George Clessuras, '22
I’ll admit it, when it comes to evaluating the Washington Football Team I am prone to overreactions. After an opening week victory last season, I hailed Dwayne Haskins as the generational talent and leader poised to revive a deteriorating franchise. Four weeks later he was benched before ultimately being dismissed for poor performance and violating COVID protocols in a night club. Conversely, I advocated for Washington to fire head coach Ron Rivera after a disappointing 2-8 start; he proceeded to rally the team to a four game win-streak and its first playoff berth in five seasons. Moral of the story: my opinions don’t age well, take them with a grain of salt. That being said, Taylor Heinicke is the franchise quarterback Washington has spent twenty eight years and thirteen draft picks searching for. Here’s why.
Heinicke plays with a swagger and fearlessness that can’t be taught. Mere months after taking online math classes at Old Dominion University, sleeping on his sister’s coach, and telling friends he was retired from football, Heinicke was dropped into a prime-time NFL playoff game against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With a cool demeanor, he saved his football career, nearly knocking out the Super Bowl champs in a duel with the greatest quarterback of all time, a game that most didn’t think would be competitive. In his next start, again underneath the lights at FedEx Field, Heinicke led Washington down the field with two late drives to vanquish a division rival. Eight weeks later, Heinicke completed the fairytale story, knocking off Brady and engineering a nineteen play drive that lasted over ten minutes—one of the most impressive drives in the NFL this season. He seems to relish the big stage and the bright lights, a quality that has been hard to come by in recent years (think Kirk Cousins’ 0-6 record with Washington on Monday Night Football).
There is a narrative that Heinicke’s statistical output does not measure up to that of dependable quarterbacks. This narrative simply is not true. Through ten games, Heinicke has a higher total quarterback rating (QBR) than Russell Wilson and Baker Mayfeild, has been sacked less than Justin Herbert or Josh Allen, has completed passes at rate higher than Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, and is fifth in the league in quarterback rushing yards. On a graph that measures dropbacks on the X-axis and expected points per dropback on the Y-axis (a value derived from a mathematical equation which measures the value of yardage according to factors such as down and distance, field position, time remaining, etc.) Taylor Heinicke is one of seven quarterbacks firmly in the first quadrant. He is joined by Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers, and Josh Allen—all considered “franchise quarterbacks.” This is even more impressive when one considers Heinicke’s inconsistent supporting cast. With injuries to his top two tight ends, thirty four million dollar receiver Curtis Samuel, and a variety of offensive lineman, we have yet to see what Heinicke can do with this offense when all of its key players are on the field, and that’s what's really exciting.
Now, riding a win streak and firmly in the playoff hunt, Washington has all of the momentum needed to catapult itself into its second consecutive postseason for the first time since 1992. And if they do, which I believe they will, it might be time to get used to a new type of Washington team with a new type of energy and a new franchise quarterback; Taylor’s version.
Cover Image: Washington Wire | Ivan Lambert