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Ranking the backup quarterbacks in NFL

Which teams have the best and worst backup quarterbacks? That’s a tricky question, as teams treat the backup quarterback position differently.  For the Eagles, Bills, Jaguars, and Jets, the backup quarterback will be the loser in the training camp battle for the starting job.  In Dallas, Detroit, and Indianapolis, the backup is a savvy veteran who can cover for the star quarterback in a pinch.  Some teams have young quarterback-of-the-future types, the Patriots have a backup who doubles as trade bait (and a third-stringer who doubles as a tight end), and the Steelers are experimenting with a backup who doesn’t have an AARP card.  There are also a number of teams hopelessly lost at the position, perhaps best described as “We learned nothing from watching the 2011 Colts.”

I’ve decided to group the 32 backup quarterbacks, the four eventual winners of the training camp battles, and four other notable backups into four separate categories: The Veterans (30+ years of age), The Quarterbacks of the Future, The Retreads (at least 25 but under 30), and What are they thinking?  Within each category, I’ve listed the quarterbacks from best to worst. For each player, I’ve listed his age as of the opening day of the 2013 season, his draft status, and his number of career passes. The rankings are based on my subjective thoughts.

The Veterans (30+ years of age)

The top of this list consists of starting-caliber quarterbacks, assuming you define “starting-caliber” as a top-twenty quarterback on a good day.  A team could survive starting them for four games and expect to go 2-2. Towards the bottom, you have players who could come off the bench and hold a second-half lead, but don’t expect them to start for more than a week.

1) Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles Age: 33.2. Draft: Rd: 1, Pick 1 (2001). Career Passes: 2889

Assuming he loses the quarterback competition to Nick Foles, Vick immediately becomes the best backup quarterback in the league. Vick sports a career 56-44-1 record and posted an MVP-caliber season in 2010. Even in 2011, he ranked 8th in Net Yards per Attempt. He’s the only former number one overall pick on the list.

Orton should have time to work on his neckbeard this season.

Orton should have time to work on his neckbeard this season.

2) Kyle Orton, Dallas Cowboys Age: 30.8. Draft: Rd: 4, Pick 106 (2005). Career Passes: 2214

Orton (35-34) also has a career winning record, despite having played for Josh McDaniels. Orton threw for 9,213 yards and 50 touchdowns in 38 games from 2009 to 2011 while averaging 6.42 net yards per attempt. He had just 10 passes last year1 as Tony Romo’s backup, and Cowboys fans are hoping for a similar workload in 2013.

3) Shaun Hill, Detroit Lions Age: 33.7. Draft: Undrafted. Career Passes: 954

For his career, Hill has averaged 5.88 NY/A and 5.67 ANY/A, making him close to a league average passer. That’s excellent, of course, for a backup. Hill has seemingly perfected the role of backup quarterback: he came off the bench against the Titans and delivered a remarkable comeback to force overtime last season. Against Tennessee, Hill went 10/13 for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns, which graded as one of the best games of the year…. despite the fact that he threw his first pass with 76 seconds left in the 4th quarter.

4) Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis Colts Age: 37.9. Draft: Rd: 6, Pick 187 (1998). Career Passes: 5018

Hasselbeck is the oldest quarterback on this list by nearly four years.  In his prime, he was a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback who took his team to the Super Bowl, and he owns an 80-72 career record. Even two years ago, Hasselbeck was an above-average starter.  But he’ll be 38 in late September, and his only role this year should be as a sounding board for Andrew Luck.

5) Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings Age: 31.3. Draft: Rd: 7, Pick 230 (2005). Career Passes: 2045

Cassel is nothing special, of course, but he got somewhat of a raw deal with the Chiefs. He’s probably not going to challenge Christian Ponder, but a team could survive with him as their quarterback for several games. Even after last year’s ugly 6 TD, 12 INT performance, he sports an impressive 82/57 career ratio. Cassel is also one of two odd members in the 400/50 club (the other is also on this list).

