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The saga of Josh Dobbs has been one of the feel-good stories of the 2023 NFL season.
The 28-year-old is on his third team of the season. He’s gone from backup in Cleveland to interim starter in Arizona to benched to traded to the Minnesota Vikings. Since joining the Vikings as a fill-in for the injured Kirk Cousins, Dobbs has led the Vikings to two wins in three games and helped get Minnesota into the thick of the NFC Wild Card race, becoming something of a folk hero in the Twin Cities in the process.
Now, a quarterback who was completely off the radar in August is being discussed as a potential starter in 2024 for a team with a need under center. But while Dobbs’ story has certainly been entertaining, it begs a question—is Dobbs really an undiscovered gem coming into his own capable of leading an offense? Or is this just one of those lightning-in-a-bottle flukes that we see in the NFL from time to time?
It’s been quite the whirlwind for Dobbs since he arrived in Minnesota. Just days after joining the team, Dobbs was playing against the Atlanta Falcons, throwing two touchdown passes and running for another in a three-point win. The following week, Dobbs passed for 268 yards and a touchdown and ran for a score in an eight-point win over the New Orleans Saints. And Sunday night against the Denver Broncos, Dobbs threw for 221 yards and a touchdown while once again running for a score in a one-point loss that can’t solely be blamed on him.
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Leading up to the game in Denver, Dobbs admitted to reporters that he’s been trying as best he can to quickly learn his third offense of the season.
“I think it’s a big shout-out to them,” Dobbs said. “Finding ways to get extra work with me, whether it’s through the communication we have in passing in the locker room, in the film room or getting extra reps on the practice field. Just finding ways to build in as many game-simulated reps as we can, given that we haven’t had as many banked reps as a lot of teams have had up until this point in the season.”
For his part, head coach Kevin O’Connell said it’s been fun not just teaching Dobbs the offense, but also adjusting the team’s scheme to take advantage of Dobbs’ mobility.
“The best thing about it is we’re all still getting to know each other and getting the comfort level where we can continue to apply layers to this thing to be the most successful we can be on offense. (I’m) having fun coaching him right now.”
There’s no denying that Dobbs offers an element offensively that Kirk Cousins does not. Cousins does a lot of things well. Running the ball is not one of those things.
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“There were some times in there that he was very frustrated about it,” Robert Dobbs said. “But again, he would go back to the logic: ‘OK, there’s 32 teams, there’s about 100 quarterbacks a year fighting for those opportunities, and I’ll just have to continue to work until I get my opportunity.’ That was always his attitude and approach. There’s a lot of negativity out there in this world right now, but what Josh will tell me, ‘OK, find me 100 folks that can do this job better than I. I’m in that 100 number, I just don’t know where I’m gonna fall right now in the pecking order, but eventually I’ll get in that top 32 if I keep working hard.'”
Apparently, more and more folks agree with him. Jacob Camenker of the Sporting News posited that the Vikings might actually be better off bringing back Dobbs in 2024 than spending big money on another contract for Cousins.
“Even if he simply ends up being a mobile version of Ryan Fitzpatrick, that could be enough to turn the Vikings into a stable contender,” he said. “Remember, this team once reached the NFC championship game with Case Keenum as its starting quarterback. All that’s to say that Dobbs could end up being a nice, stopgap fit at quarterback for the Vikings.
“They could pair him with a young quarterback and try to develop him behind the scenes while compensating Dobbs at the rate of a Taylor Heinicke type; Heinicke is earning $7 million in average annual value. Either way, Dobbs should end up being a cheaper option than Cousins. So, if the Vikings like Dobbs enough, they could choose to bring him back and then build up the rest of the team around him with their projected $51.7 million in cap space.”
To be clear, this analyst has no issue with the idea of paying Dobbs $7-$8 million to be a bridge starter or high-end backup. Right now, the 7-3 Browns no doubt wish they had never traded him to begin with. The problem becomes if any team thinks Dobbs is more than that.
Because he just isn’t.
Sunday night’s loss may not have been solely Dobbs’ fault, but he played a part. Dobbs threw an interception against Denver and lost one of his three fumbles. The latter has been an issue all season long—Dobbs’ three fumbles against the Broncos bring his season total to a jaw-dropping 14.
Also, while what Dobbs has done in Minnesota has been fun, he also made eight starts for the Arizona Cardinals and won just one. Sure, the Cardinals don’t have the supporting cast that the Vikings do, but Dobbs wasn’t great in the desert either.
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Heading into Sunday night’s loss, Dobbs was 21st in the NFL in passing yards (1,995), 24th in the league in completion percentage (63.6), 21st in touchdown percentage (3.3).,26th in air yards per attempt (6.1) and 20th in passer rating (85.1).
There’s a reason why Dobbs has played for seven different teams since 2017. And a reason why he had made two career starts prior to 2023. He’s not some late-bloomer blossoming into a star. He’s a mobile journeyman with an average arm and fumbling issues whose greatest asset appears to be his ability to adapt to a new offense quickly. That intelligence is certainly an asset. But once he does adapt to his new team, his relatively low ceiling becomes apparent—just as it did Sunday night.
Now, this won’t necessarily stop a team from viewing Dobbs as a viable starter, especially if he’s able to get the Vikings into the playoffs. But the smarter play for NFL teams is to be realistic about what Dobbs is…and isn’t.
He is a great story. He isn’t anything more than a stopgap.