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The 5 O’Clock Club: Is QB4 the best choice available on the Washington roster?

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Carolina Panthers v Washington Football Team Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.


Enthusiasm

Forgive my enthusiasm.

I lost my composure on Sunday when I saw Taylor Heinicke running the Washington offense. In truth, that was probably the most comfortable I’ve seen a Washington QB look since the days when Kirk Cousins was the starter in the Jay Gruden offense (except for maybe two quarters last season when a healthy Case Keenum looked like a fluid NFL quarterback).

The difference between how Heinicke looked on the field and everything else I’ve seen at QB since Kirk’s departure was stark. Taylor Heinicke looked confident; he moved in the pocket well; he threw with decisiveness and (for the most part) accuracy. I’m not sure how fast he is in absolute terms, but after watching Dwayne Haskins and Alex Smith all year, he looked like The Flash to me (I looked it up; Heinicke ran a 4.62 40 at his pro day).

When a guy is in the NFL for 5 years and most of his time has been spent on practice squads, inactive or backup roles, there’s usually a reason — he’s not good enough. But there are enough stories out there about guys like Raheem Mostert and, dare I say it, Kurt Warner, that I’m not ready to dismiss Taylor Heinicke just because no one has ever seen enough in him to make him a permanent starting QB before.

Some background on Taylor Heinicke

Here’s what I knew about Heinicke before Sunday’s game: he played quarterback at my sister’s alma mater, Old Dominion University, in my childhood hometown of Norfolk, Virginia.

That’s it. That’s all I knew.

Clearly, it was time for me to learn more.

College ball at ODU

Looking up his college stats, in his sophomore year of 2012 (RG3’s rookie year in DC), I see an eye-popping 5,076 yards, 44 TDs and 14 INTs, supplemented by 470 yards rushing and 11 rushing TDs. That’s over 5,500 yards from scrimmage with 55 touchdowns. Apparently, at least against CAA competition, the kid could throw the ball and he could run.

In some ways, this is more impressive to me than Haskins’ 50 touchdowns at Ohio State. Yes, Haskins was playing against a higher level of competition, but he was also surrounded by more talent — the best offensive line, the best receivers and the best facilities in the nation. Heinicke did what he did against inferior opponents, but with a lot less help.

In 2018, Dwayne Haskins threw for 4,831 yards and 50 TDs to Parris Campbell (Colts), K.J. Hill (Chargers), Austin Mack (Giants), and Terry McLaurin.

In 2012, Taylor Heinicke threw for over 5,000 yards to Zach Pascal (Colts), Antonio Vaughn, Marquel Thomas, and Aquante Thornton.

Professional Football

As a professional, Heinicke was contracted to the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL for their brief pre-COVID existence earlier this year, but he has hovered at the edges of the NFL since 2015, after completing his 4-year tenure at ODU.

He initially joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent and spent two seasons under contract there without seeing the field in a regular season game.

In 2017, he spent time on practice squads of the Patriots and Texans, and actually was activated and got into a game for the Texans, but managed only one pass attempt before being knocked out of the game with a concussion.

Of course, he was in Carolina in 2018; Heinicke appeared in six games, including one start, where his stat line was 33/53, 274 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs. He was also injured in the game and replaced by Kyle Allen.

He wasn’t under contract in the NFL in 2019.

Reality check

Okay. Nobody’s more popular in DC than the backup quarterback.

Heinicke is a borderline backup/practice squad quarterback. In addition, he seems to struggle to stay healthy.

  • In 2016 he suffered an off-season injury.
  • In 2017 he ended his Vikings tenure waived from injured reserve without getting into a regular season game. As mentioned, he sufffered a concussion playing for the Texans later that same season.
  • In his only NFL start in Week 16 of 2018 (for Carolina) Heinicke suffered an elbow injury and ended the season on IR.

In short, he’s like Jordan Reed except that he isn’t a tight end, wasn’t drafted and hasn’t done anything noteworthy in the NFL.

