What else have we learned so far at the quarter mark of the season? Shaquill Barrett is the Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner. The Cowboys, Eagles, and Saints have the best offensive lines. Jay Gruden is still the coach most likely to be fired first, while a few surprises have emerged in the Coach of the Year race.
Four games and three starts into his NFL career, Gardner Minshew has become a phenomenon. He’s also been named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Week three times, as well as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month. Not much more context is needed to say that’s a clear indication the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback is the frontrunner for the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
His performance so far in 2019 is bigger than that, though. Minshew’s September was one of the best months by a rookie in NFL history — let alone, one from a sixth-round draft pick.
Couple his historically great start with the fact that few other offensive rookies are standing out, and the award should be Minshew’s to lose.
Minshew’s first month has been record-breaking
The Jaguars signed Nick Foles in the offseason to a four-year, $88 million contract that anointed the Eagles’ former Super Bowl MVP as the new starting quarterback in Jacksonville. That lasted less than 10 minutes. Foles broke his clavicle in the first quarter of a Week 1 game against the Chiefs, landing him on injured reserve until at least mid-November.
Minshew entered with low expectations after an underwhelming preseason, then immediately showed he wasn’t in over his head when he completed his first 13 passes against the Kansas City secondary. It wasn’t enough to outduel Patrick Mahomes, who led the Chiefs to a 40-26 win, but Minshew at least inspired confidence that he could keep the offense on track.
Minshew hasn’t just been a band-aid in Foles’ absence; the rookie may be the only reason the Jaguars aren’t 0-4.
He threw two first-quarter touchdowns in a 20-7 win over the Titans, and led a come-from-behind victory over the Broncos capped by a last-second 33-yard field goal. He showed impressive composure under pressure throughout the game to get the Jaguars in the end zone and then again to keep the final drive alive.
He’s also been clutch even in losses. Minshew led a last-minute touchdown against the Texans in Week 2, but a failed two-point conversion on an ill-advised Leonard Fournette rushing attempt left the Jaguars with a 13-12 loss.
Altogether, Minshew had one of the best four-game starts to a career of any quarterback in NFL history. His passer rating is a new all-time high among those who saw playing time in all of the first four games of their rookie year:
- Gardner Minshew: 84 of 121 (69.4 percent), 905 yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 106.9 rating
- Carson Wentz: 91 of 135 passing (67.4 percent), 1,007 yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 103.5 rating
- Robert Griffin III: 86 of 124 passing (69.4 percent), 1,070 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 103.2 rating
- Marcus Mariota: 82 of 128 (64.1 percent), 1,020 yards, 8 TDs, 3 INT, 99.7 rating
- Dak Prescott: 89 of 131 passing (67.9 percent), 1,012 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT, 98.5 rating
Minshew got to the top of that list through consistency. He’s posted a passer rating of at least 97 in every game so far. The only other player to ever do that in their first four NFL games was Mark Rypien, although he spent the first two seasons of his career on injured reserve and didn’t see the field for Washington until his third year.
And if you’re looking for a reason to think Minshew’s early success is a fluke, it’s hard to find one. He’s done a little bit of everything, showing a full array of passing ability on his seven touchdowns.
.@Jaguars @GardnerMinshew5 has thrown 7 beautiful TD passes in the first month of a “garden variety” and I don’t believe that the “glass slipper” is falling off anytime soon. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/ADp4lqV7i8— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) October 3, 2019
Minshew looks well prepared to continue his meteoric rise, and there aren’t many rookies nipping at his heels.
Daniel Jones and Josh Jacobs look like Minshew’s only competitors
There are only three rookie quarterbacks starting in the NFL right now: Minshew, Daniel Jones, and Kyler Murray. They may soon be joined by Dwayne Haskins, who saw his first NFL action in Week 4 when Case Keenum was benched. Haskins threw three interceptions and looked very much like a work in progress.
Murray was the No. 1 overall pick for the Cardinals, but he’s currently floundering in an offense that still has plenty of rebuilding left to do. He’s thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions, and has been sacked an NFL-most 20 times. Arizona is 0-3-1 and would need to pull a 180 to get Murray in Rookie of the Year contention.
The only first-year quarterback close to Minshew’s torrid pace is Jones. He threw for 336 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions in his first start. He added two rushing touchdowns, including one with less than two minutes left that gave the Giants a 32-31 win.
The comeback was bigger than any of Eli Manning’s career, and Jones put up numbers no rookie has ever had in a game before.
Daniel Jones is the first rookie QB in the Super Bowl era with 300+ pass yards, 2+ pass TD and 2+ rush TD in a game. #Giants— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) September 23, 2019
Jones followed that strong debut with one touchdown and two interceptions in his second start. While he led the Giants to a 24-3 win against Washington, he looked like a rookie on the two interceptions that were both hauled in by safety Quinton Dunbar.
Given Minshew’s mostly mistake-free start, Jones can’t afford continuing to make those errors if he hopes to end the season as the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Minshew’s only interception wasn’t even a poor decision.
And here's the EZ angle. Fournette pops it up into the air, Kpassagnon tries to come down with it and pops it to Clark. pic.twitter.com/EERadCyDFI— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) September 10, 2019
The only other offensive rookie conceivably in the picture is Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, who has 307 rushing yards and two touchdowns through four games. He’s on pace for well over 1,000 yards on the year,
Even though Saquon Barkley won the award last year, it’s hard to top a quarterback. Barkley got there with and NFL-high 2,028 yards from scrimmage and that was only enough to beat Baker Mayfield by five votes.
When Ezekiel Elliott finished his 2016 season with a league-leading 1,631 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, the Rookie of the Year Award was given to his quarterback, Dak Prescott.
It’s even more difficult for a receiver, and none are standing out much after a hot start for the class.
There’s a lot of football left to be played, but Jones and Jacobs are the two realistic contenders behind Minshew and it looks like they’ll have their hands full trying to make up ground on the Jaguars’ instant star.