Ever wondered who the NFL’s best backup quarterbacks are? Wonder no more:
- Ranking the top backups, 1-32
- Analysis from a busy week of cuts and trades
- Why Lamar Jackson is just fine without an agent
Ranking The Top 32 Backup QBs
Stop me if you’ve heard this phrase before. “Boy [Team X] sure is fortunate they have one of the best backup quarterbacks in football.” No shortage of broadcasters, media analysts, coaches and fans have said something to that effect, and simple logic dictates most of them are exaggerating.
Well for the 16 of you out there who get annoyed by that and want a conclusive ranking of the league’s backup quarterbacks, look no further. With teams focusing on shoring up the depth across their rosters this week, it’s the perfect time to break down the 32 best No. 2’s at the game’s most important position.
I’ve also included win/loss record, touchdown to interception ratio and adjusted net yards per attempt to provide a snapshot of what teams ask from their backups — steady the ship and avoid the team from spiraling, don’t turn the ball over and keep the offense moving.
1 – 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo
W/L Record: 33-14
No. 1 is pretty obvious, as no one else on the list even comes close to having a resume like Garoppolo’s, statistically and in terms of winning games. Garoppolo’s good enough to be starting elsewhere and probably would be if not for a set of specific circumstances this offseason. When the 49ers say they feel fortunate to have two starting-caliber quarterbacks, they’re one of the only teams not overly gassing up their own guys.
2 – Dolphins QB Teddy Bridgewater
W/L Record: 33-30
Teams want their backup quarterbacks to play efficient football, distributing the ball to the open man and avoiding turnovers. Basically, the game manager role. That’s something that suits Bridgewater’s skillset quite well. His arm strength limits the areas of the field he can attack but Bridgewater has pinpoint accuracy and generally makes great decisions.
3 – Colts QB Nick Foles
W/L Record: 29-27
Foles is the perfect backup quarterback. The longer he stays in the lineup, the more likely he is to wilt. But he’s capable of scintillating stretches of play, like in 2018 when he led the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory. Hard to ask for much more if you’re looking for someone to steady the ship for a few games.
4 – Saints QB Andy Dalton
W/L Record: 77-69-2
When Dalton was the starter in Cincinnati, he was often referred to as football’s equivalent of the Mendoza line at quarterback. If your quarterback was worse than him, you needed a new one. You’d be hard-pressed to find many other backup quarterbacks as accomplished as Dalton, however. The Saints have a strong enough supporting cast that should they need to turn to Dalton, it won’t be too steep of a dropoff from Jameis Winston.
5 – Giants QB Tyrod Taylor
W/L Record: 26-25-1
Although Taylor isn’t the most prolific passer on this list, he’s among the top backups in football for two reasons. His mobility gives him an ability to create when the play breaks down and in the run game, which is an edge over a lot of other backups. Taylor also takes care of the football extraordinarily well. He’s not going to win a lot of shootouts, but that’s not the job of a backup quarterback. Their job is to keep you in it and make enough plays to win, and Taylor’s well-suited for that.
6 – Jets QB Joe Flacco
W/L Record: 98-78
Flacco was never the most dynamic quarterback even at his peak but it really seemed like he phoned it in at one point. His arm is plenty strong but he turned into a dink and dunk passer for a while. There were some flashes of production last season, though, and the Jets will try to recapture that for however long they have to lean on Flacco this year.
7 – Steelers QB Kenny Pickett
It’s a little challenging to rank Pickett as he enters the NFL as an unproven rookie. He does have the pedigree of being a first-round pick, and that elevates him over a number of other options here. He was solid in the preseason as well even though he wasn’t asked to do much, completing 29-36 passes for 261 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
8 – Packers QB Jordan Love
W/L Record: 0-1
In his lone start last season, Love wasn’t good and the Packers suffered one of their only three regular-season losses. And if you just looked at Love’s preseason box scores this year, you wouldn’t think he’d taken much of a step forward. However, the stats don’t show how Love has become a slightly more consistent playmaker, showing the playmaking streak that convinced the Packers to trade up into the first round to take him. There are still too many inaccurate passes and forced balls into coverage to feel truly confident in him as a starting option. But it’s hard to rank him much lower than this based on upside alone.
