A year after being Cam Newton’s primary backup, Carolina Panthers quarterback, Taylor Heinicke, has become somewhat forgotten in the team’s backup job in 2019. Kyle Allen has taken the majority of second-team reps in training camp and has started both preseason games in Newton’s absence. Will Grier could be the Panthers’ quarterback of the future and has been the third quarterback thus far. That leaves Heinicke, who made one start last year, right on the cut line. Below are four reasons he could be Carolina’s best backup option if Newton is to go down in 2019.
Why Taylor Heinicke Could Be the Carolina Panthers Best Backup Quarterback Option in 2019
Toughness and Determination
Following Heinicke’s lone NFL start in Week 16 of last season, the thing that stood out most about the fifth-year pro was his toughness. After throwing for a score on the opening drive, Heinicke suffered a left elbow injury during the second quarter that temporarily forced him out of the game, and turned out to be a torn triceps that would require surgery. He later returned to the game, despite it being obvious he was playing through some intense pain.
— Josh Sims (@JoshFox46) December 23, 2018
Prior to the injury, Heinicke completed 10 of 14 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown, suggesting that when healthy, he can be a plenty capable backup. Perhaps just as important, his grit earned him the respect of teammates, fans, and coaches alike. Heinicke’s overall performance was less than desirable even though his determination to finish the game was admirable. When Ron Rivera was asked what he was looking for in his backup quarterback, Rivera responded by saying that whoever wins the job will be whoever gives the team the best chance to win. Based on Heinicke’s toughness and devotion to his team and teammates, he may just provide the Panthers with the winner they need.
Success as a Runner
With Newton as the entrenched starter, his rushing ability is a key aspect of the Panthers’ offense. That being said, it’s worth noting that a potential Newton backup could be more effective if he’s able to “duplicate” the former MVP’s style. Of the three current Carolina backups (Allen, Grier, and Heinicke), Heinicke is by far the most effective as a runner. While none of the three have a full game of NFL experience, Grier didn’t run much at West Virginia, and Allen averaged less than 1.5 yards per carry in college. Meanwhile, Heinicke ran for 22 touchdowns and more than 1,300 rushing yards across four collegiate seasons. Heinicke doesn’t have near the size Newton does, but he has shown that he is a serious rushing threat when called upon. As a result, Heinicke’s consistency with Newton’s style of play could make him the more suitable backup.
During Friday night’s preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, Heinicke was without a doubt the best performing Carolina quarterback. Allen and Grier went a combined 14/30 for 107 yards and an interception. Heinicke went 8/12 passing for 78 yards and a touchdown. In fact, he was the only Panthers quarterback to lead a touchdown drive on Friday. Across both preseason games this year, Heinicke has a better completion percentage than his two competitors, has absorbed fewer sacks, and has a higher yards per attempt. Plus, he has yet to throw an interception. While Allen had the best camp and Grier was a fairly high draft pick, Heinicke has been the most consistent and most impressive through the first two preseason games. Also, don’t forget that Heinicke’s preseason performance last year took him from being an underdog to Newton’s primary backup.
As mentioned earlier, Heinicke was the Panthers’ backup option in 2018. Other than Newton, he’s the only other current Panthers quarterback to have ever made a team’s opening day roster. His experience last year should theoretically help him out, as should his experience in the team’s offensive system. On top of that, Heinicke has seniority on his side. He turned 26 this off-season, while Allen and Grier are 23 and 24, respectively. Heinicke is also entering his fifth NFL season, while Allen is going into his second, and Grier his rookie season. So, if the coaching staff bases their backup quarterback decision off of maturity and experience, Heinicke likely has the edge.