Ranking NFL backup QBs: Who can step in as starter?
News of Jameis Winston’s pending suspension served as a stark reminder of the critical value of backup quarterbacks in the NFL. The Buccaneers, already incorporating several new players, will hope to squeeze three games of FitzMagic from veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick (assuming Winston’s penalty sticks) to start the 2018 season. With games against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers, Tampa Bay will be severely challenged to overcome the absence of its leader, yet the Bucs are in better to position to weather this storm than most clubs.
A ranking of all 32 teams’ emergency QB options:
32. Panthers: Better stay upright, Cam. Garrett Gilbert and Taylor Heinicke have combined for one regular-season completion. Ever. Longtime backup Derek Anderson remains unsigned.
31. Bengals: Matt Barkley has a putrid 63.7 passer rating in five seasons spent mostly in a reserve capacity. Whether he’s a better option ahead of untested Jeff Driskel or rookie Logan Woodside has yet to be determined.
30. Texans: They went off the rails last year without Deshaun Watson. Little reason to expect the trio of Joe Webb, Brandon Weeden and Stephen Morris to produce much better results.
29. Cowboys: Though team brass fell in love with Cooper Rush last summer, fifth rounder Mike White might have the tools to unseat him as the preferred option behind Dak Prescott. Regardless, erstwhile backup Kellen Moore will now be overseeing a very young QB room as Dallas’ new positional coach.
28. Broncos: Paxton Lynch hasn’t maximized his opportunities since being picked in the first round two years ago and may have to fend off Chad Kelly to keep his job.
27. Seahawks: Given what Russell Wilson’s estimable skills mean to this team, it would be disastrous if Austin Davis or rookie Alex McGough was thrust into an offense that relied on Wilson to generate more than 80 percent of its production a year ago.
26. Giants: Davis Webb, a third rounder in 2017 under New York’s previous regime, finds himself having to beat out 2018 fourth rounder Kyle Lauletta, a highly regarded player out of Richmond, as the guy who may one day supplant Eli Manning. The unknowns outweigh any perceived potential at this juncture.
25. Lions: Matt Cassel continues to hang around the league even though it’s been more than half a decade since he displayed any kind of sustained effectiveness. So what does that say about youngster Jake Rudock?
24. Raiders: If EJ Manuel or Connor Cook has to play extensively, especially while trying to assimilate Jon Gruden’s philosophy, Oakland is probably in serious trouble.
23. Chargers: With Geno Smith and Cardale Jones sitting behind Philip Rivers, the Bolts’ situation is only slightly rosier than the Raiders’, though a better supporting cast should offer more of a fighting chance.
22. Rams: Sean Mannion got his first NFL start last season, albeit in a meaningless regular-season finale. He’s now in his fourth year with the franchise but could still face a challenge from Brandon Allen.
21. 49ers: C.J. Beathard went 1-4 under less-than-ideal circumstances as a rookie, but his toughness and poise earned respect from coaches and teammates. He may settle in behind Jimmy Garoppolo for the next few years.
20. Saints: Coach Sean Payton is high on second-year player Taysom Hill, who contributed four special teams tackles last season (you read that correctly) but didn’t throw one pass. Hill may blossom into Drew Brees’ heir apparent someday but first he needs to beat out Tom Savage.
19. Titans: Drafted 199th but coming off a productive college career (and with some undervalued attributes), sixth rounder Luke Falk has some serendipitous linkage to Tom Brady … but let’s not get carried away. Blaine Gabbert carries unfulfilled expectations of being a first-round bust yet has settled into a useful niche lately. Still, Tennessee better hope Marcus Mariota, who has never started 16 games, can evade the injury bug.
18. Jaguars: Blake Bortles, 26, is suddenly the grizzled vet ahead of Tanner Lee, a raw rookie, and Cody Kessler, who projects as a career backup but played well in the face of dreadful circumstances in Cleveland two years ago.
17. Dolphins: A decidedly mixed bag, though the Fins feel good enough about this group that reliable Matt Moore wasn’t re-signed. David Fales’ experience, in Chicago and Miami, under coach Adam Gase could give him the inside track behind Ryan Tannehill. Brock Osweiler worked with Gase in Denver, but his career has been in free fall for years. Jets castoff Bryce Petty is a long shot.
16. Falcons: Matt Schaub has 14 NFL seasons under his belt but has thrown just three passes since the start of the 2016 season and is a long way from his Pro Bowl heyday. If his needle hits empty, youngsters Garrett Grayson and Kurt Benkert could battle to be Matt Ryan’s understudy.
