The meteoric rise of ‘The Passtronaut.’ How Josh Dobbs went from perennial back-up to cult hero

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 27: Quarterback Joshua Dobbs #15 of the Minnesota Vikings warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 27, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images)

Josh Dobbs warms up prior to the Minnesota Vikings’ game against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 27, 2023.Todd Rosenberg/Getty ImagesCNN — 

“What’s up, y’all? I’m Josh Dobbs. Honored to be in Minnesota and introduce myself.”

You might expect such an introduction to come from a player on a new team in the preseason, but Josh Dobbs was making his acquaintances post-game after being thrust into his debut for the Minnesota Vikings, impressively leading a game-winning drive despite not knowing his teammates’ full names.

The 28-year-old had only arrived days before the Vikings’ Week 9 clash against the Atlanta Falcons after being traded from the Arizona Cardinals and he began the game as the backup quarterback.

But after rookie Jaren Hall was ruled out with a concussion, Dobbs was thrown in at the deep end and excelled as he led the Minnesota Vikings to a 31-28 victory by going 20-for-30 and throwing for 158 yards with two touchdowns in the air and one on the ground.

In just a few short months, Dobbs has gone from a player struggling to find a home in the NFL to a household name, and his willingness to run a high-wire act with the ball in his hand has earned the quarterback, who has a degree in aerospace engineering, arguably the league’s best nickname: “The Passtronaut.”

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In keeping with his new nickname, the quarterback – who also has the moniker “Astro Dobbs” – isn’t ruling out a trip away from this planet.

“It’s really cool to see the amount of commercial opportunities to go to space and the amount of people that have the opportunities to become astronauts. It’s on my bucket list. Obviously that’s a huge decision to make but it would be cool,” Dobbs told the “The Dave Pasch Podcast” in October.

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 5: Joshua Dobbs #15 of the Minnesota Vikings reaches for the pylon during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 5, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

Dobbs reaches for the pylon during the second quarter of the game against the Atlanta Falcons.Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

Returning home

Decked in grey and orange, Dobbs stands atop a riser holding aloft the Most Valuable Player Trophy, having led the Tennessee Volunteers to victory at the 2016 Music City Bowl in his final college football game. Dobbs and his teammate Derek Barnett would act as conductors for a section of the sellout crowd at Nissan Stadium, Nashville.

In what was a complete performance, Dobbs threw for 291 yards and a touchdown and ran for 118 yards and three more scores. It was the first time Tennessee had won three straight bowls since Hall of Famer Peyton Manning was at the helm.

Dobbs ended his time as a Volunteer with the program’s highest-ever rushing as a quarterback – with 2,160 yards and 32 touchdowns to his name – and a major in aerospace engineering. He spent two offseasons working with NASA’s Kennedy Space Flight Center as part of the NFLPA’s Virtual Externship Program.

But despite his success on the field, Dobbs had to wait until the third day of the 2017 Draft to discover his new home, and when the Pittsburgh Steelers did select him he had to settle for a third-string position on the roster, behind starter Ben Roethlisberger and backup Landry Jones.

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 31:  Joshua Dobbs #5 of the Pittsburgh Steelers drops back to pass against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on August 31, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Dobbs passes during the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on August 31, 2017.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Dobbs found his opportunities limited during his time in Pennsylvania, completing just six passes in six games across a two-year span.

Upon his release from the team in 2019, Dobbs had short stints at the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Steelers again, the Cleveland Browns twice and the Detroit Lions, and failed to make a meaningful impact with any of them.

But last year Dobbs was signed by the Tennessee Titans eight days before the team’s crucial Week 17 game against the Dallas Cowboys.

With incumbent starter Ryan Tannehill out with injury and rookie Malik Willis struggling, Dobbs earned his first NFL start and showed plenty of grit and determination in a losing effort.

He then started the Titans’ Week 18 game against one of his former teams, the Jaguars, knowing a win would clinch the division and a spot in the playoffs.

Once again, Dobbs provided the spark for an otherwise lifeless offense. Although Tennessee would eventually fall short of reaching the postseason, Dobbs had revived his career in a short two-week return to the state where he had made his name in college football.

‘In Dobbs we trust’

Dobbs’ prospects looked more rosy following the conclusion of the 2022 season and it seemed as if he would start the next season as a backup for the Browns when they once again signed him to their roster.

But just before the new season began, Dobbs was traded to the Arizona Cardinals to fill in for the injured Kyler Murray, throwing him into a team where he didn’t know the playbook fully or some of his teammates’ names.

His sudden arrival in Arizona came with its own challenges for the Cardinals too, with the team apparently forgetting to make his jersey available for fans to purchase.

For a team expected to finish near the top of the draft rankings due to its poor record, Dobbs and first year head coach Jonathan Gannon manufactured a competitive team, one which earned its first win of the new campaign in Week 3 with a shock 28-16 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 29: Quarterback Joshua Dobbs #9 of the Arizona Cardinals avoids a tackle from linebacker Odafe Oweh #99 of the Baltimore Ravens during the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. The Ravens defeated the Cardinals 31-24.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Dobbs avoids a tackle from Baltimore Ravens linebacker Odafe Oweh.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Although he didn’t win another game with the team, Dobbs’ reputation was enhanced after his eight-game stint with Arizona, so much so that when Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins suffered a season-ending injury, the franchise called on Dobbs.

Once again, Dobbs’ ability to thrive on the fly was tested – he hadn’t taken any reps with the starting linesman before he was required to step into the Vikings’ road clash against the Falcons.

In his seventh season but just his 17th game, Dobbs once again defied the odds to lead the game winning drive. In the immediate aftermath, TV cameras showed Dobbs and Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell sharing a hug, with O’Connell also saying something to his new quarterback.

“I just said, that’s why we brought you here,” O’Connell explained when asked what he said to Dobbs. “This guy’s been in some tough circumstances, coming into situations just like today.

“I just told him: ‘You’re going to be the best version of yourself because these guys on the sideline and the locker room are with you and I’m going to be with you every step of the way. Let’s see what we can do with this thing.’”

A week later and with more preparation time – Dobbs told reporters that he had had time to learn his teammates’ names – the quarterback was once again leading the Vikings to victory as they won 27-19 against the New Orleans Saints.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 05: Joshua Dobbs #15 of the Minnesota Vikings runs the ball in for a touchdown during the third quarter of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 05, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Dobbs runs the ball in for a touchdown during the third quarter of the game against the Falcons.Alex Slitz/Getty Images

The 28-year-old threw for one touchdown and ran for another as he produced yet more magic to lead Minnesota to victory. His weaving rushing touchdown left O’Connell with a look of bemusement on his face afterwards, with the head coach even remarking: “I don’t know what just happened.”

And so the legend of “The Passtronaut” was born. Even the official NFL’s X, formerly Twitter, account posted a picture of the quarterback as its header picture and the caption “in Dobbs we trust” as its bio.

Although the Vikings went on to lose its two next games, Dobbs has almost singlehandedly added life to an organization which thought their season might have been over prematurely.

The quarterback also looks to have earned the starting role in Minnesota for the rest of the season, even with rookie Jaren Hall back available. The team’s superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson expressed his excitement to catch passes from Dobbs as he returns from a long injury layoff.

“It’s been a pleasure working with him, kinda learning things that I can learn from him, that he can learn from me, and it’ll be better for us when we go out on that field,” Jefferson told reporters.

A year ago, it looked like Dobbs’ NFL career might’ve been fizzling out. But after this season’s performances – although he will likely be on the move again at the end of the campaign – his prospects have skyrocketed.

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