Perception might trump reality when it comes to Taylor Heinicke


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Perception becomes reality, except in the case of undrafted quarterbacks. In those cases, perception almost always trumps reality.

Taylor Heinicke has now delivered back-to-back impressive individual performances and more importantly both good games have come in Washington wins.

He’s done it with his arm and he’s done it with his legs. He’s done it on deep balls and threaded the needle at the goal line. He’s done it at home and he’s done it on the road.

He’s done it all. Except for the part he can't change - his draft status.

It remains unclear what Heinicke will become in the NFL. He’s been great in Washington’s four wins but almost equally bad in Washington’s six losses.

The intersection between good and bad for Heinicke comes with turnovers. When he protects the ball, good things happen. When he presses or tries to do too much, bad things happen.

Heinicke isn’t alone in that capacity. All passers know interceptions kill chances to win games.

What’s interesting, however, with Heinicke is that his accomplishments still get dogged because of his missteps.

And that’s a direct result of his pathway to the NFL. Indulge an exercise in perception: 

Pretend Washington drafted a small school quarterback in the fifth-round. The plan was never for him start, the plan was for veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to start. Injury hits, and all of a sudden the fifth-rounder gets his shot. 


Let's say in nine starts, the fifth-round rookie completed more than 65 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns against nine interceptions. More importantly, the team has a 4-5 record in those games.  

NFL folks might look at that as encouraging. Fans would say, “we might have something here." 

Now replace the fictional fifth-round rookie with Heinicke. Because that's exactly what he's done. 

No, Heinicke hasn't proven he's Washington's long-term answer at quarterback. The search for QB X continues

But every time Ron Rivera gets asked about finding a franchise QB, he always points out that he's unsure if that player will come via the draft, finding a veteran or somebody already on the roster. 

Games like Sunday's win over the Panthers support that theory. 

He battled a former NFL MVP in Cam Newton and came out victorious. Heinicke showed guts with big throws in big moments and a fearlessness that resonates on the field, both with teammates and opponents. 

In four wins this season Heinicke has nine touchdowns against just one interception. That's excellent. 

In six losses, Heinicke has six touchdowns against eight interceptions. That's subpar, and provides ammunition to the group that thinks he does not belong as a starter. A position that's redoubted by his draft status, or lack of draft status.

Here's where the perception thing matters - Heinicke's numbers through nine starts this season would be strong for a young draft pick. A drafted signal-caller would be forgiven for the volatility that Heinicke has shown. 

In bad games, Heinicke doesn't get that pass though. The group-think ideology that dominates pro football will point to his draft status and say, 32 teams can't be wrong. It's equal parts sound logic and self-preservation. 

Maybe it's time Heinicke, an undrafted player that never got a real chance until this season, gets afforded some of the same understanding as a draft pick?

Take the good like Tampa and Carolina. Take the bad like New Orleans and Denver. 

Ride it out. See what's there. 

Might just end up with something.