Minnesota Vikings sophomore spotlight: QB Taylor Heinicke

Taylor Heinicke has been somewhat overlooked, despite having success at every level he plays. Now, he has to compete for a backup role once again.

The Minnesota Vikings had 10 picks in the 2015 NFL draft and kept two undrafted rookies. One year after their selection, it’s time to look back on their careers before joining the Vikings, their rookie seasons and a preview of what lies ahead of them during their sophomore seasons.

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said that he wants to try to bring in a rookie quarterback every offseason. It’s not designed to create competition for the starter, but it is a way to continue to develop and provide depth for the most important position on the field. That was the reason the team signed Taylor Heinicke as an undrafted free agent in 2015. 

Before the Vikings

Heinicke was a high school standout in the state of Georgia. As a senior, he threw for 4,218 yards (second-most in the state’s history) and 44 touchdowns, which was the third-most in state history. His on-field performance earned him the Old Spice National Player of the Year Award in his home state and a scholarship offer from Old Dominion University, which he accepted in 2011. 

The quarterback was able to carry the success he had at the high school level into college, where he was a four-year starter after taking over four games into his freshman season. He was named to the All-CAA third-team offense and was the National Freshman Performer of the Year in 2011. In 2012, Heinicke passed for an FCS-record 5,076 yards, 44 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. On Sept. 22, 2012 he threw for 730 yards and five touchdowns, a Division I record, against New Hampshire. His performance in 2012 led to him being named an All-American, CAA Offensive Player of the Year, and it also earned him the Walter Payton Award, given to the most outstanding offensive player at the FCS level. His success continued into the 2013 season, when he became the 18th Division I quarterback to eclipse the 10,000-yard mark throwing the ball and 1,000-yard mark running the ball in their career.

Old Dominion transitioned to the FBS level in 2014 and Heinicke led them all the way. In total, he threw the ball for 14,959 yards, 132 touchdowns and 39 interceptions, while also running for 1,320 yards and 22 touchdowns.

What analysts said

“Heinicke has the ball placement and accuracy of an NFL backup when he’s protected and dealing, but his small stature combined with his inability to drive the ball and make NFL throws could be hard to overcome once he gets into an NFL camp. Heinicke must play in a timing-based system to have a chance of being on an NFL roster.” - NFL.com bottom line 


Diagnoses what he sees quickly, using his eyes to scan, work through his reads and make the right decision. Accustomed to a no-huddle offense and calling plays at the line of scrimmage, identifying coverages pre-snap to anticipate reads. Excellent placement on slants and loves to attack the middle of the field.” - Dane Bruglar, CBS Sports

“Heinicke throws with nice precision on short and mid-range passes. Old Dominion’s offense was built on him making quick reads, which he did well. He can also throw on the run. Heinicke doesn’t panic under pressure and will wait until the last second to deliver a good ball and take a hit. In a draft class noted for its two high-profile younger quarterbacks, he stood out among the senior passers during practices for the East-West Shrine Game (though his performance in the game itself was disappointing: 2-of-9 passing for 14 yards and an interception).” - Sports Illustrated draft analysis

2015 season

Heinicke was passed over by all 32 teams through all seven rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft. He then signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent and was set to compete with Mike Kafka and Shaun Hill for the backup spots, with Teddy Bridgewater remaining as the starter. 


He seemed to be a little over his head during most of the offseason workouts, but something seemed to click for him about halfway through training camp and he seemed like a new player. He went 11-for-11 for 83 yards in the Vikings fourth preseason game, and then 27-for-41 for 279 yards and two touchdowns in their fifth. In total, he went 57-82 for 516 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the team’s five preseason games. 

The Vikings had the difficult decision whether to sign him to the 53-man roster or try to place him on the practice squad and risk loosing him - some other team may have signed him to their active roster with the way he finished the preseason. They eventually decided not to risk it, making him the third quarterback on the roster behind Hill and Bridgewater. 

Even though he remained on the 53-man roster throughout the season, he was never listed as active for any game during the regular season, or during their one playoff game.

2016 outlook

Heinicke will once again have to compete for a roster spot this offseason after the Vikings signed Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave as an undrafted free agent this offseason. However, there is also the possibility he could become Bridgewater’s primary backup. 

He now has a year of experience in Norv Turner’s system and with Hill coming in at 36 years of age, it is possible the coaching staff decides to go with the younger player if he continues to show improvement through training camp and the preseason. 

Even if the coaching staff decides to go with Hill over Hienicke again this offseason, Hill is only under contract through this season, so if Heinicke can beat out Stave this offseason then he is in a good position to be Bridgewater’s backup for years to come.

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