6) Jason Campbell, Cleveland Browns Age: 31.7. Draft: Rd: 1, Pick 25 (2005). Career Passes: 2182

Campbell was a disaster last year, averaging 2.91 ANY/A on 57 pass plays for the Bears.  To be fair, he was forced into action against two very good defenses (San Francisco and Houston), but it seems like we’re entering the decline portion of Campbell’s career. His 31-40 record may not be a fair representation of his abilities — Campbell has always finished around league average in ANY/A — but he’s on his fourth team of his career for a reason.

7) Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tennessee Titans Age: 30.8. Draft: Rd: 7, Pick 250 (2005). Career Passes: 2249

Fitzpatrick is nothing more than a poor man’s Chad Pennington: he’s smart, can run an offense well, but is prone to bad interceptions and lacks the physical abilities to excel in the NFL. As he enters his thirties, Fitzpatrick isn’t likely to improve. A 23-41-1 career record has Fitzpatrick now on his fourth team, too. Unfortunately for Titans fans, he may be Tennessee’s best quarterback.

8) Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks Age: 30.4. Draft: Rd: 2, Pick 64 (2006). Career Passes: 1053

Jackson has always been a mobile check-down artist, but he’s not accurate enough or fast enough to make the big plays. At 17-17, he’s a capable quarterback: he went 7-7 for the Seahawks in 2011, was on the Bills bench in 2012, and now returns to backup Russell Wilson. He could probably take this talented Seattle team to 9 or 10 wins, but Seahawks fans aren’t particularly interested in finding out if that’s the case.

9) Bruce Gradkowski, Pittsburgh Steelers Age: 30.6. Draft: Rd: 6, Pick 194 (2006). Career Passes: 709

Gradkowski is gritty, which is pretty much the only nice thing anyone ever has to say about him. But he’s led a fourth-quarter comeback/game-winning drive in each of the last two years despite starting zero games over that time.2 In 2009, the Pittsburgh native threw for 308 yards and three 4th-quarter touchdowns to beat the defending champion Steelers, a loss that ended up costing Pittsburgh a playoff berth. When Ben Roethlisberger misses his usual game or two this year, Gradkowski should prove to be a capable backup.

10) Derek Anderson, Carolina Panthers Age: 30.2. Draft: Rd: 6, Pick 213 (2005). Career Passes: 1440

Anderson just barely qualifies as “veteran backup” instead of “What were they thinking.” Capable backups to Cam Newton don’t exist in any tangible sense, but I read an interesting point in the 2013 Football Outsiders Almanac. Anderson, like Newton, is a high yards per completion passer: Newton led the league in that metric in 2012, Anderson did so in 2007, his only season of note. Anderson won’t ever succeed in a timing based offense that relies on quick reads and accurate throws, but he might be able to lead a second-half scoring drive for the Panthers. Anything more than that, and Carolina fans will quickly realize just how valuable Newton really is.

The Quarterbacks of the Future

These quarterbacks are all under 25 or were drafted in the last three years. We can’t use NFL production to rank them, so I’m going to order them based on my mythical trade value rankings.

Bills fans hope he won't be the best backup in the NFL.

Bills fans hope he won't be the best backup in the NFL.

1) EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills Age: 23.5. Draft: Rd: 1, Pick 16 (2013). Career Passes: 0

2) Geno Smith, New York Jets Age: 22.9. Draft: Rd: 2, Pick 39 (2013). Career Passes: 0

There isn’t much to separate Manuel and Smith at this point. All we know is that one franchise definitely views Manuel as the better player. Of course, that organization is Buffalo, so take it for what it’s worth. Still, these are the two highest-drafted players in the Under-25 list (with one notable exception), so it makes sense to put them at the top.

3) Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos Age: 22.8. Draft: Rd: 2, Pick 57 (2012). Career Passes: 4

It seems like ages ago that every Pac-12 telecast included the phrase “Did you know that Brock Osweiler is 6’8?” Our collective minds were blown when the former Sun Devil clocked in at 6’7 at the combine. Denver drafted Miami (OH)’s Zac Dysert in the 7th round of the 2013 Draft, but it’s Osweiler who stands tall3 as the Quarterback of the Future in Denver. Peyton Manning may not have too many years left, but we probably won’t see much out of Osweiler until 2015 at the earliest. But that’s okay: this time in two years, Osweiler will still be younger than the current ages of the next two men on this list.

4) Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins Age: 25. Draft: Rd: 4, Pick 102 (2012). Career Passes: 48

Cousins is a limited quarterback, but he’s got some good mentoring in the Shanahans.  At his best, and with good coaching, Cousins could turn into a Jake Plummer type. Fortunately for him, Mike Shanahan was the man who got the most out of Plummer, and Cousins impressed enough in limited action last year that he might already fetch a second round pick on the open market.

5) Ryan Mallett, New England Patriots Age: 25.3. Draft: Rd: 3, Pick 74 (2011). Career Passes: 4

In some corners, Mallett is the product of the Patriots Hype Machine (TM) that makes people think New England’s backup quarterback will be the next Tom Brady.  After the success of Matt Cassel, Kevin O’Connell and Brian Hoyer became the sexy backups du jour. The difference with Mallett is that he’s off the charts in terms of height and arm strength, and was a first-round pick on some team’s boards.  But the fact that the Patriots quietly tried to shop him in the off-season and found no bites is a sign that the rest of the league isn’t as high on the former Razorback as are some in the media.

6) Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars Age: 23.9. Draft: Rd: 1, Pick 10 (2011). Career Passes: 691

It’s easy to be very down on Gabbert: despite being a top-ten pick, it may already be time for Jacksonville to move on from him. On the other hand, Gabbert doesn’t turn 24 until October, and he was better than Chad Henne after adjusting for strength of schedule. It will be interesting to see how Gabbert — if he wins the starting job — does after the team drafted Luke Joeckel with the second overall pick. Tony Khan, the team’s senior vice president of football technology and analytics, noted that Gabbert was in the top third of NFL quarterbacks when given at least 2.6 seconds to throw. Jacksonville’s offensive line was a disaster in 2012 (outside of left tackle Eugene Monroe), so you can understand why the team would want to give Gabbert one more year.

7) Tyler Wilson, Oakland Raiders Age: 24.1. Draft: Rd: 4, Pick 112 (2013). Career Passes: 0

Wilson may have been a first round pick if he had left school a year earlier.4 As a junior, Wilson threw for 3,683 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions and the Razorbacks finished 11-2. Then, the Bobby Petrino scandal happened and Arkansas had a disastrous 4-8 season. Wilson’s stats didn’t decline nearly as much, but his stock still plummeted. Wilson won’t steal the job from Matt Flynn before week 1, but don’t be surprised if the Raiders give him a chance this year: he’s already two months older than Gabbert.

8) Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles Age: 24.6. Draft: Rd: 3, Pick 88 (2012). Career Passes: 265

Other than interception rate, Foles was unimpressive as a rookie last year. And let’s be honest: a great interception rate doesn’t carry much weight when the quarterback averages 10.6 yards per completion and goes 1-5. Foles could turn into a good quarterback, and may even become the starter in Philadelphia this season. But I suspect his market value is a bit behind the first seven names on this list. Not to mention the Eagles third-string quarterback.

9) Ryan Nassib, New York Giants Age: 23.5. Draft: Rd: 4, Pick 110 (2013). Career Passes: 0

Matt Waldman did a great writeup on Nassib here, so I don’t have much to add. I do find it ironic that Nassib, regarded as the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft, went to the team who has the quarterback with the longest active games started streak. Eli Manning will be only 33 in January, so it’s conceivable that Nassib finishes his rookie contract without a single start.

10) Terrelle Pryor, Oakland Raiders Age: 24.2. Draft: Rd: 3, Supplemental Draft (2011). Career Passes: 30

If you watch Pryor’s touchdown catch against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl, it’s natural to wonder he if could succeed as a 6’6 goal-line threat. Pryor has been a target of fan abuse for years, much of it deserved, but he’s still an incredibly athletic quarterback who turned 24 only months ago. And I don’t know whether this is a good or bad thing, but according to Pryor, he finally learned how to throw a football this offseason.

11) Landry Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers Age: 24.4. Draft: Rd: 4, Pick 115 (2013). Career Passes: 0

To harp on Pryor’s age, he’s younger than Pittsburgh’s rookie quarterback. Jones followed Sam Bradford at Oklahoma and put up ridiculous gross numbers, but much of that was a function of tempo and the supporting talent. In terms of strength-of-schedule adjusted ANY/A, Jones was not nearly as spectacular, and he peaked in 2010.

12) Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Age: 23.7. Draft: Rd: 3, Pick 73 (2013). Career Passes: 0

Mike Glennon led the NCAA in interceptions last year and ranked seventh in the ACC in yards per attempt. It appears as though the Bucs saw something in him, but I’m not sure what it was. I’m a Josh Freeman supporter, so I don’t expect Tampa Bay to get much out of this pick.

The Retreads

What’s the opposite of a “sweet spot”? These quarterbacks are all too young to be veteran backups but too old (with their history of production) to be legitimate quarterback-of-the-future candidates. There’s a good chance half of these guys will be out of the league within three years, but one of them might be able to land a big contract following a Ryan Fitzpatrick-like half-season of production. All are in the second half of their twenties.

A pair of backup quarterbacks?

A pair of backup quarterbacks?

1) Mark Sanchez, New York Jets Age: 26.8. Draft: Rd: 1, Pick 5 (2009). Career Passes: 1866

Sanchez isn’t actually a retread yet, of course, but he fits the definition quite well. The former USC star was never as good as his 33-29 record, but he could be one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL. That’s not what the Jets were hoping for when they selected him 5th overall, but he could have a career revival on another team.

2) Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins Age: 29.1. Draft: Undrafted. Career Passes: 758

Moore has mucked up two chances to be the starter. In 2007 and 2009, he went 6-2 in eight December starts for the Panthers. In 2010, he was named the team’s starter and was disastrous. Moore played reasonably well off the bench for Miami in 2011, but couldn’t beat out Ryan Tannehill for the job in training camp last year.

3) Kevin Kolb, Buffalo Bills Age: 29.0. Draft: Rd: 2, Pick 36 (2007). Career Passes: 755

In case you didn’t hear, Kolb suffered a minor injury in training camp after slipping on a rubber mat. It appears as though Kolb will fit in well in the AFC East.

4) Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars Age: 28.2. Draft: Rd: 2, Pick 57 (2008). Career Passes: 1373

Henne is big and has a big arm, and his Michigan pedigree made him an attractive prospect to some folks. But he’s just 14-23, has more interceptions than touchdowns, and has averaged only 5.86 NY/A for his career. Still, Henne had the top game of 2012, so I can’t rank him any lower than fourth.

5) Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns Age: 27.9. Draft: Undrafted. Career Passes: 96

Hoyer is too old to be a quarterback of the future type — he turns 28 in October and hasn’t even thrown 100 passes in the NFL. He’s the number three quarterback in Cleveland right now, but he’s the youngest passer on the roster5 and may end up the starter before the season is over. The Patriots overplayed their hand when it came to Hoyer’s trade value, but that doesn’t mean he’s worthless. New England finally released him last August after turning down trade offers in prior years (the team also put a second-rounder tender on him earlier in 2012), and Hoyer got his first NFL start in week 17 against the 49ers.

In the 2010 preseason, Hoyer averaged 8.3 yards per attempt and threw 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. He also played well in the ’09 preseason, but that’s about the extent of information we have on Hoyer.

6) Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals Age: 29.3. Draft: Rd: 2, Pick 43 (2007). Career Passes: 187

Stanton is the third and final Michigan State Spartan on the list, joining Kirk Cousins and Brian Hoyer. Perhaps Andrew Maxwell has what it takes to be an NFL backup quarterback! This now completes our tour of retread quarterbacks with AFC East ties.

7) T.J. Yates, Houston Texans Age: 26.3. Draft: Rd: 5, Pick 152 (2011). Career Passes: 144

Yates is already 26 despite being drafted in 2011.  He played admirably as a rookie, guiding the Texans to the playoffs and earning the first playoff win in franchise history.  A week later, the clock struck midnight in Baltimore, and we haven’t seen much out of Yates since. He’s already 26, and no one is beating down Houston’s door to trade for him. Despite Matt Schaub’s struggles down the stretch last year, you didn’t hear folks clamoring for the team to switch to Yates. At this point, the former North Carolina quarterback seems likely to end his career as nothing more than the answer to a good trivia question.

