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Who are the best backup QBs in the NFL?

Only 16 starting jobs are locked down. With uncertainty in the draft, there is real potential for some of these backups to elevate. Here are my Top 10 QB2 guys.

Backup QBs are more relevant now than ever before

The Rams and Bengals face off in the Super Bowl this Sunday - Stafford vs Burrow. Both of these quarterbacks have proven to be incredible. But what if something happened? Sure, this has always been a possibility with a game as physical as football. But no multi-million dollar Left Tackle can save these QBs from a positive COVID test. Who knows what the pandemic rules will be like next season, but surely, coaches and GMs have learned how important the backup role is at the QB position. What would the Rams’ chances of a Lombardi Trophy be if John Wolford had to take the reins? Backup QBs went roughly 21-61 when called upon this year. When you can potentially make the playoffs with 9 wins, and with COVID sidelining players with such frequency, the idea of a competent backup is like an insurance policy you can’t live without.

It’s hard to play well as a backup QB

I was a backup QB for 3 years in college. I loved our team and our starter. I always wanted him to be successful, despite the starving desire to play that every competitor has. There were a few instances where I had to go in due to injury. I felt ready, I played okay, but we still lost some of those games. I would imagine most NFL backups are ready to go, both physically and mentally. However, the lack of reps and chemistry with the 1st team - that can hold you back quite a bit. When comparing the 35 or so backups I looked at for this article, two concepts kept swinging back through my brain: experience and playmaking ability.

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No backup QB is in control of their opportunities

We’ve seen it and we didn’t like it. You never want the guy in front of you to get hurt. You don’t plan to get scrub time because your team is getting blown out. But when that opportunity comes, you better be ready. These opportunities are rare and come with a short leash. I mentioned that experience and playmaking ability are essential to a good backup - some experiences are simply proof that you’re not the guy. We saw that this year with Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm. The Giants were bad, but those guys definitely didn’t do much to help. There were a handful of guys that fit this bill when I looked through this year’s list.

Every GM hopes that nobody ever knows who their backup QB is

Who are you? When the starting QB stays healthy and does his job, the backup lives a simple, quiet life - collecting a paycheck while enjoying the ride. Almost half of the 2021 backup QBs never saw substantial time this year - which is great for those franchises. Most of them are going to be left off of my Top 10 list for now. It is nothing against them or their potential - we simply don’t know who they are.

10. Andy Dalton

Eleven years in the league definitely check the experience box. He’s the kind of guy that boosts your QB room and is capable of managing a game if you need him to - especially if you have other playmakers on offense. He may not be able to make many plays himself, but he can comfortably manipulate the defense pre-snap and find ways to get your studs the ball. Dalton is now a free agent; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go to a significantly better team as an upgraded insurance policy.

9. Mason Rudolph

I know a lot of people hate on Mason Rudolph. I was really high on him out of college and I was overjoyed when he went to the Steelers. He has actually had some really good moments, but the bad moments have been unforgettable. Regardless, he has been learning from a Hall of Fame Coach and a Hall of Fame QB for four seasons now. He actually has a career Passer Rating of 80.9, which is higher than a handful of starters this season. I see him staying in Pittsburgh and truly competing for the job. Maybe he remains a semi-competent backup or maybe he earns his way to being “the guy” for the first time since his 4 year starter career at Oklahoma State.

8. Jordan Love

I was not big on Jordan Love going into the draft. I was shocked when the Packers traded up to take him in the first round. That decision obviously caused a lot of friction with future Hall of Fame QB1. I still don’t understand it, but Nathaniel Hackett and Matt Lafleur have always seemed pretty smart to me, so I trust their judgment. He always had the size and raw skills. I imagine the Packers have made him a lot better than he was at UCLA. It was interesting that we heard a lot about Rodgers going to Denver, but now that Hackett is the new Bronco HC, the rumor is Rodgers is going to stay in Green Bay. Would Hackett be interested in trading for Love if he can’t get Rodgers? If there is no interest there, that tells us a lot about Jordan Love.

7. Drew Lock

Teddy Bridgewater surprised everyone when he won the starting job at the end of training camp last season. I have been a Drew Lock fan since his respectable days as a 4 year starter at Missouri. He came in swinging at the tail end of his rookie season, rattling off 4 wins in 5 games. However, he has since gone 4-12 as a starter. The 2020 season was a little wonky for both him and the Broncos, so I have some grace there -especially since I am bias with my surplus or Drew Lock investments. But he definitely did not prove that he was better than Teddy Bridgewater, who is a bit of weak starter as is. All of that being said, Lock is a gunslinger. That gets him in trouble from time to time, but he also generates some great plays when he gets it right. He has the experience and the ability, but he has earned his way to a backup role for now. How juicy would a Lock-Love trade be?

6. Marcus Mariota

The former Heisman started the 2019 with 5 games straight without an interception, notching 7 TD passes along the way. In Week 6, he threw two picks, got pulled, and we have not heard much from him since. In fact, he has only thrown 32 passes since then. However, he has ran the ball 22 times over the last two seasons with an average of 8.3 ypc. He’s only 28 years old and seems to still have the playmaking ability that had teams drooling over him in 2015. He has been pretty average as a passer, which is why he is on the list of backups instead of starters, but I do believe him to be a very competent option if a team were to need his services. He has 4+ years of starting experience and still runs a 4.5. He too is a free agent, and I would not be surprised if he gets a decent offer by a decent team.

