As Washington has rattled off 4 wins in a row, including some fairly dominant performances in terms of time of possession, there’s been a lot of wondering aloud about Taylor Heinicke’s role in the team’s success. My own perspective is that Taylor, and the offense more generally, have been playing pretty consistently throughout most of the year, but that the defense has improved dramatically in the past month or so.
The defense has really stepped it up. from SkinsHOFChaseYoung via /r/washingtonNFL https://t.co/jBdHgGhkkH— Washington Football Reddit (@WFT_Subreddit) December 7, 2021
But, that’s really the subject of a different article. This one is intended to take a look at Taylor’s performance so far this year, and imagine what a “best case” scenario might look like in terms of his NFL career.
Various attempts have been made to compare Heinicke, as a “senior rookie,” to some of the actual rookie QBs this year. So far, he’s been better than all of them except perhaps the Patriots’ Mac Jones.
Others have compared him to 2020 Alex Smith. Stat-wise, Taylor has been more prolific (234 ypg vs. 198 ypg) and has a better TD/INT ratio (18/11 vs. 6/8), though their completion percentage is/was almost identical, 68% vs. 67%. Heinicke has also rushed for nearly 24 yards per game, whereas that wasn’t a component of Alex’s game after coming back from injury. Needless to say, both have had success managing games in Rivera’s (and Turner’s) system. But, even for some similarities in terms of outcomes, Heinicke plays with a sort of abandon and, at times, carefree improvisation, that reminds few fans of Smith. So comparisons have turned elsewhere.
Late Blooming Undrafteds
The poster child for undrafted, successful QBs is - without question - Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. Fresh out of Northern Iowa in 1994, Warner was invited to the Packers training camp and released before the regular season. It was at this point that he began his storied career.....as a grocery bagger at Hy-Vee. He spent a couple of years playing arena league football and for NFL Europe before getting picked up as the Rams third string QB at the age of 27.
After starter Trent Green went down with a torn ACL in the pre-season (and previous second string QB Tony Banks had been traded to the Ravens), Warner was named the Rams starter at the age of 28. That first season, Warner went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl leading the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Warner had a great career, ultimately culminating in his own bust in Canton. Though there are some parallels with Heinicke’s early career, that’s probably an impossibly unfair bar to set.
Another name recently suggested is Jeff Garcia. Garcia like Warner, graduated in 1994. A moderately successful QB at San Jose State, Garcia was considered too small to be an NFL QB (6’0”, 205 lbs). He did find a place in the CFL, however, behind the Calgary Stampeders’ diminutive stud QB, Doug Flutie.
In 1998, he led the Stampeders to a Grey Cup victory (the CFL equivalent of a Super Bowl win). After that win, he was picked up by the 49ers, to serve as Steve Young’s back-up. Early in the 1999 season, Young was concussed, and Garcia - at the age of 29 - was called into his first NFL action. In his “rookie” season, Garcia wasn’t great - finishing 2-8 - and posting 11 TDs and 11 INTs to go along with a 77.9 QB rating. In his second season, Garcia set a franchise passing record, throwing for 4,278 yards, 31 TDs, and 2 INTs, even though the 49ers finished 6-10. Over the next two years, Garcia took the 49ers to the playoffs, and in 2002, they won a playoff game against the Giants.
For his career, which included playing for 5 different teams, 4 Pro Bowl selections, and 4 playoff appearances (he went 2-4), Garcia ended up with a 58-58 record, a completion percentage of 62% and 161 TDs over 83 INTs. He also rushed for over 2,100 yards (averaging 17 per game). Perhaps more than anything else though, what seems to remind folks thinking about Heinicke of Garcia are his intangibles:
“Jeff gives us electricity. He has leadership, charisma and passion, the type of things you can’t put a stopwatch on.” - Browns Head Coach, Butch Davis
Lots of electronic “ink” has already been spilled on Heinicke’s lack of “arm talent,” and his corresponding abundance of “moxie” and grit. What do you think, is the comparison apt?
If Taylor Heinicke had a Jeff Garcia-like career, would you consider that a success?
This poll is closed
Do you think Heinicke could have a better career than Garcia?
This poll is closed
No, probably not.
Yes, I think so.