From the beginning of the last offseason, I made my position on Washington’s QB situation fairly clear. I, like nearly everyone, was impressed with Taylor Heinicke’s gritty showing against the Buccaneers, but I wasn’t convinced it was durable. I wanted Ron Rivera to keep building the team around the QB position, and to bring in a vet QB who could be a bridge to a young QB, likely one not already on the roster.
When the team picked up Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency, I was ecstatic. I thought it was just about the perfect move for where the team was in terms of its developmental trajectory. Then came Week 1, and Fitz’s unfortunate injury early in the game against the Chargers. Those plans were out the window.
We were now going to get to see what Taylor Heinicke was made of, even if it wasn’t the original plan. Perhaps not surprisingly, Taylor had his ups - like against the Falcons - and his downs - like against the Saints, in the first half of the season. More surprisingly, from my vantage point was that for the 8 weeks before the bye, Heinicke didn’t really have any of the injury issues that had sidetracked him earlier in his career. Most surprisingly, however, was that Washington’s preemptively “vaunted” defense turned out to be absolute garbage.
"Top 5" conversation obviously over (and in retrospect, embarrassing). #WFT defense can spend October trying to convince me they're even average.— Burgundy Blog (@BurgundyBlog) September 26, 2021
No, Heinicke wasn’t playing like one of the top QBs in the game, but in my estimation, he was playing well enough for Washington to win a few more games, if the defense had just bothered to show up.
Instead, the coaching staff continued to use key players out of position - Landon Collins - or out of their best scheme fit - William Jackson III - or to deploy slower, less athletic vets - Jon Bostic - while better athletes were on the bench. I’ve also heard, though I haven’t confirmed it myself, that Jack Del Rio was rushing only 4 lineman much more consistently before Montez Sweat and Chase Young were injured than he’s done since. And then, there are the well-founded criticisms of selfish, undisciplined play from team’s “dynamic duo.”
Former defensive lineman Marcus Spears had strong words for how WFT's ends are pass rushing. https://t.co/EOPqfR7wNr— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) September 29, 2021
Unlike some, I don’t think it’s any coincidence at all that two of Heinicke’s best games have come over the the past two weeks, when the defense has been playing at its best, even with the first round DE talents replaced by Day 3 ballers, sticking to their assignments. But enough of the defense, for now.
After Washington’s loss to the Packers, which I actually thought was one of Heinicke’s better games of the season, I arrived at the conclusion below:
Taylor Heinicke is a bit of a tragic figure. The guy has the heart of a lion, but just doesn’t seem to have the physical tools to pull off a starting NFL role. That said, I enjoy watching him play.— KyleSmith4GM (@Smith4Gm) October 25, 2021
I thought Heinicke was good enough to keep a well-functioning team close, and maybe even win some tight games, but that, ultimately, he wouldn’t be able to put a bad team on his back consistently, as a result of some of his physical shortcomings - most notably, weaker than NFL-average arm strength. And, at that point in the season, the team around him was bad. Underperforming, heartless, and doing very little to make life easier for the still inexperienced QB. And, the defensive coaching staff wasn’t doing much to help either.
I go on the record today to officially change my tune. I’m not unequivocally declaring Heinicke the long-term starter, but I do now think that, even with some of his athletic shortcomings, he possesses the possibility of being a “long term” starting option in Washington. Given a respectable defensive performance, and not charged with trying to play from behind every week, I think that Heinicke has the spirit - I’m not sure that’s ever been in doubt - and sufficient physical tools to lead a successful NFL team.
WFT Defense Weeks 1-6:— Tae & Todd Washington Football Podcast (@TaeNToddPodcast) November 22, 2021
-57.8% 3rd Down Conversion Rate
-8 3rd Down Penalties Committed
WFT Defense Weeks 7-10:
-43.2% 3rd Down Conversion Rate
-0 3rd Down Penalties Committed#WashingtonFootball
Against the Panthers, one of the better defenses in the league, Heinicke had one of the best performances in the NFL in Week 11, even without several key weapons, and behind a patchwork offensive line that included his 4th starting center of the season.
How good was Taylor Heinicke on Sunday? Here's where he ranked among all the #NFL's QBs this weekend via @NextGenStats.— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) November 23, 2021
1st - Cmp % over expected (19.5)
1st - Intended Air Yards (12.5)
1st - Caught Air Yards (10.0)
3rd - Aggressiveness % (22.7)
3rd - Air Yds to sticks (2.9)
At this point, Heinicke seems to me akin to a force of nature, imposing his will on the surrounding environment, against an imposing mass of psychological inertia - he was undrafted, he’s been in the league for years, he was a back-up in the XFL.
I’m not anointing him yet - I still think he probably needs to lead the team to around 5-2 or better over the rest of the season - but I do see Hurricane Heinicke cresting the horizon, and that we should all be bracing ourselves for his impact.
Do you think Taylor Heinicke is talented enough to be long term NFL starter?
I do, and I want him to do it here.
I do, but I don’t want him to do it here.