5. Mitchell Trubisky

I don’t want to talk too much about this guy because I just published an in depth article about him last week, but him becoming a backup had a lot to do with the issues in Chicago’s leadership. We didn’t get to see Trubisky in the 2021 season, but I have a hunch he is going to get another solid backup role for 2022. Whether he stays with the Bills or follows his OC to New York, there are several places that make sense for him to choose. I see him remaining a backup going into the year, but he is a guy I would be comfortable throwing out there if QB1 went down.

4. Tyrod Taylor

Has anyone ever had worse luck in their career? He seems to go from team to team, leading well, only to be injured to open the door for a young up and comer. For whatever reason, the Bills did not want him in 2017, benching him for Nathan Peterman, who infamously threw for 5 interceptions in the FIRST HALF of his first start. Taylor went to Cleveland in 2018, where he hurt is back early in the season, opening the door for Baker mania. In 2020, he started the season only to have a medical mishap puncture his lung before the game in Week 2. Justin Herbert was born. He goes to Houston in 2021 where DeShaun Watson sits out on his own volition. He starts the season, gets hurt, insert Davis Mills. What a wild story. But could his misfortunes be what keeps him relevant for a longer period of time? There is absolutely no doubt in my mind the dude can still play, which is an obvious perk. But the fact that he has been able to lead a QB room to support and develop these young quarterbacks - man he belongs on a roster. I predict he follows former coach Anthony Lynn to San Francisco where he can back up and develop young stud Trey Lance. I can see him staying in Houston too, where the starting job is not far out of reach, and there is work to be done with Davis Mills.

3. Gardner Minshew

Luck hasn’t been on Minshew’s side either. The Jaguars were pretty bad when he inherited the team in 2019 after a Nick Foles injury. As a 6th round pick rookie, he led the Jaguars to 6-7, which is pretty respectable when you realize the Jaguars organization has only won 8 games without Minshew since 2017. He missed some time with injury in 2020, then sat behind Mike Glennon as the team seemed to tank for the #1 pick in the 2021 draft. With Trevor Lawrence coming to town, Minshew was clear that he was determined to compete for the starting job. Nobody in the Duval front office wanted to hear that. Minshew eventually found himself traded to Philly, where Jalen Hurts has the job secured for now. He did get a couple opportunities, and he took full advantage. He completed 68.3% of his passes while generating a 104.8 Passer Rating. Minshew is a gunslinger, but more than that, he is a true competitor that any team wants in their locker room. He can make plays and has more experience than most. If there were 35 teams in the league, I think Minshew would be fighting for a starting job somewhere. He has never done anything to cost him that chance.

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2. Trey Lance

In all likelihood, Trey Lance is going to start for the 49ers next season. He is supremely talented, although he has not logged much experience since high school. It seems to be a bold move to me, but the 49ers seemed confident when they traded up to #3 to get him and they never really seemed to waiver. I wasn’t real impressed with any of his performances this year, but the ability to make plays is clearly there and clearly special. I have full faith in Kyle Shanahan to build the offense around him, using assets like Deebo Samuel and George Kittle to give him safe reads while also looking for opportunities to run.

1. Tyler Huntley

Remember when he didn’t get invited to the 2020 NFL Combine? I do. I bet he remembers too. I always do a series or video on our YouTube channel about each QB Class and I was mind blown when we weren’t going to get to see him run the 40. You can see all my deep research on that video here, but it’s safe to say that I was excited to see him get an opportunity. The Ravens played the Bears the week after Lamar got injured, and I remember telling my good friend Jake from Indy Card Exchange that Tyler Huntley was the most similar player to Lamar Jackson in the league. Jake had reason to doubt. When he went in for Lamar, he only completed 5 of 11 passes for 39 yards as the Ravens got smoked by the Bengals. Starting with Chicago, Huntley went on to complete 66% of his passes through the remainder of the season. He also rushed 47 times and averaged 6.3 yards a pop. I believe Tyler Huntley is a backup QB, but backing up Lamar in the Ravens offense built for that playstyle - that makes him the most dangerous backup QB in the league. I hope he stays right there in Baltimore. It would make a lot of sense for the Ravens to conserve Lamar (when they achieve a comfortable lead of course) by putting Huntley in a little sooner than most teams insert their backups. Huntley also gives the Ravens the opportunity to let Lamar fully heal when little injuries pop up, instead of letting them lag into a series of weeks where he can’t play to his full potential.

A note about who we left off the backup Quarterback list

I left Teddy B and Jimmy G off this list because they started the season with the job and will probably land a job next season too. I will also admit that Case Keenum probably belongs on this list, but I didn’t feel right bumping Andy Dalton - he’s just too safe to have as a backup option. Jacoby Brissett is another name that I skipped over. He is also competent. Could my bias of Mason Rudolph and Drew Lock have played a part in leaving them out? Probably, but it’s my list!

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