Gardner Minshew: Second year jump or sophomore slump?

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 08: Gardner Minshew #15 of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on during the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at TIAA Bank Field on December 08, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 08: Gardner Minshew #15 of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on during the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at TIAA Bank Field on December 08, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /

Will Gardner Minshew, in his second year in the NFL, be better or worse than his first year?

That’s the burning question for the Jacksonville Jaguars. What kind of progress will Gardner Minshew make in Year 2 of his NFL development? Head coach Doug Marrone has named him the starter for the 2020 season, As he goes so will the Jaguars’ season go. If he builds on the impressive start of his career from last year then this team could very well be in the hunt for a playoff spot and possibly a division title.

But if his performance falls off,  then it will be a long season for the Jaguars and their fan base. That improvement won’t be easy. He set 12 rookie records last season.

Minshew had 285 completions and a 60.6 percent completion percentage while throwing for 3,271 yards and 21 touchdowns with only six interceptions. His touchdown percentage was 4.5% while his interception percentage was only 1.3%. He averaged 233.6 yards passing per game and had a 91.2 passer rating for the season. He had three fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives, which was half of his six wins.

That’s a pretty impressive list, and reason for the Jaguars and their fans to be optimistic. Of course, it will take more than just good quarterback play for the Jaguars to be successful. The front office has made some moves to try to help their signal-caller.

Probably the biggest move to help Gardner Minshew was signing tight end Tyler Eifert. While Eifert has a history of injuries, when healthy he has been an offensive weapon – something the Jaguars’ haven’t had at the position for quite some time.

Eifert was healthy all last season in Cincinnati, which the team hopes is an indication of things to come for this year. That kind of impact could help with the running game by taking one of the defenders out of the box, and help with the passing game by giving Minshew another target to use.

The other moves to help Minshew came in the NFL draft, where the Jaguars selected wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. from Colorado in the second round (42nd overall), wide receiver Collin Johnson from Texas in the fifth round (165th overall), and tight end Tyler Davis from Georgia Tech in the sixth round (206th overall).

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Shenault is the main addition, having caught a school-record 86 passes as a sophomore in 2018, totaling 1,011 yards. He did this while missing three games with a foot injury. At 6-foot-1, 227 pounds, he is the prototypical size for an NFL wide receiver and almost identical to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster.

If he has anywhere near the productivity that Smith-Schuster has had then the Jaguars will be more than ecstatic with that kind of return. Shenault projects as a possible No.1 WR.

Johnson is 6-foot-6 and 222 pounds. He has the height, speed, and physicality to be a threat anywhere on the field and to be a big weapon in the end-zone.

If these two can perform to their potential and DJ Chark and the other Jaguars wide receivers continue to improve., Gardner Minshew is going to have the best receiving group any former Jaguars quarterback has ever had.

The more important group for Minshew is the offensive line, which remains intact from the last this season. Now, that’s not going to keep a lot of Jaguars fans from being uneasy, because there are many out there who are not convinced the line has been fixed. The unit ranked 26th following the 2019 season, with concerns at every position except center. We can give them a pass on the 2018 season due to how decimated they were with injuries that year, but they must show improvement this year or it won’t matter how many weapons the Jaguars have.

Gardner Minshew won’t have any time for them to get open and there won’t be any holes for Leonard Fournette to run through.

Another concern for GardnerMinshew in 2020 is the opponents he’ll be facing. That’s also a concern for the offensive line. The Jaguars’ three division foes, the Texans, Colts, and Titans, all had better defensives than the Jaguars. Of the Jaguars’ non-division opponents this season only three had worse defenses, while five of their non-division opponents had top-ten defenses.

The Jaguars also face teams this season who were better on offense than Jacksonville. Starting in the division again, they all scored more points per game than the Jaguars, and the Colts signed Phillip Rivers as their quarterback so we can expect they’ll be better. Of the Jaguars’ non-division opponents only three teams scored less – the Bengals, the Bears, and the Steelers – scored less per game.

The last concern for Gardner Minshew this year is fumbling the football. Only one quarterback lost more fumbles. Minshew lost 7 out of 13. He must improve on protecting the ball.

In the NFL, the quarterback gets too much credit to go along with too much fault. If the offensive line stays healthy and performs well the Jaguars will have as good of a chance to be successful as any team in the league.

It seems that Minshew is going to have an uphill battle this year. Here’s hoping the rest of the team performs well. If they don’t, “Minshew Mania” and “The ‘Stache” won’t last very long.

Next. Who should be the Jaguars captains in 2020?. dark