By: Noah Nichols
When the Washington Football Team played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the playoffs last season, nobody expected a close game.
Everyone predicted a blowout win for the Buccaneers. After all, the starting quarterback for Washington was a little-known player named Taylor Heinicke. Expectations were low for Washington as the game began and even lower for Heinicke.
Instead of a blowout loss, Washington was within eight points of tying up the game. Ultimately, they fell short, due to injuries and drops by receivers. However, the loss did not quite feel like a loss. Washington had seen a star rise that night.
Taylor Heinicke nearly led Washington to a victory against the heavily favored, more talented, Buccaneers that night. He threw for 306 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 46 yards, and one of the most spectacular rushing touchdowns ever seen.
Heinicke had to push through a separated left ACL joint, that he played with throughout the entire night. He also was not helped out by his receivers, who had five drops that night. Thus, the reason for the hope that rose that night in Washington. Heinicke showed real potential.
Whether he starts as the quarterback next season for Washington or not is uncertain. Heinicke flashed potential that night. Perhaps he won’t be the starter. But as Ron River said, “He (Heinicke) has created an opportunity for himself.” Even if Heinicke is not the Starter, perhaps he could be like another quarterback in his conference, Taysom Hill.
What exactly would Heinicke do similarly to Hill? Hill is the more athletic player of the two, but Heinicke showed that he was faster than his combine 40-time of 4.7. Heinicke is arguably the better passer, being the only quarterback of the two to throw for over 300 yards in a game. And he did it against one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Heinicke could come in for packages like Hill does and be a threat to run or pass the ball. Washington has upgraded their receiver core, and defenses would have to respect the passing game. And the thing is, Washington has no clear number one quarterback.
So not only could Heinicke be brought in for packages, he potentially could win the starting job. And even if he did not win the starting job, Heinicke would be a great backup for whoever won the starting job. Defenses could not prepare for him, because they would be focused on planning for the starting quarterback.
If he were the starter, then the question is, can Heinicke be good enough to win, week in and week out? Perhaps. Look at what the New Orleans Saints did with Taysom Hill as the starter last season. The Saints were 3-1 with Hill. Sure the Saints have a great offense and defense, but the teams are not as far apart as you might think.
Washington might have the best defense in the NFL. They have a young, exciting receiver group led by Terry Mclaurin. And Antonio Gibson is a growing star player at running back. So Washington has all that it needs to surround Heinicke with talent.
It really is up in the air how well Heinicke would play as the starter, or even as the Taysom Hill role player. Heinicke could come in for special packages, and provide splash plays that way. But he would have to do it more with his arm than his legs. He just is not as good a runner as Hill. So if Heinicke were to come in and run the ball himself, most likely he would not provide splash plays the way Hill does on the ground.
However, Heinicke the Buccaneers game provided a glimpse of potential as a runner. Heinicke did well against the best linebacker tandem in the league. The question is, can he do it for a season, even as just a package player. There is no way to know the answer to that question. We just have not seen enough of Heinicke to know.
But Heinicke could come in to pass the ball, while still providing a little bit of a threat to run. He has shown that he can do it. However, there is no reason to bring Heinicke in to pass the ball in special packages, unless he is a serious threat to run the ball.
Sean Peyton does not bring Hill in to pass the ball, he has Hill pass the ball on rare occasions because he takes advantage of defenses playing the run. Unless Heinicke can offer potential as a runner, there is no reason for Heinicke to come into the game to pass the ball.
So, Washington could bring Heinicke in a game to be the “Taysom Hill” of the offense. But unless Heinicke has grown as a runner, that probably won’t happen. The only thing that helps Heinicke in this regard is how bad Washington’s quarterback room is. They do not have a clear starter. So Heinicke could win the starting job, as a passer, and still provide some sort of threat as a runner.
Will Heinicke be the next Taysom Hill? No. And the only way he starts for Washington is if he outplays all the other quarterbacks on the roster, which is certainly possible. But even Ron Rivera did not name Heinicke as the starter. Otherwise, Heinicke is most likely a capable backup. But he won’t come into the game as a “Taysom Hill” type player unless he can become a threat on the ground. Otherwise, Washington has no reason to put Heinicke into a game.