Is Heinicke the future quarterback in Washington?
By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)
Taylor Heinicke is a very interesting player to keep an eye on heading into the 2021 NFL season. According to head coach Ron Rivera, Washington will head into training camp with an open competition for the starting quarterback job between Heinicke, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Allen, and Steven Montez. While Fitzpatrick is the likely front runner for the job in week one, Heinicke should be right on his heels with a real chance to win the starting role at some point. The fact that the organization just gave him a two year contract extension despite signing the 38 year old Fitzpatrick in free agency is a clear indicator that they believe in the potential of Heinicke.
Heinicke is already 28 years old and has a very small sample size to go off of when looking at his career statistics. In the regular season across eight games played, he has completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 467 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also demonstrated his athleticism with 9 carries for 55 rushing yards. His career 71.7 passer rating is underwhelming but hard to fairly judge given the lack of volume. He’s produced very mixed results to say the least.
The one game that really showed off his potential was the playoff game that he started against the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Bucs last year. Washington did lose the game but was very competitive in the contest, partially due to the best game of the young career of Heinicke. He completed 26 passes for 306 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for an additional 46 yards on six attempts and another touchdown. This performance is the main reason why he was given an extension to remain in Washington with aspirations of becoming the future starting quarterback.
The biggest and most obvious question for Heinicke heading into the 2021 NFL season is if and when he will get his opportunity to play. That may depend more on the play of Fitzpatrick, if he does in fact get the starting job for week one of the season. Fitzpatrick chose Washington in free agency because he believes it is his best chance to be the starter on a contending team. He did not sign there to be a backup or a mentor to Heinicke. He believes he still has plenty left in the tank and his solid 2020 season backs that up.
Across nine games played in 2020, Fitzpatrick completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2091 yards and 13 touchdowns while helping the Miami Dolphins compete for a spot in the playoffs. In addition to registering his highest completion percentage in a season, he also recorded his best ever total QBR at 76.8 and his 95.6 passer rating was the second best mark for a season in his long 16 year career. If he puts up a similar stat line or better to start the 2021 NFL season, it’s going to be hard for Heinicke to justifiably take over the job. Ironically, Fitzpatrick did lose his starting job last year to rookie Tua Tagovailoa despite his great efforts.
If Fitzpatrick begins the season as the starter, he will be on a very short leash and head coach Ron Rivera could choose to switch to Heinicke at any time. In fact, there is still a decent chance that Heinicke could even win the QB competition in training camp and be named the week one starter any way. Washington is a team with hopes of returning to the playoffs this year so they will need solid quarterback play out of whoever the starter is.
In terms of a player comparison, the ceiling for Heinicke would be a Ryan Tannehill type. They both have similar skill sets with a comparable list of strengths and weaknesses. They can both be gunslingers at times who are willing to take risks in the passing game. They are both very athletic players who definitely prefer to pass first but can also beat a defense with their rushing abilities when necessary. Tannehill at this current stage of his career is a borderline top ten quarterback in the NFL, so if Heinicke can reach that level, the Washington organization is going to be very happy with their decision to give him a contract extension this past offseason.