9 – Bills QB Case Keenum
W/L Record: 29-35
The 2017 season Keenum had in Minnesota is one of the best single-season efforts of anyone on this list. Keenum threw 22 touchdowns to just seven interceptions and led the Vikings to an 11-3 record and an upset over the Saints in the famed Minneapolis Miracle. He has struggled to recapture that magic in other seasons, which is why he’s been relegated to backup status. In that department, he stacks up pretty well.
9 – Eagles QB Gardner Minshew
W/L Record: 8-14
While the win/loss record is unimpressive, Minshew’s statistical production stands out given he’s played the bulk of his career on some horrendous Jaguars teams. He’s not the most gifted quarterback physically, but he has enough mobility to hurt defenses with his legs and an aggressive streak to hit passes down the field. There’s a little Ryan Fitzpatrick to his game. It would not be a surprise to see him get a crack at a starting job down the road.
10 – Commanders QB Taylor Heinicke
W/L Record: 7-9
Another diminutive but gutsy quarterback, Heinicke got his shot at the starting job in 2021 and gave it his all. He’s a fiery competitor with a knack for making plays, but at the end of the day the athletic limitations capped his and the team’s ceiling, which is why Washington traded for Carson Wentz. Heinicke has proven a lot and come a long way for someone who was ready to move on to a second career as an accountant in 2020.
Taylor Heinicke delivers on 4th & 3! #WashingtonFootball
— NFL (@NFL) November 21, 2021
11 – Seahawks QB Drew Lock
W/L Record: 8-13
Lock’s penchant for turnovers is not a trait most coaches appreciate in their backup quarterbacks. But he has a big arm and an ability to attack down the field which sets him apart from most of the other players in this position. He probably won’t get many, if any, more chances to prove he can be a starter after this season, and he’s already failed to beat out Geno Smith who realistically would probably be in about this same spot, maybe lower, if the roles were switched. That arm talent could keep him employed for many more years, however, if he can minimize the mistakes.
12 – Ravens QB Tyler Huntley
W/L Record: 1-3
Pressed into starting duty last year when Lamar Jackson went down, Huntley didn’t save the Ravens’ season. But he flashed an intriguing skillset, especially on the ground. He racked up an additional 294 yards rushing and two touchdowns to go along with over 1,000 yards passing, three touchdowns and four interceptions in the five games he saw significant action. Usually the playbook constricts when the backup comes into the game, but Huntley’s mobility still gives the offense a potential edge when he’s in the game. He’s well-suited to the Ravens’ unique offense.
13 – Steelers QB Mason Rudolph
W/L Record: 5-4-1
It hasn’t always been pretty when Rudolph has started the past three seasons. But he has a winning record which is not something many backups on this list can say, even if Rudolph has had the benefit of playing for a successful Steelers franchise.
14 – Panthers QB Sam Darnold
W/L Record: 17-32
Last season ended any remaining hope of Darnold being a viable NFL starter. However, it did offer a glimmer of how he can continue his career as a backup. Darnold remains talented and he can turn in decent stretches of competent and even efficient play. Sooner or later, though, his brain short circuits, especially when there’s pressure, and the baffling mistakes come in. Obviously a backup who turns the ball over is bad, but if Darnold isn’t counted on for a full season, it could minimize that aspect of his game. Just look at Carolina’s 3-0 start last season before the wheels came off.
15 – Cardinals QB Colt McCoy
W/L Record: 10-23
Over the past few seasons especially, McCoy has hit his stride as a solid backup option. He’s managed to win a few games and has been solid, if unspectacular. His real value has come as a veteran mentor presence, however.