8/9) John Skelton, Cincinnati Bengals Age: 25.5. Draft: Rd: 5, Pick 155 (2010). Career Passes: 602

Josh Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals Age: 27.3. Draft: Rd: 5, Pick 160 (2008). Career Passes: 177

Skelton was capital H horrible last year: he averaged just 3.10 ANY/A, and managed to produce an AV of -2! But with 17 career starts, I’ve kept him in this category and not the next one. The Cincinnati Enquirer has Josh Johnson leading Skelton in the backup quarterback competition, which wouldn’t be too surprising. Johnson, who played under Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, is the higher upside player. The real answer to the quarterback battle: the Bengals better hope Andy Dalton stays healthy.

What Are They Thinking?

Nine teams appear willing to roll the dice on their starter’s health.  In most cases, that’s because these teams have invested so much in the starter that management has chosen to stick their fingers in their ears and scream “I’m not listening” at the idea that quarterbacks are susceptible to injury. There are no rankings, because there are no winners here.

Tyrod Taylor, Baltimore Ravens Age: 24.1. Draft: Rd: 6, Pick 180 (2011). Career Passes: 30

Here’s what Mike Tanier had to say about Taylor in the 2013 Football Outsiders Almanac: “The Ravens offense gets all read-optionish when Taylor enters the game, creating culture shock for defenses that game-planned to stop a sequoia. In the short term, the change-up can be effective, but it is hard to tell how the Ravens would adapt to a sustained Joe Flacco absence…. To get a quarterback more unlike Flacco than Taylor, the Ravens would have to sign a shortstop.”

Baltimore has no salary cap wiggle room, and Taylor is okay as a prospect, but it’s kind of crazy that the defending Super Bowl champion is simply crossing its fingers that the starting quarterback stays healthy.

Charlie Whitehurst, San Diego Chargers Age: 31.1. Draft: Rd: 3, Pick 81 (2006). Career Passes: 155

Whitehurt is old enough to be a veteran, but with only 155 career pass attempts, he makes Michael Vick look like a known quantity. While New York and Pittsburgh dipped their toes into the draft to find potential replacements for the Class of 2004 quarterbacks, the Chargers seem content to let a declining Philip Rivers be backed up by one of the most nondescript backups in the league.

Colt McCoy, San Francisco 49ers Age: 26. Draft: Rd: 3, Pick 85 (2010). Career Passes: 702

McCoy has started too many games to really fit in with the Tyrod Taylors of the world, but he lands here because HOW IN THE WORLD DO THE 49ERS ONLY HAVE MCCOY BEHIND COLIN KAEPERNICK?

Atlanta has decided that backing this guy up is unimportant.

Atlanta has decided that backing this guy up is unimportant.

Dominique Davis, Atlanta Falcons Age: 24.1. Draft: Undrafted. Career Passes: 0

This is where things get really ugly. Matt Ryan has been durable throughout his career, although he suffered a shoulder injury at the end of the NFC Championship Game. This is even more egregious than the situation in San Francisco (although I’ll grant that Ryan seems like less of an injury risk): Tony Gonzalez didn’t come back to play with Davis, and Atlanta is walking the tightrope without a net at quarterback. Davis did set a record for consecutive completions in college, but it came against Navy.

Austin Davis, St. Louis Rams Age: 24.3. Draft: Undrafted. Career Passes: 0

Sam Bradford may not be a franchise quarterback in terms of production, but he is in terms of salary. Davis was a star at Southern Mississippi, but this is another case of “what are they thinking?” Bradford has missed most of two of the last four seasons due to injury, but St. Louis has backed him up with just Davis and Kellen Clemens.

Graham Harrell, Green Bay Packers Age: 28.3. Draft: Undrafted. Career Passes: 4

This one may take the cake: the dropoff from Aaron Rodgers to any backup quarterback is going to be enormous, but is Harrell even one of the top 75 quarterbacks in the NFL? Sure, he was a star at Texas Tech, but he is in a heated battle with B.J. Coleman for the backup quarterback job, which says all you need to know about Harrell. On second thought, here is all you need to know about Harrell: the Packers are working out Vince Young today. With news that right tackle Bryan Bulaga — who was shifting to the blind side this year — may be out for the season, things just got that much scarier in Green Bay.

