We all remember the last time Case Keenum stepped foot on Lincoln Financial Field.
Riding high on the adrenaline of a miracle, it started out well. Keenum started the 2017 NFC Championship Game 3-for-3 with 48 yards and a touchdown. On the 25-yard touchdown to Kyle Rudolph, Keenum took advantage of a coverage breakdown from Najee Goode. The Philadelphia Eagles were out of sorts defensively and the offense came out flat on their first drive.
I don’t have to tell you what happened next.
Two years later, Keenum gets the chance to snap things right, even if there are less dire stakes. What’s Keenum been up to in the interval? Well, he had short-lived stint with the Denver Broncos that culminated in a 6-10 season. The Broncos have since decided to roll the dice on rotting Joe Flacco and erratic Drew Lock. Now with his new team in Washington, how long can Keenum stave off first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins?
Unless he finds his 2017 form - an outlier in his seven-year career – it won’t take long for Jay Gruden to hand the keys to the youngster. Hurting Keenum’s chances is the other six years of his NFL career, which are average-to-below average at best. Adding to the case against Case, Washington isn’t going to have a record-setting defense and they don’t have Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen making life easy. Instead they have inconsistent, injury prone and unproven pass catchers. They also have a top tier left tackle holding out in Trent Williams.
When The Athletic surveyed fifty-five executives and coaches around the league in the offseason, one voter who was relatively high on Keenum – placing him in tier three of quarterbacks – had this to say:
“A 3.0 is different from a 3.9, but my reason for the 3 on Keenum is with the right coordinator, in the right system, Case Keenum can have a year like he had with Minnesota, and a lot of the 4s cannot do that.”
So the talent isn’t there, but I’d argue the system and Jay Gruden calling plays is a solid foundation for Keenum. Working within one of the work organizations in the league that also happens to be allergic to the integration of analytics, Gruden has done well to survive baseline-to-abysmal quarterback play and scattershot talent. It hasn’t yielded eye-popping results, but each time I examine Grudens’ offense I come away impressed with what he dials up in the passing game. Execution is another matter, which is where Keenum will have to at least play up to Alex Smith’s 2018 level to give Washington a puncher’s chance.
If you dig into Keenum’s analytics from last year, you’d be correct to have your doubts. Out of 35 quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus’ 2019 QB Annual, Keenum ranked below league average in several key area. That includes grade from clean pocket (25th), grade under pressure (31st), positive grade rate (28th), big-time throw % (31st), turnover-worthy play % (22nd), and third down grade (33rd). He also ranked poorly in accuracy metrics where he wasn’t throwing to wide open receiver. 2017 remains the only year where Keenum’s quarterback rating eclipsed league average against the blitz, when facing pressure, and in the red zone.
The film, as I’ve alluded to, tells a similar story: Keenum turned into a pumpkin before our eyes in that 2017 NFC Championship Game and the Cinderella story is over. That’s not to say Keenum doesn’t have his value. Fringe starters like Keenum stick around the league forever. Just ask Josh McCown. That’s not an insult; in fact it’s quite the achievement to survive that long and still receive cracks at starting gigs.
If Keenum can get in rhythm, he can do just enough to lead a competent offensive performance. Part of being inconsistent is having both highs and lows. The seesaw for Keenum slams quite violently on the low side, while the heights he can reach are quietly solid and surprising. It’ll be up to the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense in Week 1 to make sure they aren’t surprised.
We talk more in-depth about Keenum’s game (plus thoughts on Kyle Lauletta and Clayton Thorson) on The QB Scho Show #31! Listen on the media player below or click here if the player doesn’t load. New to podcasts? Check out our guide on how to listen to BGN! FLY EAGLES FLY!