Taylor Heinicke Who?
“shaun hill or taylor heinicke for qb2”
That was the exact search term a reader used on TwoQBs and it struck an instant connection with me. I’ve written too many words on backup and third-string quarterbacks that nobody knows about or cares to get to know. It’s become my #brand. When I saw the name “Taylor Heinicke” I asked myself ‘who?’ and then decided to answer that question. What else was I going to do with my Friday night?
So, to you, random TwoQBs reader needing to decide between Shaun Hill and Taylor Heinicke, this article is for you.
Does Taylor Heinicke Exist?
Before Spending too much time researching this article I had to first find out if Taylor Heinicke is indeed a real person and what his connection is to the NFL. Since Shaun Hill was the first part of the equation I assumed Heinicke was a Minnesota Viking and that assumption turned out to be correct upon breezing through Ourlads.com’s quarterback depth chart page.
There was Heinicke, listed as the team’s third quarterback behind the aforementioned Shaun Hill and incumbent starter Teddy Bridgewater. A quick Google search also let us know he’s entering his second season in the NFL. Now that we know Heinicke does indeed exist and is a third-string quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings let’s find out more about him.
Heinicke was a four-year starter at Old Dominion, where he was part of school that transitioned from the FCS to the FBS. They had a one-year independent stint before joining Conference USA.
Playing in a spread offense, the then Monarch quarterback completed 67.7 percent of his career passes (1,238-of-1,829) for 14,959 yards, 132 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. Playing against lower competition helped Heinicke attain such gaudy career numbers. He was also productive on the ground, rushing for 1,320 yards and 22 touchdowns during his college career. That included one season of 11 rushing touchdowns.
The high-point for Heinicke was in 2012, when he threw for 5,076 yards and 44 touchdowns. He set a number of records and was honored with numerous awards including the Walter Payton Award, which is given to the best player in the FCS.
Even though he played against what many would deem lesser competition, Heinicke still managed to make the most of his surroundings.
Despite a stellar collegiate career, Heinicke did not become the first player from Old Dominion to be drafted into the NFL. Without an invitation to the combine, the only workout numbers we have come courtesy of his Pro Day where he ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.6 seconds and the 3-cone in 6.96 seconds.
While researching Heinicke’s scouting reports there were a lot of knocks against him. He’s too short, he doesn’t have a cannon arm, he didn’t play at a big-time college, and so on. This quote from Lance Zierlein of NFL.com sums it up best:
“Heinicke has the ball placement and accuracy of an NFL backup when he’s protected and dealing, but his small stature combined with his inability to drive the ball and make NFL throws could be hard to overcome once he gets into an NFL camp.”
There were some positive traits heaped upon him, too, in the form of “feel for the pocket”, poised, patient, and “quick, easy release.”
Still, a short quarterback with a weak arm from a small school isn’t usually a hot commodity in the NFL and his going undrafted proved exactly that.
From Undrafted to NFL Rosterable
Even though Heinicke had a lot going against him he did eventually sign on with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent last season to compete for the role of backup to the backup. A job he won by beating out Mike Kafka.
He appeared in five preseason games last year, with his most notable outing being his sole preseason start in the team’s final game. In that contest versus the Tennessee Titans, Heinicke completed 27-of-41 passes (65.9 percent) for 279 yards and two touchdowns. You can view both of his touchdowns in the below highlight reel (fast forward to the :58 and 1:49 marks).
Even though Heinicke won the QB3 job and was put on the 53-man roster, he was inactive the whole season. This year he’s competing with Shaun Hill for the #2 QB job.
I asked Arif Hasan, one of the more knowledgeable Vikings analysts I know about Heinicke potentially leapfrogging Hill for the QB2 job this year. Here’s his response:
“Lowkey, it’s a simmering storyline in Vikings camp. I certainly think he’s talented enough to do it, but I’m skeptical of his ability to take Hill’s job this year. The Vikings are fundamentally pretty conservative when it comes to people taking jobs from others.”
“If given a chance, he could carve out a backup job.”
That quote can be attributed to NFL Draft analyst Dane Brugler, and while it was directed towards Heinicke, Brugler could have been talking about any backup or undrafted quarterback.
We’ve seen countless of unheralded and unknown backup and third string quarterbacks like Scott Tolzien and Austin Davis thrust into the starting role. They got their chance. Heinicke might get his.
Bridgewater is the current and future starter in Minnesota, but had a lackluster second-season from a fantasy standpoint. According to his QB Stat Card, Bridgewater finished as a top-ten weekly fantasy QB in only two games last year and has finished as a top-ten option in 10.3 percent of his career games.
Bridgewater’s current backup and the man Heinicke looks to replace is Shaun Hill. A 36-year-old journeyman and one of the more pricier backups in the league. Hill’s $3.2 million salary is higher than Tyrod Taylor’s, for example, according to Spotrac. He’s also making more than QB1 Bridgewater. If the Vikings don’t want to risk losing Heinicke by placing him on the practice squad and want to shed salary, Hill could be the odd-man out in the Vikings quarterback room.
Heinicke has already beaten the NFL odds once, going from undrafted to part of a 53-man roster, and the odds are in his favor more than most third-string quarterbacks in the league.
For the time being, you can safely leave Heinicke on the waiver wire in your dynasty leagues and he’s a complete afterthought in upcoming 2QB redraft leagues. However, if for whatever reason, be it injury or ineffective play, he does find himself starting you at least have an insight into the player he is.
Last season saw 53 different quarterbacks start at least one game, and quarterback turnover is high every year in the NFL. Jimmy Clausen, Brandon Weeden, and Ryan Mallet each started a game for two different teams last season.
Laugh all you want at Heinicke throwing touchdowns to Stefon Diggs when it matters, just don’t dismiss the idea.