Chase Daniel, Kansas City Chiefs Age: 26.9. Draft: Undrafted. Career Passes: 9

Daniel was a hero at Missouri, but will be 27 in October, and has thrown just nine career passes after going undrafted. On the other hand, he backed up Drew Brees for years in New Orleans, so he should be comfortable once again backing up the best quarterback in the NFL. Behind Daniel is Ricky Stanzi and Tyler Bray (who is very young and very good at not getting sacked, but also very good at making everyone think he is undraftable). In other words, Kansas City better hope Alex Smith stays healthy or the 2013 Chiefs passing game may somehow be worse than last year’s edition.

Luke McCown, New Orleans Saints Age: 32.2. Draft: Rd: 4, Pick 106 (2004). Career Passes: 316

McCown is currently battling with Seneca Wallace for the right to hold Drew Brees’ clipboard. Yes, the New Orleans star costs a zillion dollars and has been extremely durable, but this is another “Did you happen to watch the 2011 Colts” scenario.

Josh McCown, Chicago Bears Age: 34.2. Draft: Rd: 3, Pick 81 (2002). Career Passes: 1113

The Brothers McCown round out the list. Jay Cutler is in a contract season, so we’ll see what general manager Phil Emery will do at the quarterback position. With your quarterback in a contract season, you generally want a potential quarterback-of-the-future type backing him up, so you at least get one year of risk-free evaluation. You could also go with a contingency-plan type, but a 34-year-old who has started just 11 games (going 3-8) since 2006 doesn’t make sense as a backup quarterback for any team.

  1. And went 9/10 with a touchdown! []
  2. The first was in week 1, 2011; the second in week 17, 2012. []
  3. Do you see what I did there? []
  4. Perhaps he and Mallett can start a club of Arkansas quarterbacks who were supposed to be first round picks. []
  5. Obligatory Brandon Weeden age-related comment. []
  • Anon

    The 2011 Colts did exactly what they should have done. Why waste resources on a backup to Peyton Manning (or any other top QB on a team with title aspirations)? If Manning goes down, the season is lost anyway. In fact, in the Colts case, it worked out perfectly. Obviously every team shouldn’t expect Andrew Luck if their QB goes down, but I still don’t get investing in a player that’s holding a clipboard when you’re at your best and if he’s on the field, you’re not a contender.

    • Bob

      It depends on whether the injury to the starting QB is short-term or long-term. Long-term injury probably spells disaster for most teams. But, a short or intermediate-term injury may not. In that situation, a viable backup can mean the difference between making the playoffs (ostensibly hoping for starting QB to return) and missing out. For a highly competitive team, it may mean the difference between a home playoff game / homefield throughout and having to open the playoffs on the road.

      Example: The 2011 Bears. 7-3 start with Jay Cutler. 1-5 finish with Caleb Hanie / Josh McCown. Cutler broke his (throwing hand) thumb at the end of the week 11 game against San Diego.

      • Anon

        Funny, I was going to mention that, but the reference was the 2011 Colts and not the Bears. That said, I agree, short term could matter. However, you have to take into account the likelihood that a short term injury does occur and the impact it will have on the playoffs. Then, is that money you spent on a backup QB more impactful than if you spent it elsewhere to upgrade a position you know will matter? Potentially, but I’d guess no. In any case, the 2011 Colts are not the right example. They’re the model.

        • Chase Stuart

          I’m thinking about this from the perspective of a coach or general manager. The 2011 Colts season cost Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell their jobs.

          • Anon

            GMs/coaches shouldn’t act in the best interest of their jobs, and I don’t think we should grade them on that scale.

            • Wait, what? GM’s and coaches should act in the best interest of their jobs since their jobs are 100% directly related to performance on the field. You want the best team? Then you want the GM’s and coaches to act like their jobs depend on it.

              Good teams can win games, especially with a decent backup. Deep, balanced teams like the Texans, Seahawks, or 49ers could all likely average .500 with their backups in a pinch, if not better. I’d actually wager that entering the half way point of the season if all three switched out their starters for their backups at least one would make the playoffs.

      • Chase Stuart

        Yes, the 2011 Bears are a team that really could have used a decent backup. Other teams that benefited from having good backup quarterbacks: the ’90 Giants, the ’00 Ravens, the ’68 Colts, and the ’12 49ers.

