Taylor Heinicke: NFL’s Newest Underdog Story

They say ‘everybody loves a good underdog story’. As sports fans, when our favorite team isn’t playing, we typically gravitate towards rooting for the ‘underdog’.

Whether it’s a team, player or coach — as sports fans, there’s a sense of inspiration you feel when you see somebody who has been doubted exceed expectations. You see it every year in March, when all of America is cheering on the 16-seed attempting to upset a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Perhaps, the reason for why we gravitate towards rooting for the underdog so much, is that they are relatable and inspiring. In some way or another they’ve overcome adversity, which inspires us to feel some sort of sense of hope when an underdog wins, because you feel like everybody has a chance, rather than just rooting for the most-talented or highest-paid teams/players.

In the NFL, a league that’s headlined by talented superstars, especially at the quarterback position, sometimes we don’t acknowledge the triumph of players who’re on the cusp of making a name for themselves. So before tonight’s TNF game, it’s time to recognize somebody who has the opportunity to be the NFL’s newest underdog story.. Washington Football Team’s new starting QB Taylor Heinicke.

Taylor Heinicke is a 28-year-old quarterback who start his third-career NFL game tonight on Thursday Night Football against the New York Giants in front of a nationally televised audience. Even though it’s only third NFL start, Heinicke has proven that he’s more than capable of shining under the bright lights..

Last year, Heinicke notably came onto the scene in the Wild Card round of the playoffs against the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, replacing injured starting QB Alex Smith. Heinicke threw for 306 YDS, 1 TD-1 INT; and rushed the ball for 46 YDS with an unbelievable highlight-reel rushing touchdown.

Heinicke led a 7-9 team to the brink of upsetting the eventual Super Bowl champ; while the majority of football fans most likely had no idea who he even was before that game.. Even though it was just one game, he generated a ton of buzz and optimism — especially for a franchise that’s desperately been searching for a franchise QB.

The team also was pleased by his playoff performance, re-signing him this offseason to a two-year, $8.75M deal. They elected to not draft a QB in the draft and brought in veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick — which demonstrated that they must’ve had confidence in him. 

Last week, Fitzmagic went down with a hip injury, and in came Heinicke immediately providing spark to the offense, his statline was 11-15 122 YDS 1 TD-0 INT. Now with Fitzmagic placed on IR, it’s Heinicke’s time to shine and tonight against the Giants will be his first test to prove to his doubters that he’s capable of being a starting QB.

The odds have been completely stacked against Heinicke.. After shattering school records at his alma mater Old Dominion, (14,959 YDS-132 TD-39 INT.. 1,320 Rush YDS-22 TD in his 4-year career), he went undrafted in 2014 and ended up signing with the Minnesota Vikings. For 4 years from 2015-2018, Heinicke spent time on several practice squads and only saw one start in 2018 for the Carolina Panthers.

In 2019, Heinicke was unsigned and decided to join the new relaunch of the XFL in 2020. Despite being a QB with multiple years of experience in an NFL locker room, he was unable to earn the starting job for the St. Louis BattleHawks, and ended up serving as a backup quarterback to Jordan Ta’amu. Heinicke’s most notable highlight actually did not even come on the field — it was in the locker room. Yes, the locker room.. Heinicke and his teammate Nick Fitzgerald went viral in the post-game celebration in the locker room; where they each shotgunned two Bud Light Seltzers.

Heinicke went from being an undrafted journeyman practice squad player, to a backup XFL, to starting in an NFL playoff game.. The next step for him is proving he’s an NFL starting QB. The odds are absolutely stacked against him, but if there’s one example of hope from a past successful quarterback whose story is similar towards Heinicke’s journey, it’s NFL Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner.

To compare Heinicke to an NFL Hall of Famer & 2x MVP like Kurt Warner could seem a bit unrealistic.. but when you compare their stories it’s really not as crazy as you would think..

Similar to Heinicke, in 1994 Warner also went undrafted, and ​​with no NFL teams willing to give him a chance, Warner signed with the Arena Football League (AFL) in 1995. Warner in the AFL played for the Iowa Barnstormers until 1997, where he then played in the NFL Europe in 1998 for the Amsterdam Admirals. He then eventually signed with the St. Louis Rams in 98’ at 28-years-old (the same age as Heinicke) where he famously led one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, the “Greatest Show on Turf” to a Super Bowl championship.

Kurt Warner is proof that even at the highest level of the NFL, it doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how long it takes for you to develop.. Taylor Heinicke has the opportunity to be the next great underdog story in the NFL, one that NFL fans gravitate to rooting for. Tonight begins the next chapter of his story, and everybody will be watching.

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