We all watched the Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Rams game this past Monday — if you didn’t, you blew it, but also, here’s a recap for you. In what was one of the most high-scoring, entertaining and down-to-the-wire games in NFL regular season history, the world watched the future of the NFL. Alternatively, if you watched Big 12 football the Saturday before, you also watched the future of the NFL.
The NFL is changing. This isn’t new, but the drastic measures in which it is changing is. We’ve heard people say that the game will always go back to the staple of running the ball and power football at the NFL level because that’s always the cycle of things. But we’ve never seen the game drastically change this much in favor of the offense, even if seasonally.
Somewhere along the timeline of the NFL over the last few years coaches realized that having more points than the other team is all that matters. They came to the realization that as long as you are good at scoring points and give yourself the opportunity to score the most points by creating more possessions that you will have a chance to beat any opponent on any given Sunday™.
A reason for this evolution may be due to a phrase made famous by Bill Parcells. Years ago Parcells said about the NFL Draft in particular and how he builds his team, “the NFL can only take what the colleges give us. That’s out farm system.” With that in mind, the NFL has certainly kept their eyes on what college are starting to do more and more, and that is, let athletes be athletes — thinking less and scoring more.
No one in college football has been walking the talk of that motto for longer and to the degree it has been taken to like Washington State head coach Mike Leach. As what many would consider the godfather of the modern day air raid offense, Leach has had success at places like Texas Tech and Washington State simply because he can score more than you. Texas Tech never had a good defense, and nether did Washington State. And yet in 2008 Texas Tech went 11-1, including beating No. 1 overall Texas, and here in 2018 with Washington State, they’re ranked No. 8 with their hand knocking on the College Football Playoff door.
Not every year is great in the air raid world, though. As you would expect with an offense that has every emphasis on the passing game, the quarterback means a lot. This year Leach has a guy who is a sleeper Heisman candidate as his quarterback and that is…
“Is that really his name?”
… um, Gardner Minshew.
Minshew, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior transfer from East Carolina, has thrown for 4,325 yards with 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions. And in his latest game — his best yet — he threw for seven touchdowns and zero interceptions in the team’s win over Arizona.
So with stats galore and in a system that seems to get more and more NFL-friendly by the year, is Minshew a draft prospect we need to start considering a lot more, especially in a weak quarterback class?
Let’s take a look.
Play No. 1: Modern Day Run Game
You see that, kids? That’s the modern day running game in football.
Short passes right at or even behind the line of scrimmage have become the norm. It’s almost like they’re taking things from the Canadian and Arena Football league and implementing them within their own runs. The momentum from the receivers already makes it tough to stop, and if the average running play is right around three yards anyways, quick dump off passes usually get you that and then have a higher potential to get you even more than if you just handed it off.
Air raid offenses are built off percentages and numbers games. This is what you’re seeing NFL teams start to do, say like the Saints do with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Minshew seems pretty comfortable with it. Not even quarterback is.
Play No. 2: Accuracy Issues
I used three plays here because it’s my column and I can do whatever I want.
Despite being a 70 percent completion guy this season at Washington State, Minshew struggles with natural accuracy. He’s missed on what I would call “easy” throws in an air raid offense more than he should, and he showed it wasn’t very natural for him to just pin-point where the ball should go on what I would consider “NFL throws,” too — say that last clip above.
This is worrisome, because there are other deficiencies in Minshew’s game. I would like to consider him a “small ball” quarterback who might be able to run a spread offense in the NFL without having to push it too far down the field, but with a lack of consistent accuracy, he won’t even be that. That worries me the most about him.
Play No. 3: Limited Arm
The reason why I first thought that Minshew as a “small ball” quarterback would be his best style choice for the NFL is because I wasn’t sure what kind of an arm he had. After watching that last game of his against Arizona, along with some other games that I have watched live this year, his arm is not strong enough to be consistent in the NFL.
The throw above is a good example. Yes, it is off his back foot and he is leaning back, but that ball absolutely died in mid-air, and the wide receiver completely has to stop and get back towards where the ball was going to land. And it’s not like that ball was thrown 45-55 yards down the field. That ball died at about 30 yards out and made it to about 40 yards but wasn’t good enough. NFL guys can often make even falling away throws much faster and father than that. Natural arm strength remains a concern.
That’s another area that worries me.
Play No. 4: Under Pressure
When it comes to running more spread concepts, you have to be a mental assassin. With so many options running all over the field, you have to know the route progressions in order to know where to look whenever it is that pressure is coming. This is one of the reasons why you run out so many receivers.
Minshew, again, has plays where he looks like the clock in the back of his head alerts him of pressure correctly and he deal with it properly, but he doesn’t do that enough. The clip where he just stands still and stops moving his feet is one that makes your eyes get wide as you press replay to watch it again — not in a good way. And the play where just one man gets pressure and it rattles Minshew enough for an incompletion also isn’t encouraging.
Play No. 5: Big Play Possibilities
Ending on a positive note, Minshew does still have that air raid mentality of scoring points in bunches and fast. If he sees a matchup he likes, even if it is covered decently well, he can let it loose and go for it. That’s what’s needed to play in this kind of style of offense. The only problem is, it’s not as guaranteed for success in the NFL as it is in college.
Overall, Minshew seems super limited as a prospect, mainly in arm talent, to me. I think he’s a fun college football player, and is clearly doing successful things for Washington State in the Pac-12’s brand of football specifically. But when it comes to the NFL, I see some holes in the natural traits quarterbacks need to possess.
He might just be an entertaining college guy and not much more.