NFL draft: QB Gardner Minshew’s long, winding path has him headed upward quickly

January 25, 2019

MOBILE, Ala. — The Senior Bowl isn’t the easiest place in the NFL universe to arrive at in the first place, but for well-traveled QB Gardner Minshew, it’s perhaps his most unexpected but important side trip to date so far.

Ten months ago, Minshew had finished up what would be his final season at East Carolina with mixed results as a sometimes starter: 24 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 3,487 yards passing and a shade under 58 percent completions in 17 games there. The most enticing option initially was to jump to Alabama as a graduate transfer, which sounds great until you remember that he’d have been third in the QB pecking order behind Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, two of the best in college football.

With one eye on carving out a future coaching career, Minshew might have jumped at Bama head coach Nick Saban’s offer had one of those two quarterbacks transferred.

“At the time it looked like one of those two was leaving and I was walking in as No. 2 and splitting reps 50-50,” Minshew said. “I’ll take my shot with anybody when I get into a competition setting. Then it looked like both of them were staying, and it was time for me to look elsewhere.”

That’s when Mike Leach called. The Washington State head coach needed a quarterback to replace Luke Falk, who was a sixth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans, to jump into the mix. In the Cougars’ Air Raid offense — and with less competition there — it was a no-brainer for Minshew to switch gears and make the trek to the northwest.

“Once he called, I was all in,” Minshew said. “I was like, ‘Let’s go.’ There was no looking back.”

Minshew has a lot to look back on in college football. He started out at Troy but was forced to walk on there after a new coaching staff had arrived and rescinded a scholarship offer. Once it became clear he wasn’t going to beat out Brandon Silvers (who attended the 2018 Senior Bowl) after Troy’s spring game, Minshew shifted gears and spent a year at Northwest Mississippi Community College before heading to ECU.

“I kind of took the long way around,” Minshew said Tuesday.

And the fact that he’s here competing with a decent group of passers who nearly all have a chance to be drafted makes Minshew one of the better stories this year at the Senior Bowl. The general consensus is that he might have done enough in a brilliant final season at Washington State — 4,776 passing yards, 38 TDs, nine interceptions and 70.7 percent completions — to make him a Day 2 (second or third round) draft pick.

The most surprising part of his journey was not just his success but also how he became something of a regional — and even a national — celebrity in 2018. Minshew’s unique mustache led Washington State fans to wear their own pasted-on versions of the facial hair, but it was his performance on the field that cemented his fame there.

Of note: Minshew grew out his beard around the mustache for Senior Bowl week. A disappointed media member asked him about his change of appearance.

“Just a different look,” Minshew said. “Had to change it up a bit.”

Change is now second nature to the quarterback. It hasn’t been the most traditional way of entering the NFL, but teams appear to appreciate Minshew’s smarts, toughness and determination to get a shot at proving his worth. As Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said Monday, Minshew is “constantly betting on himself,” and it’s paying off so far.

During the weigh-in on Tuesday, Minshew measured a tick below 6-foot-1 but also at a very sturdy 224 pounds. His most impressive measurable, however, were his hands: an impressive 10 1/4 inches, which was the largest of the group. No wonder the southern-bred Minshew was able to go up to the frosty northwest and hang onto the football with those big mitts. Some teams have a minimum hand-size requirement for their quarterbacks, and Minshew will be well past that — and even in the top 10 or 15 percent in that department.

His week of practice has been good as well, with one scout telling PFW he likes his feet and throwing base, as well as his ability to scramble and make plays off platform. (The scout asked we not quote him directly but rather to summarize his thoughts.) In no way has Minshew looked out of place, and with the proliferation of Air Raid concepts in NFL playbooks, it can only help his cause.

Minshew is comfortable explaining why he had to take the long road to this point, and to borrow Nagy’s phrase, the bets are starting to pay off.

“[It’s] definitely not how most people would do it,” Minshew said. “You learn so much as you go through all these different experiences, all the different guys you meet. I feel like it’s really prepared for me [being at the Senior Bowl].”

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