16 – Texans QB Kyle Allen
W/L Record: 7-10
For about four games back in 2019, the Panthers looked like they might have found a gem with Allen, as he won his first four starts with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw 15 picks in his next eight starts, however, and made up for lost time. When he’s avoided the turnovers — and they have tended to come in bunches — Allen has actually been pretty effective. He has a good arm and plus mobility, the key for him will just be developing consistency. Given he’s still just 26, it’s reasonable to expect some growth from him in the coming years.
17 – Bears QB Trevor Siemian
W/L Record: 13-16
A former seventh-round pick out of Northwestern, Siemian has radically exceeded all expectations for what his NFL career should be. Whenever he’s been pressed into the lineup, he’s punched above his weight class. He had a winning record over two seasons in Denver as the replacement for Peyton Manning, and although the Saints were 0-4 with Siemian starting last season, that doesn’t include two other games where he played the majority of the snaps and New Orleans won. He finished 2021 with a respectable 11-3 touchdown/interception ratio.
18 – Patriots QB Brian Hoyer
W/L Record: 16-23
Perhaps Hoyer has benefited from playing with some great players and coaches in the past. He’s had Kyle Shanahan call plays for him at multiple stops and thrown to guys like DeAndre Hopkins and Josh Gordon back when Gordon was dominant. He hasn’t won a start since 2016 and is 0 for his last eight. Like McCoy, his experience as a veteran is probably the most valuable thing he brings to the table right now.
19 – Titans QB Malik Willis
This is arguably too low for Willis after the flashes he showed during the preseason. He has a cannon for an arm and runs like a running back. Still, his rawness showed up at other times with his accuracy, timing and penchant to take sacks. It’s important to remember teams run pretty vanilla schemes for the most part during the preseason which plays to Willis’ strengths right now. He might get an opportunity to prove himself as the Titans elected to make him the primary backup to Ryan Tannehill, but the regular season is a different beast.
21 – Falcons QB Desmond Ridder
Just like Willis, Ridder showed a lot of flashes this preseason but also showed why he’s probably not quite ready to start. His accuracy ran hot and cold in college and he was prone to bouts of bad decision-making, and both flaws showed up on his preseason tape.
22- Jets QB Mike White
W/L Record: 1-2
White had a blazing hot streak in his first two starts, throwing for more than 400 yards in an upset win over the eventual AFC champion Bengals and picking up where he left off on the first drive against the Colts the next game. However, White left that game with a weird arm injury and struggled mightily against the Bills the following week with no touchdowns and four interceptions. It’s not clear what exactly the Jets have in White but it’s interesting at least.
23- Chiefs QB Chad Henne
W/L Record: 18-36
Henne is here almost exclusively for his clutch performance in the 2020 divisional round when Patrick Mahomes was knocked out with a concussion and he had to finish off the win with a clutch couple of plays at the end. He hasn’t seen much action aside from that, though the bright side is he hasn’t tossed a regular season interception since 2014.
22 – Buccaneers QB Blaine Gabbert
W/L Record: 13-35
I don’t have much to say about Gabbert, just a couple of humorous notes:
1: Remember when Bruce Arians tried to front that they were totally fine rolling with Gabbert as Brady’s replacement this year?
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) June 15, 2022
25 – Cowboys QB Cooper Rush
W/L Record: 1-0
On one hand, Rush just about lost his backup job to Will Grier this preseason and ended up on the practice squad. On the other, his lone start was an outstanding shootout win against the Vikings where Rush had the game-winning touchdown pass.
26 – Chargers QB Chase Daniel
W/L Record: 2-3
Few players in NFL history have made so much for so little. We haven’t seen much of Daniel in action but the little bit we have seen hasn’t been great.
27 – Broncos QB Brett Rypien
W/L Record: 1-0
Rypien has just one start to his name and it was a mixed bag, with two touchdown passes as well as three interceptions in a win. He’s improved enough behind the scenes since then to survive a coaching staff change, however, and win the backup job this preseason.
28 – Rams QB John Wolford
W/L Record: 1-0
Wolford’s best attributes are his toughness and mobility. He won his only start back in 2020 in a semi-critical game for the Rams. He was not impressive as a passer, though. The Rams like him because his legs give their offense a different dimension and are useful on the scout team.
