When the Vikings acquired Joshua Dobbs just before the trade deadline, it was a deal born of necessity as Kirk Cousins was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon and backup Nick Mullens was still on IR. Dobbs would backup Jaren Hall, who would get the start against the Falcons and presumably would have the job to lose. So long as Hall played decent, Dobbs may not have gotten an opportunity to show what he can do with the Vikings. But Hall leaving the game in the first quarter with a concussion thrust Dobbs into the spotlight for the Vikings. And after what Dobbs called a ‘muddy’ beginning, he was able to make plays with his arm and legs to get the win and keep the starting job with Hall in concussion protocol. And after another impressive performance in another win against the Saints, it looks like Josh Dobbs is likely to remain the starter for the rest of the season, regardless of when Mullens or Hall are able to come back from injuries.
Dobbs is now enjoying the limelight both throughout Vikings Nation and across the league. But is he a flash in the pan or is he here to stay?
Dobbs’ Late Opportunity to be an NFL Starter
Joshua Dobbs was drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was the 7th QB taken in that draft, which included Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. But while all the other quarterbacks taken in that draft besides Mahomes and Watson have either tried and failed as starting quarterbacks, or never really got the opportunity, Dobbs is getting his opportunity as a starter this season- his 7th year in the league.
Throughout his seven seasons in the NFL, Dobbs has bounced around several teams. Those teams included the Steelers from 2017-2019, then the Jaguars in 2019, then back again to the Steelers in 2020-2021, then to the Browns in 2022, then to the Lions’ practice squad later that season, and then to the Titans a few weeks later where he got his first start the last game of the season.
2023 began with Dobbs being signed by the Browns, who traded him in late August to the Cardinals, where he became their starter for the first half of the season. But with Kyler Murray returning from injury and the Cardinals having lost faith in Dobbs, they traded him to the Vikings just ahead of the trade deadline along with a 7th round pick for a 6th round pick- next to nothing.
Dobbs was 1-7 as a starter for the Cardinals this season, with just an 81.2 passer rating across those starts and just 5.10 adjusted net yards per pass attempt (ANY/A) - both near the bottom of the league among starting quarterbacks. His overall and passing PFF grade were also near the bottom of the league. Dobbs proved to be a dangerous weapon as a runner in Arizona, but he struggled with accuracy and ball placement- ranking near the bottom of the league in adjusted completion percentage and with fumbles- averaging one per game. In his last four games with the Cardinals, Dobbs didn’t have a game with a passer rating over 77.3, which is poor, and had two games with passer ratings in the 50s. Given all that, it wasn’t that surprising that the Cardinals decided to move on from Dobbs.
But since coming to Minnesota, Dobbs has shined. His passer rating and PFF grades have both jumped 20 points and he leads the league in ESPN’s QBR metric over the past two weeks. All that without knowing much of the offense or the players and coaches around him. Presumably, once he gets to know more of the offense and gets in tune with his offensive weapons- including Justin Jefferson once he returns- he will only get better. But on the other hand, Dobbs has never shown he can be a consistently high performing quarterback- as he was the past two games for the Vikings- over longer periods including his college career.
Dobbs’ College Career
It may seem silly to look back at a quarterback’s college career after he’s been in the league for seven seasons but given that Dobbs still has less than a season’s worth of starts in the league, it may be useful in getting a broader baseline of his performance and understanding what strengths and weaknesses have come with him from college into the league.
Dobbs played four seasons at Tennessee and in his last year there- 2016- was the highest graded running quarterback in the FBS with at least 300 dropbacks according to PFF. He was the 10th graded quarterback overall but just the 22nd ranked passer. He had the 12th highest adjusted completion percentage, including the 3rd highest completion percentage on throws traveling at least 20 yards. He also had the 3rd highest QB rating under pressure among draft eligible QBs in the 2017 draft.
Dobbs also was clutch in his senior year, with the highest passer rating in his draft class in the second half of games in 2016 and also the highest passer rating in the 4th quarter.
But for context, he ranked well below the Vikings’ other QB drafted in 2017- Nick Mullens- in most passing metrics in college. Dobbs also graded low in fumbles throughout his college career. He has smaller than average hands at 9.25”, which may have contributed to the problem, but most running quarterbacks- like Dobbs- fumble more than pocket passers.
At the Combine ahead of the 2017 draft, Dobbs’ overall athletic score was third best among quarterbacks in that draft class, and his RAS score was an elite 9.60.
Dobbs was also praised for his intelligence and was widely viewed as having a high football IQ, in addition to being a “rocket scientist” having majored in aerospace engineering and reportedly having a 4.0 GPA.
Overall, Dobbs’ scouting reports from Lance Zierlein and PFF seem to have aged well in considering Dobbs’ performance this season as a starter in the league:
Dobbs is hardly incompetent as a passer, but he hasn’t shown as much growth with his ball placement and accuracy as scouts had hoped to see from this former four-star prospect. Dobbs has decent size and is an outstanding runner outside the pocket which could appeal to a team looking for a developmental quarterback with play-making ability.
