Unpopular Opinions

Gardner Minshew is the Jags' QB of the present -- and future

Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I've spent a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I've heard a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.

In this space, I articulate positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Below, I explain why Gardner Minshew isn't just a fun character, but rather a talented 24-year-old to build around:

Gardner Flint Minshew II isn't supposed to be a starting NFL quarterback.

He was a guy you never heard of at Northwest Mississippi Community College. Yep, that's right. In fact, Minshew actually spent a semester at Troy University on an academic scholarship before heading to Senatobia, Mississippi, and leading the Rangers to the 2015 National Junior College Athletic Association national title. Full disclosure: I learned all of this when I sat down to write this column. Which brings me back to the initial point ...

Gardner Flint Minshew II isn't supposed to be a starting NFL quarterback.

He was a guy you never heard of at East Carolina. Yep, that's right. Minshew spent the 2016 and '17 seasons in Greenville, North Carolina, going 3-14 as the Pirates' starting quarterback with an unremarkable 24:11 TD-to-INT ratio. Then he planned to transfer to Alabama. The aim wasn't really to be the defending national champion's starting quarterback -- after all, the Crimson Tide QB room already featured Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts -- but rather to gain valuable knowledge in the prolific program and essentially jump-start a career in coaching. However, in the wake of unthinkable tragedy at Washington State -- starting QB Tyler Hilinski's suicide -- Cougars coach Mike Leach called Minshew and asked, "You want to come lead the nation in passing?" And that's when he finally burst on the national scene, averaging an FBS-best 367.6 passing yards per game, finishing fifth in Heisman Trophy voting and leading Wazzu to a program-record 11 wins. Yet still ...

Gardner Flint Minshew II isn't supposed to be a starting NFL quarterback.

He was a guy taken in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by Jacksonville to compete for the backup job behind big-ticket free-agent acquisition Nick Foles. But Foles broke his collarbone on his second series -- and first touchdown pass -- as a Jaguar. Suddenly pressed into service, Minshew led Jacksonville to four wins in his first seven starts, posting a sparkling 11:1 TD-to-INT ratio. With a persona as swashbuckling as his playing style, the rookie quickly became something of an NFL folk hero. And by Halloween, everyone was rocking mustaches and jorts in his honor. In fact, a member of our social media team showed up on Oct. 31 dressed up as Minshew's dad. Flint Minshew was a Halloween costume. That's how crazy Minshew Mania got in 2019.

I mean, part of it was his look. The 'stach. The headband. The hair. And yes, those glorious jorts. Let's be honest: Gardner looks like an AEW jobber. A guy who was picked to go put over Jon Moxley on Wednesday Night Dynamite, as opposed to being the savior of the Khan family's other Jacksonville sporting enterprise.

Things have gotten so out of control that Bud Light's now offering free beer for taking Minshew in the first round of a fantasy draft. As somebody who gets paid to give out fantasy advice, I certainly wouldn't endorse that approach on NFL Fantasy Live. But I am willing to say that Minshew is going to be the best second-year quarterback in the NFL this season. Well, after Kyler Murray. (This is Unpopular Opinions, not unreasonable ones.)

The important takeaway here is that, like Murray's Cardinals, the Jaguars have a signal-caller to build around. A guy for 2020 and beyond. A franchise quarterback.

I know, I know: That F-word conjures up some unpleasant memories for my friends down in Duval County. For Jacksonville, finding a FRANCHISE QB has become one of those Holy Grail quests. Just look at the recent history. Blake Bortles was drafted third overall in 2014 and then received a $54 million extension after helping lead the Jaguars to the 2017 AFC Championship Game. But at the end of the day, what do Jags fans really have to show for the Bortles era? (Besides, of course, some epic one-liners on NBC's The Good Place.) And then there was Foles. Jacksonville gave the Super Bowl LII MVP a four-year, $88 million contract. In return, they got four starts (all losses) and a fourth-round pick after trading him to Chicago this offseason. True, Foles' ill fate did lead to Minshew Mania, which did for jorts what Nirvana did for flannel. But still, all of this shows how tough the quarterback position has been for the Jags, who needed to break their highest-paid player in order to uncover the (sixth-round) quarterback of the future.

That's right: Minshew is indeed the Jags' quarterback of the future. Not just for the moxie and swagger that endear him to so many people inside and outside of the building. Don't get me wrong: I love the way Gardner plays the game. He's like a movie character. A combination of Happy Gilmore and Uncle Rico. Gardner is the guy who, when asked about a brief stay on the reserve/COVID-19 list, said: "Did not contact the virus. It took one look at me, ran the other way. That was probably in its best interest."

All of that stuff is great. But I also saw some real quarterbacking brilliance out of Minshew during his rookie season. In fact, while I already ceded that I believe Kyler will have a stronger Year 2 than Gardner -- Murray's quite a talent and has a far better setup right now in Arizona -- there's a good argument to be made that the Jags QB actually outplayed the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019. Despite starting four less games, Minshew had six wins to Murray's five. And given the state of the 2019 Jaguars -- a highly flawed, drama-filled group -- six wins might as well have been 16. Minshew also threw more touchdown passes than Murray (21 to 20), while hurling half the interceptions (6 to 12). While Murray's athleticism is widely celebrated, Minshew doesn't get his due respect in this area. He had at least 25 rushing yards in eight games in 2019, which ranked fifth among quarterbacks. Not to mention, he routinely pulled off Houdini acts in and around the pocket. Remember the bobbing-and-weaving touchdown pass in Denver? How about the pair of great-escape TD strikes against the Jets? Minshew magic is real.

Gardner was also pretty clutch. I know that's not something you truly quantify. Still, he did lead the Jaguars to three comeback wins on the road last year: at Denver, Cincinnati and Oakland. And I know winning a game at venerable Paul Brown Stadium in 2019 isn't the kind of stuff that legends are made of, but winning on the road in Denver -- against Vic Fangio's defense -- certainly is. Furthermore, of Gardner's 21 touchdown passes last season, 10 of them came in the fourth quarter. Which is the kind of thing that could make you a garbage-time all-star in fantasy circles. Bortles certainly was. But Gardner was bringing his team back. And don't forget he led a rally at Houston in his first start, hitting DJ Chark Jr. for a score with 30 seconds left to bring the Jags within a point. (Unfortunately, Leonard Fournette was stonewalled on the ensuing two-point conversion.)

Bottom line: Gardner Flint Minshew II is a starting NFL quarterback -- and a good one at that. One the Jaguars should be looking to surround with better players. He's a keeper.

I know Jacksonville could miss the playoffs again and go looking at one of the young quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Maybe even be in the mix for Trevor Lawrence, if the highly coveted Clemson QB becomes an early entry, as most expect. But I don't understand why a lot of people seem to be banking on this, like it's the no-brainer route forward.

The Jaguars have their guy. He wears jorts and makes plays. Embrace it, Jacksonville!

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.

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