29 – Dolphins QB Skylar Thompson
Perhaps this is a bit of a precocious ranking for Thompson but he opened eyes this preseason with his play. He completed 75 percent of his passes for 450 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions, forcing Miami to carry him on the active roster as a seventh-round rookie.
Not only was this a defensive pass interference call Skylar Thompson hit Erik Ezukanma perfectly in the hands on a roll out 50 yards in the air. pic.twitter.com/xsIjbDp3Gp
— Jason Sarney (@Jason_Sarney) August 28, 2022
30- Chiefs QB Shane Buechele
Buechele is a personal favorite of mine. He’s similar in a lot of ways to guys like Minshew and Keenum as former Air Raid quarterbacks who aren’t blessed with top-notch physical tools, but are competitive, mobile and can sling it. He also earned a spot on the active roster and could push out Henne eventually.
31 – Commanders QB Sam Howell
The NFL’s 2022 preseason leader in passing yards, Howell definitely turned some heads this summer. He had some hype as a potential No. 1 pick a year ago, but that evaporated after an uneven final college season. The fifth round was probably too low, however, and Howell made a compelling case for that. He’s still a work in progress but he has a lot of similar strengths (and weaknesses) as Heinicke, just with better athletic tools.
32 – Colts QB Sam Ehlinger
Indianapolis decided to keep Ehlinger as a third-string quarterback for fear of losing him to another team. He doesn’t have a strong arm and his accuracy has been scattershot in the past. But he’s tough as nails and HC Frank Reich raves about his football character. At a minimum, the Colts think they have a long-term backup on their hands to develop further behind the older veterans.
Teams with backups not listed:
Bengals QB Brandon Allen: Has stuck around in Cincinnati because he knows the system and is cheap. Career record of 2-7, 10/6 touchdown to interception ratio, 4.91 career ANY/A.
Browns QB Josh Dobbs: A third-stringer pressed into No. 2 duty because of Deshaun Watson’s suspension.
Jaguars QB C.J. Beathard: Had some glimmers of potential as a backup in a Shanahan offense as evidenced by 18-13 TD/INT ratio and 5.34 ANY/A, but his record of 2-10 is dismal.
Lions QB Nate Sudfeld: The Lions new backup after a full offseason and summer of David Blough vs Tim Boyle left them unsatisfied. The most notable moment of Sudfeld’s career so far is when his insertion into a game in the fourth quarter of the regular season finale in 2020 led to tanking allegations against the Eagles.
Raiders QB Jarrett Stidham: Once upon a time, the Patriots tried to sell that Stidham was their legitimate replacement plan for Tom Brady in 2020. He got very limited playing time that season and did not impress with it.
Vikings QB Nick Mullens: Another ex-Shanahan quarterback who might have been propped up by the scheme, Mullens has a career 26-22 TD/INT ratio and ANY/A of 6.19. His record is just 5-12, however.
This Week In Football
- This week is regularly one of the busiest weeks of the NFL calendar year, and the news cycle was spinning out of control with roster cuts and other big moves. As always, you have to start with the quarterbacks and there were two surprising bits of news. The first and biggest surprise was the 49ers reaching a resolution to keep QB Jimmy Garoppolo on a reduced salary as a backup for the 2022 season. This was legitimately shocking, no matter what narratives people may be trying to peddle. Garoppolo wasn’t practicing with the team and didn’t even have a playbook until this week. Trey Lance is the starter, and most of the time when teams move on to the younger guy, they jettison the former. Garoppolo’s injury nuked his trade value, however, and while I and many others expected him to force his release, in the end the key variable here was his willingness to accept a backup role and backup salary — for now. He doesn’t have to adjust to a new scheme or system, and if the opportunity to play presents itself, he can rehab his value ahead of hitting free agency in 2023.