        • Also the better a team is the more important it is to have a competent backup. Some teams are so talented that a backup can win a playoff game (2011 Texans) or go onto a winning record (2005 Bears), but like you said, had the Bears had a decent backup they’d have made the playoffs and Lovie Smith wouldn’t be fired. If you have a talented team you don’t want it to go to waste because your backup sucks.

        • Richie

          Some others: ’72 Dolphins, ’91 49ers and ’08 Patriots. (The 49ers and Patriots are 2 of the best teams ever to miss the playoffs.)

    • Chase Stuart

      I don’t think Bill Polian thinks it worked out perfectly.

      • Doug Tompkins

        I’d like to point out that the 2011 Colts situation wasn’t just that Manning was hurt. The guy hired to be his backup, Kerry Collins, was someone that would have had a shot at starting on many teams that year, so it is not as though Polian did not have a decent Plan B. He just got hurt quickly himself and Plan C was Curtis Painter (they had released Dan Orlovsky previously or he probably would have been Plan C, which would have been unfortunate for the Colts as when they resigned him to be Plan D he almost cost them the chance to draft Luck by daring to win games with that patchwork team).

  • Sam

    I’m curious why you’re so down on Colt McCoy. He’s obviously not very good but no backup quarterback with significant playing experience is — otherwise they’d be starters. In 2011 he finished ahead in DVOA of some folks you were much less horrified about teams playing as backups. Plus he’s at least somewhat mobile which fits with the niners scheme. Anyone backing up Kaepernick is going to be a big step down but I’m not sure how many of the guys on this list would really be preferrable to McCoy as a backup. Josh Johnson, for example, couldn’t even make the niners as third string quarterback last year and the guy who beat him is now behind McCoy on the niners roster.

    • Chase Stuart

      It’s not so much that I’m down on McCoy; it’s that the 49ers are Super Bowl favorites and some would say that Kaepernick (with no real track record and as a rushing quarterback) is more of an injury risk than guys like Matt Ryan. The 49ers replacing Alex Smith with Colt McCoy is a huge downgrade.

      In my view, someone like Cassel or Hasselbeck would have been a much safer signing for SF. It’s the combination of Super Bowl contender + running quarterback (which rightly or wrongly folks think carry greater injury risk) that made me throw McCoy on the WATT list.

    • My thoughts as well, though Chase does defend himself well in his reply to you, just didn’t get the message across in the article.

  • hooger

    David Carr?

    • Chase Stuart

      I actually had Carr in an earlier draft, then deleted him since I figured nobody cared about him. Proving me wrong, hooger!

      • hooger

        As far as back ups go, you are underestimating him…I think David Carr is probably a better back up than half the guys on your list….I don’t think its a lock that the Giants are going to cut him. I’m not part of his fan club or anything…and his days as a starter are over (Thank God), but my gosh… are you really telling me you would rather have Brian Hoyer or anyone below him over Carr? I am not even sure I would take Henne over Carr….but whatever…and to not even mention him over the guys on the “What Are They Thinking?” list seems a bit crazy.

        • Chase Stuart

          The goal was to only include the #2 QB for each team, the four instances where there’s a battle between #1 and #2, and then a few other battles with QB2 and QB3. I only listed QB3s for Pittsburgh (since Roethlisberger is always hurt, and Gradkowski is the true backup with Jones as the QBOTF), Cincinnati (where there’s a real battle brewing), Oakland (because I think Pryor is interesting and Wilson is the likely QBOTF), and Cleveland (true battle for #2). Sure, I could have gone three deep for every team, but I don’t think many folks find the David Carr/Ryan Nassib battle particularly interesting. So it’s not a knock on Carr, or me saying Carr is worse than everyone else on the list.

  • LB

    This article was written on Aug 5th. I wonder if there is any change of opinion on Tyrod Taylor at this point. As our backup, I’ve always always liked him but was a little concerned about him being the option if Joe were injured. After the Superbowl, he went to work and trained hard and his all around improvement (especially passing) has shown this preseason.

    Now, I feel that he can win some games in Joe’s absence if he needed to.

  • justin

    So much for that whole Tyler Wilson thing….