15. Redskins: A washout early in his career in Cleveland, Colt McCoy has earned coach Jay Gruden’s trust after spending four years in his system and playing well in spot duty. McCoy should be a valuable asset during Alex Smith’s transition. A washout early in his career in Cleveland, newly acquired Kevin Hogan … well, let’s pump the brakes on him for now.
14. Packers: Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer, who spent his rookie season in Cleveland, were pressed into service in 2017. Each showed the potential to be an NFL starter, but both need plenty of polish. Barring a catastrophic turn, neither will succeed Aaron Rodgers, but either could fetch a nice draft pick on the trade market by showing preseason strides.
13. Steelers: Landry Jones returns for a sixth season, so that tells you how Pittsburgh regards him, especially given the historic likelihood that Ben Roethlisberger will miss at least some time. But third rounder Mason Rudolph, who could be Big Ben’s eventual successor, might push Jones. Sophomore Joshua Dobbs also remains in the mix.
12. Chiefs: After spending most of the past four years mentoring Bortles in Jacksonville, Chad Henne assumes a similar role behind first-year starter Patrick Mahomes. If Henne is forced into action, he can draw on the experience of 53 NFL starts.
11. Bears: Chase Daniel is one of the league’s most respected Plan B QBs even though he’s started just two games in nine years. Tyler Bray has thrown just one NFL pass despite spending most of the last five seasons in Kansas City. However his familiarity with Matt Nagy’s offense should be a boon to both Daniel and starter Mitch Trubisky.
10. Bills: Nathan Peterman is a walking reminder of the risks of playing a rookie passer before he’s ready, so it seems reasonable to expect that first rounder Josh Allen is a long shot to start immediately. Eventually, AJ McCarron is likely to revert to the No. 2 post he handled well in Cincinnati.
9. Colts: Considering he joined a talent-deficient roster eight days before opening day last season, Jacoby Brissett didn’t get nearly enough credit for keeping Indianapolis in so many games.
8. Ravens: This bears watching. Former Heisman Trophy winners Lamar Jackson, a first-round pick this year, and retread Robert Griffin III have similar games and builds — either could be dynamic option if the stars align. But injury-prone RG3 has never come close to recapturing his 2012 magic, and it remains to be seen how well Jackson navigates the NFL learning curve. If they play, Baltimore’s offense will likely take on a markedly different look from the way it operates under starter Joe Flacco, another potentially problematic wrinkle from a team perspective.
7. Vikings: Trevor Siemian never could permanently nail down the starting job in Denver, partially because he took a step back in 2017. Still, amid injuries and massive expectations as the guy who replaced Peyton Manning, Siemian still managed to go 13-11. He should ably keep Minnesota, another team heavily reliant on defense, afloat in the event Kirk Cousins goes down.
6. Buccaneers: Fitzpatrick, set to enter his 14th season, went 2-1 last year while Winston ate only three Ws in 13 starts. Consistency has always been Fitzpatrick’s bugaboo, but he has posted a QB rating of 86.0 or better in three of the past four years and offers underrated mobility and smarts — but a touch of overconfidence in his limited arm.
5. Patriots: OK, Brian Hoyer isn’t Garoppolo. But let’s not forget he managed to go 10-6 (!!!) as Cleveland’s starter in 2013 and 2014 and played a significant part in the Texans’ drive to the playoffs the following year. In the unlikely event Brady misses limited time, Hoyer could keep this train on the tracks.
4. Cardinals: They’re either going to have a highly capable veteran (Sam Bradford) or a sublimely talented rookie (Josh Rosen) holding the clipboard for a team that has plenty of talent throughout the roster. Erstwhile Bears starter Mike Glennon could struggle to stick.
3. Browns: New arrivals Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield both led their previous teams to the playoffs in 2017, though the Bills don’t recruit nearly as well as Oklahoma, so advantage to Taylor (already anointed as Cleveland’s Week 1 starter, for what that’s worth). But assuming Mayfield plays at some point, the Browns will either have a guy with a 91.2 career passer rating in the NFL or a Heisman winner drafted No. 1 overall in reserve … to say nothing of capable veteran Drew Stanton.
2. Jets: First rounder Sam Darnold will likely start sooner than later. But the Jets have a pair of welcome alternatives in Josh McCown, who comes off a career year yet embraces the mentorship responsibilities of being a journeyman, and Teddy Bridgewater, whose recovery from his gruesome 2016 knee injury is finally hitting high gear and could make him a trade target later this summer.
1. Eagles: With Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles in the bullpen, the champs obviously remain the league’s preeminent doomsday preppers.