- From the 49ers’ point of view, this preserves their ability to get value out of Garoppolo rather than cutting him and seeing him walk for nothing. They can still trade Garoppolo if the right circumstances align. More importantly, they will be in line to potentially get a compensatory pick, potentially a third or fourth-round selection, when Garoppolo signs elsewhere next offseason. The downside is they have just kept a popular player at the most important position and have risked undercutting Lance in his first season as a starter. He was already going to be under a fair amount of pressure, let alone with Garoppolo still looming on the sideline. If Lance is as good as the 49ers hope, it’s a moot point. But given the way HC Kyle Shanahan manages his players, the odds of Lance getting benched have just gone up exponentially.
- The other surprising quarterback news, albeit less so, was the massive extension inked by Broncos QB Russell Wilson at a value of five years and $245 million. The two sides did the deal quietly, suggesting publicly that it wasn’t a priority until next offseason. In reality, there was no reason for the Broncos to wait after trading what they did for Wilson, and they may have saved themselves money in the long haul. The deal makes Wilson the NFL’s second-highest paid quarterback at $49 million a year, but it notably comes far short of the full guarantees the Browns gave Watson. That deal is looking like an outlier now.
- Meanwhile in Seattle, the Seahawks officially named Geno Smith as Wilson’s replacement as the Week 1 starting quarterback and the opponent Wilson will face in his return to Seattle in Week 1. Smith won a competition against Lock by virtue of being the safer option with more experience in the system. How long he’ll hold onto it is now the question. There is a high chance Lock starts games for Seattle as well this season.
- We’ve had uncommonly good luck this preseason as far as it relates to high-profile players getting severely injured. That is probably going to change as the NFL season kicks into full gear. There’s already been one casualty, as Titans OLB Harold Landry tore his ACL in practice on Wednesday and will miss the entire 2022 season. It’s a big blow for the Titans, as Landry is their best edge rusher and just signed a massive deal this offseason. It’s not a death knell for the Titans’ season or anything but it’s far from ideal.
- In other injury news, the Saints lost first-round OT Trevor Penning to what looks like a pretty severe toe injury. It may seem like a small digit, but for a player who’s trying to anchor against other large men trying to bulldoze him, it’s pretty critical. Penning was expected to play left tackle for New Orleans, and that job will now fall to veteran journeyman James Hurst. Again, not a death knell for the Saints, but this is the type of thing that leaves teams open to catastrophes when multiple players at the same position go down.
- Final roster cuts came and went, and there were a plethora of trades and unexpected cuts. The list of cuts includes:
- OT Alex Leatherwood (Raiders, claimed by Bears)
- RB Sony Michel (Dolphins, signed with Chargers)
- RB Phillip Lindsay (Colts)
- RB Marlon Mack (Texans, re-signed to practice squad)
- RB Trey Sermon (49ers, claimed by Eagles)
- Half the Vikings’ 2021 draft class (literally)
- TE O.J. Howard (Bills, signed with Texans)
- DT Armon Watts (Vikings, claimed by Bears)
- S Anthony Harris (Eagles, re-signed to practice squad)
- Running back is obviously a fungible position, with a number of veterans who aren’t that old but are old in running back years getting the axe — plus Sermon. He and Michel should be able to land on their feet, though, as both the Eagles and Chargers need physical No. 2 backs. New regimes in Las Vegas and Minnesota are cleaning house as well, which is a normal, if cutthroat, way of business in the league.
- In the trade department, there were several interesting deals:
- Eagles traded a fifth and late pick swap for Saints DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson
- Steelers traded for Broncos OLB Malik Reed, swapped late-round picks
- Pittsburgh also traded a conditional 2025 7th for Vikings OL Jesse Davis
- Panthers traded a sixth and seventh for Jaguars WR Laviska Shenault
- Cardinals traded a conditional seventh for Raiders CB Trayvon Mullen
- Vikings swapped late-round picks for Texans DT Ross Blacklock
- Minnesota also sent a fourth that can de-escalate to a fifth and a seventh for Eagles WR Jalen Reagor
- The headliner is Philadelphia’s deal for Gardner-Johnson. It got a lot of attention, partially because Gardner-Johnson is such a bombastic personality, and partially because he’s a solid starter at one of the few remaining weaknesses on the Eagles’ roster. Some media personalities have already started throwing around the Super Bowl as being in the team’s range of outcomes. I’d pump the brakes on that. Gardner-Johnson is good but he’s not the missing piece to push them over the top. The big question with the Eagles remains how good can QB Jalen Hurts be.
