yardage as a scrambler when plays break down. In addition, his athleticism allows him to make some plays in scramble drill situations. He generally does a good job keeping his eyes downfield when moving in the pocket, which enables him to pick out targets late into plays and exploit breakdowns in the secondary. Chaos, however, is not exactly a ladder when it comes to playing quarterback. It is more of a double-edged Valyrian Steel blade.
Finally, Minshew is clean mechanically with good lower body involvement, minimal drawback to the start of his motion and a crisp release.
Quarterbacks who tend to thrive in chaos often end up seeking it out, and it can lead to mistakes. Baker Mayfield is a perfect example of this conundrum, and it is a topic I have covered at length. Given that Minshew is a quarterback cut from similar cloth, there is a tendency for him to often try and do too much in situations, to try and seek out chaos and then be burned by it. As Minshew adjusts to life in the NFL, he’ll need to be a bit more conservative at times and accept sacks, throwaways, and the like.
Accuracy, and more specifically ball placement, can be an inconsistent issue with Minshew. This play against the University of California is a good example. On this first-and-10 play the Cougars utilize play action, and after a pair of fakes with his back to the defense Minshew opens up to read a Yankee concept design, with a post route over the top and a deep over route working the middle of the field. Minshew resets his feet before making this throw, and the pass is low and behind the receiver, who attempts an awkward adjustment but cannot pull in the pass:
Looking at this from the end zone camera you can see how Minshew resets his feet prior to the throw, and misses a potential big play:
This play is also a good example of how Minshew’s feet can hurt him at times. When he tries to make set/reset/release throws from the pocket, the accuracy does dip. Here is another example from Minshew’s game against Oregon State. Minshew resets his feet just prior to this throw on a route working the middle of the field, and he airmails it:
Here is a look at this from the end zone angle. You can see Minshew step subtly to the left, before resetting this feet to throw the route between the hashmarks:
Minshew’s footwork in these set/reset/throw moments is something to watch.
While Minshew can show NFL-level velocity in the short and intermediate areas of the field, he does lack the upper tier velocity and the ability to drive throws into tighter windows in the vertical passing game. This is more of a schematic limitation than a complete bar to life in the NFL, but it is something to keep in mind when coming up with the ideal scheme fit.
Finally, while Minshew is clean mechanically there are examples on film of him getting passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. Some of these are just good plays by interior defenders, but he also has a low release point, more near his ear than truly over the top, so that could lead to some of these tipped passes as well.
Minshew’s ability to make full-field, multiple receiver reads is a big bonus to his game. In an era when many quarterbacks come out of college with limited ability in this area, Minshew’s experience working from sideline to sideline is a plus. Beware the willingness of some to tag him with the “Air Raid” system quarterback label. As you can see on his film and in some of these examples, Minshew shows the processing speed and the footwork in those moments to step into a complex offense and work the full field.
An area I will be watching as Minshew begins his NFL career are those set/reset/throw moments in the pocket. If he can refine his ball placement on those throws it will got a long way toward becoming a more well-rounded quarterback.
Ideally, Minshew fits best into a West Coast-based offense that will utilize familiar concepts from Air Raid systems. IN today’s NFL, most teams are utilizing some West Coast designs, such as the Mesh concept or Y-Cross, and Minshew’s experience in those designs is an ideal fit for him. A team to watch might be the Philadelphia Eagles. Given that they are moving on from Nick Foles and will be working Carson Wentz back from another injury, he could be a third quarterback in that offense who could run a bulk of Doug Pederson’s designs.
Minshew looks to be a third-string quarterback as a rookie, perhaps with the ability to wrestle away the backup job as a second-year player in the right offensive system. He has the potential to become a lower tier starter in this league if everything breaks right, but if not, his floor might not get past mid-tier backup.
A mentally sound quarterback with good processing speed and some upside as a potential starter in the right offensive system, who will need to refine some elements of pocket footwork and ball placement.