Has the ball handling and release quickness to get the ball out early when challenged by sudden pressure
Able to get through progressions to the check down option
Throws a tight spiral with adequate drive velocity
Eye-catching deep pass accuracy (47.7 completion percentage) with 14 touchdowns on throws 21-plus yards
Displayed good mental toughness
Can make timely exits from the pocket and win with his feet against overzealous rushers who vacate their rush lanes
Has explosive ability as a runner
Offers a team packaged-play potential in short yardage situations
Could use more weight on his frame
Below average delivery balance affects his accuracy and ball placement
Footwork is uneven and causes him to throw from unbalanced platform too often
Throwing motion causes him to push some throws
Floats the deep out allowing defenders to close out his passing windows
Decision making not where he needs it to be
Can’t always get away from poor looks once he’s made his mind up pre-snap
Threw nine interceptions on just 104 attempts beyond 10 yards this season
What he does well:
Possesses quick release and generally throws on balance
Very athletic within and stepping up through the pocket
Good acceleration and able to break off chunks of yards on the ground
Operates best in the quick, timing and rhythm passing game
Effective on designed bootlegs and throws well on the run
Shows ability to feel the pocket and work through progressions; good field vision
Good overall pocket poise; will hang in to make throws under pressure
Continues to bounce back after a bad play/series throughout the course of a game
Areas of concern:
Not an overly natural passer, motion is a bit rigid
Will have stretches of games where he gets off rhythm and accuracy is all over the place
Misses too many easy throws in quick game
Loses sight of defenders late in the down, too, often resulting in bad decisions
Does not drive or spin the ball particularly well
Accuracy dips significantly the longer he holds the ball and deeper into the progression he gets
Josh Dobbs in the League
Dobbs started the season strong in Arizona. Over his first four games, and despite having a team that most figured to be in the running for the first pick in the draft, he had a passer rating of 99.4, going 87/123 for 814 yards, 4 TDs and no INTs. He also added 141 rushing yards on 17 carries (8.3 yards/carry) with 11 first downs and a touchdown. His best game came against Dallas in Week 3, which he finished with a 120.0 passer rating and an 85.8 QBR according to ESPN, leading to a huge upset of the heavily favored Cowboys. Like his first game with the Vikings, Dobbs lost 2 of 3 fumbles in his first game with the Cardinals.
But over his last four games in Arizona, Dobbs was an entirely different quarterback. His passer rating over that stretch was just 65.5, going 80/143 for 755 yards, 4 TDs and 5 INTs. He continued to be productive on the ground, but not as productive as his first four games, gaining 117 yards on 23 carries (5.1 yards/carry) with 8 first downs, two touchdowns and two lost fumbles (out of four total).
In terms of QBR, after a 19.3 QBR in his first start in Arizona, Dobbs had three straight games with a QBR over 79. But in his last four games in Arizona, his QBR averaged just 27.4, with his highest QBR being just 43.3 over that stretch.
But after a manic to depressive eight games in Arizona, Dobbs is back to manic again since coming to Minnesota. His QBR has averaged a league-high 87.4 over the past two games, with a passer rating of 101.4. He’s also had 15 carries for 110 yards (7.3 yards/carry), six first downs and 2 TDs with two lost fumbles (out of three).
The question is how long will it last?
Josh Dobbs’ Staying Power
The question of whether Josh Dobbs will be a flash in the pan or is here to stay will likely come down to his ability as a passer, rather than as a runner. But it will be influenced by the team around him- as is always the case with quarterbacks whether good, bad, or mediocre.
So far, Dobbs has been an experiment and/or a temporary stop-gap solution at quarterback wherever he has been. His only starts have come due to injury and so far he hasn’t played well enough for the team that started him to keep him on their roster. That would seem to be a red flag on his resume, except for the fact that the teams he has starter for either were not committed to Dobbs and his development and/or were not particularly high-quality franchises.
Dobbs’ only extended play as a starter came in Arizona earlier this season, a franchise that not only is lacking in terms of roster talent and team culture, but it also ranked second worst on the NFLPA team report cards given out last summer.
But there is a reason Dobbs has bounced around the league for seven years and the Cardinals were willing to unload him for next to nothing. That reason is two-fold.
First, Dobbs has had issues as a passer. His accuracy and ball placement have left something to be desired. Dobbs has been one of the least accurate passers among starting quarterbacks in the league this season. He had a stretch of three games in his last four in Arizona with an adjusted completion percentage (completions less drops, throwaways, tipped balls, and spikes) in the mid-60% range. That is very low. Overall, Dobbs’ adjusted completion percentage this season with Arizona was 71.2%- nearly identical to his college career at 71.4%.
For comparison, Kirk Cousins- the second-most accurate passer in the league this season- had an adjusted completion percentage of 80.5%, with only one game below 70%.
The other issue Dobbs has struggled with is turnovers. Those three fumbles (2 lost) he had last week in Atlanta added to the eight he had previously with the Cardinals. In total, Dobbs has had eleven fumbles (six lost) and five interceptions for a total of eleven turnovers in ten games this season between Arizona and Minnesota. Dobbs leads the league in fumbles so far this season.