- I liked both of Pittsburgh’s moves to get solid veterans to fill positions of need for basically pennies. Arizona’s deal for Mullen is also low-risk/high reward to fill a big need. The two receiver deals are perplexing. I don’t know how trading a mid-round pick for a WR4/returner is a big priority for the Vikings, unless they see Reagor as a possible long-term contributor at receiver. The Panthers didn’t give up as much for Shenault but I’m skeptical that Shenault has a fit as a legit pro receiver. He’s one of those multi-purpose receivers that are all the rage right now, and he’s physical with the ball in his hands. He’s not explosive, though, and the Panthers’ receiving room is actually pretty crowded now.
- In a situation that could have been far, far worse, promising Commanders third-round RB Brian Robinson was held up at gunpoint in an attempted carjacking on Sunday and ended up being shot twice in the leg. Fortunately for him, the bullets apparently missed everything important. Robinson’s prognosis is good and he could be back on the field soon after landing on the non-football injury list which will sideline him four games.
Nickels & Dimes
Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…
Just to understand how rotted the NFL brain is by the pursuit of winning, the Bills were willing to put their head in the sand regarding gange-rape accusations and hope no one ever found out so they could keep their sixth-round punter…
It’s always interesting to go back and look at the undrafted free agent spotlight piece. Some end up working out, sometimes some of the wildest longshots like Falcons WR and former lacrosse star Jared Bernhardt. Meanwhile the guys with all the hype like Chiefs WR Justyn Ross and former Eagles QB Carson Strong rarely seem to live up to it…
For posterity’s sake, five of the 32 UDFAs I highlighted in May ended up making a team: Colts LB JoJo Domann, Commanders TE Armani Rogers, Bernhardt, Patriots S Brenden Schooler and Vikings DE Luiji Vilain…
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson remains unsigned and the current line of thinking is that it’s because he’s asking for the same deal or more than what the Browns gave Watson. The issue is a number of quarterbacks have signed deals since then and all took more conventional guarantee structures. So precedent is not on Jackson’s side…
That’s led to another round of folks saying Jackson needs to quit fooling around and hire an agent to represent him so he can get signed already. I actually don’t think he needs to do that. Jackson can regain leverage by playing out his deal and forcing the Ravens to either meet his demands or use the franchise tag. Baltimore can only realistically tag him twice, meaning Jackson could hit unrestricted free agency in 2025 when he’s still only 28. If the Ravens won’t give him a fully-guaranteed deal, odds are some other team will…
Jackson does take on some injury risk by doing this. He is tackled more than most quarterbacks, though there’s an argument to be made he’s actually avoiding more contact as a runner than he would inside the pocket where he can’t protect himself as well. Jackson himself will point out he was hurt last year while inside the pocket. Regardless, I think the case of Dak Prescott proves the injury threshold to see a loss of value in a quarterback is pretty high. His deal was almost unaffected. Anything can happen on a football field but I think there’s a case to be made that Jackson’s taking an acceptable level of risk if the difference ends up being $100 million in guarantees…
While we’re on the subject of the Ravens, they stretched their preseason win streak to an amazing 23 games. They haven’t lost an exhibition match since 2015. Anecdotally, I always feel like the Ravens roster is annually one of the deepest, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. Could explain it…
I’m hopeful the trend of fewer injuries this preseason continues, and that NFL teams have made real progress with their sports science and load management programs to keep their best players healthy. There’s no way to know for sure until a few more years of data come in. It also means the early-season wave of injuries is going to come as a shock to the system, and I hope teams don’t overreact and worry that they weren’t conditioned enough. There’s no getting around the fact that football is a brutal game and injuries are going to happen. It’s better for everyone if fewer of them happen before Labor Day…