And, yet, given a choice between Haskins and Heinicke, I’d still rather see #4 start on Sunday night against the Eagles with the playoffs on the line.

Against the Panthers on Sunday afternoon

Yesterday, the Washington offense looked completely different than it had all afternoon when Heinicke got on the field. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in nine minutes of game time. That effort includes:

  • a second-down pass that “bounced off of” Gandy-Golden
  • a first-down pass that traveled about 40 yards in the air but was dropped by Cam Sims inside the 5 yard line
NFL: Carolina Panthers at Washington Football Team Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
  • a second-down pass that should have been intercepted by the Panthers but was dropped
  • a 12-yard TD pass to Logan Thomas on 4th down that was nullified by a penalty
  • a 4th & 18 pass to the end zone that didn’t have enough air under it to get over the defender and give Gandy-Golden enough of a chance to catch it for the needed touchdown.

In the same game, Haskins was 14/28 for 154 yards and 2 INTs in 3 12 quarters.

Heinicke wasn’t close to perfect, and he was facing a defense that was playing ‘soft’ and giving up underneath passes in the 4th quarter of a game where Carolina enjoyed a 14-point lead, but he made quick decisions and threw with accuracy on all but three passes. For the most part, #4 made the plays or gave chances to his playmakers when needed:

  • On his first 3rd down, Heinicke scrambled successfully and moved the chains.
  • On 4th & 3 later in the drive, he completed a 9 yard pass to Cam Sims.
  • On 4th and 8 from the 12 yard line, he extended the play and threw a beautiful pass for a would-be touchdown that was nullified by an offensive holding call that didn’t impact the play.

Ultimately, Heinicke couldn’t get the needed touchdown on the drive, but the 70-yard, 16-play drive was the best of the night to that point (aside from, possibly, the 65-yard drive for a field goal that featured a 50-yard catch & run by Cam Sims).

In the category of “if my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle”, if not for the holding call on the disallowed touchdown play to Logan Thomas, Heinicke would have moved the Football Team offense with enough urgency to potentially tie the game, which is what a QB has to do against the kind of defense that Carolina was playing. He played with urgency, showed leadership, and used arm, legs and brain in an effort to rally an offense that had looked moribund prior to his entry into the game.

Heinicke did lead the team to a touchdown on his second drive, going 91 yards in 8 plays against an admittedly soft defense, but again, showing skills and doing what he had to do to get a touchdown on the board. On his first 3rd down of the drive, needing 10 yards, Heinicke scrambled for 12, then, on the following two plays, completed back-to-back passes of 13 and 29 yards to score immediately after the two-minute warning.

Bottom line

I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck; I realize that Heinicke is a borderline NFL quarterback. I’m willing to overlook that based on the spark I saw him give the offense on Sunday afternoon.

Washington goes to the playoffs as NFC East champs if the team wins in Philadelphia on Sunday night. A loss gets them a top-ten pick in the draft.

Me? I’d rather go to the playoffs.

If Alex Smith is healthy, I have no doubt that he provides the team with the best opportunity to get the win.

But...

if Smith is not healthy enough to go, then based on what I saw in nine minutes on Sunday against Carolina, I think the team’s best chance to win is to start Taylor Heinicke, and my suspicion is that if he had started and played the entire game in Week 16, the WFT would already be celebrating their third division championship in 9 seasons.

Carolina Panthers v Washington Football Team Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Poll

If each of these quarterbacks is healthy and available, which one would you start to give the Football Team the best opportunity to win and get a playoff berth?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    Alex Smith
    (870 votes)
  • 0%
    Dwayne Haskins
    (4 votes)
  • 19%
    Taylor Heinicke
    (229 votes)
  • 1%
    Steve Montez
    (17 votes)
  • 3%
    Invalid choices because I’d rather lose and get the better draft position
    (41 votes)
1161 votes total Vote Now