So, while Dobbs is elite running the ball, his struggles both passing and with fumbles have added up to an overall 66.3 PFF grade for Dobbs, which is 24th of 30 quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks this season. His PFF passing grade of 58.0 ranks 25th, while his adjusted completion percentage ranks 27th. That corresponds with other quarterback measures like passer rating and ANY/A.
Some Promising Signs in Minnesota
Clearly Dobbs has been embraced by the organization since his arrival and suddenly being thrust into the starting job and performing unbelievably well under the circumstances. JT O’Sullivan did a break-down of Dobbs’ game against the Falcons, and overall came away impressed with much of what Dobbs did in that game, including some of his passes.
And against the Saints, Dobbs’ adjusted completion percentage rose to 77.4%, which is one of his highest this season- he had two higher in his first four game stretch in Arizona. The other thing is that, all bias aside, the Vikings are a much better organization than the Cardinals. The Vikings have first-class facilities and ranked first in the aforementioned NFLPA team report cards. Perhaps even more importantly, the Vikings have a former NFL quarterback as head coach, along with a few others that can work on improving Dobbs’ game and given he’s likely the starter the rest of the season, with meaningful games ahead and postseason hopes still very much alive, they will be committed to developing Dobbs as best they can mid-season, acclimating him to the offense, and adjusting it to suit him.
Lastly, and at least equally important, the Vikings have arguably the best offensive roster surrounding him, and it will likely get better in the coming weeks. The Vikings now rank first in team PFF pass blocking grade and have done a great job protecting Dobbs so far. They also have quality receivers in TJ Hockenson and Jordan Addison, among others, to throw to- and Justin Jefferson will be back at some point in the coming weeks.
So, better coaching, better supporting cast, better organization could very well have a positive impact on Dobbs’ performance going forward.
Dobbs May Also Draw More Scrutiny
But given Dobbs’ performance so far, particularly running and scrambling, opposing defenses may begin to game plan more for him than they have in his first two games with the Vikings. That could include employing a quarterback spy in selective situations to minimize Dobbs’ ability to extend plays and move the chains with his feet. They may also emphasize more disciplined rush plans to help contain Dobbs in the pocket and prevent his ability to extend plays. Overall, opposing defensive coordinators may adjust to limit Dobbs’ playmaking ability so Dobbs has to beat them with his arm, rather than his legs.
But that may be easier said than done. Dobbs doesn’t have any unusually high dips in passing metrics when under pressure or when being blitzed (of course both are lower, but less than average) and the Vikings offensive line makes it difficult for opposing pass rushers to maintain containment- especially with a quarterback as elusive in the pocket as Dobbs.
Dobbs’ ability to buy time in the pocket- his time to throw has increased dramatically (from 2.74” to 3.72”) since coming to Minnesota- could also give coverage units fits trying to maintain coverage that long. But that time in the pocket also makes it more difficult on the offensive line to keep the pocket clean. Hopefully that time to throw will improve as he gets more familiar with the offensive playbook, his reads, and so forth. But Dobbs’ ability to extend plays could make it all but impossible for defensive secondaries to maintain coverage on the likes of Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and TJ Hockenson for that long.
If He Can’t Make It With the Vikings, He May Not Anywhere Else Either
Overall, the Vikings are as good a landing spot for a quarterback as anywhere in the NFL, and may very well be the best, all things considered. Between coaching, organization, and supporting cast, it doesn’t get much better for a quarterback to make the most of his opportunity. Back in 2017, the Vikings had another backup wonderkind quarterback that came out of nowhere- Case Keenum- and delivered the Vikings to the NFC Championship game. He had top receivers and a top defense to help him, and an uncanny ability to avoid sacks, but ultimately proved to be a one-year wonder. Keenum didn’t perform well before coming to Minnesota, nor after he left. But circumstances were not nearly as good either.
For Dobbs, Minnesota is an even better spot to land than it was for Keenum in 2017. In addition to having top receivers like Keenum did, Dobbs also has good quarterback coaching and a top offensive line. The defense may not be as good as 2017 but is good enough to keep Dobbs from facing an unusual amount of unfavorable game situations.
But ultimately it will be up to Josh Dobbs to do everything he can to seize this opportunity and make the most of it. He has shown he has most of the necessary characteristics of a top quarterback- poise in the pocket, intelligence, and ability to process information quickly, decision-making- and the uncoachable ability to extend plays and make them with his feet. He could improve as a passer, however, in terms of overall accuracy and ball placement. There may be some technical issues that go with that in terms of footwork, etc., that may not be easy to correct in mid-season, especially while learning the offense on the fly, but Kevin O’Connell and company will hopefully help him improve in that respect as much as possible, including perhaps during the bye week.
But for Josh Dobbs, the time is now. His best chance to be a starting quarterback in the NFL is right now, and what he does in the coming weeks may well determine his fate.
Will Josh Dobbs be the starting quarterback for the Vikings or another team in 2024?
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