There are some very talented and prolific quarterbacks that are playing as backups these days in the NFL. On the other end of the spectrum, some teams have unknown athletes just moments away from seeing playing time.
The NFL also has teams that seemingly don’t need to worry about backups at the quarterback position. You don’t expect guys like Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan to go down. But the same could have been said for Tom Brady a few years ago. Things happen. And guys either go down from injuries or get suspended and sidelined.
Unfortunately, it seems some teams don’t plan for those terrible scenarios and their ranking reflects that. Some teams just either don’t want to spend the time or money on developing depth at the quarterback position. Some teams have their star athlete and let an unknown and young kid sit nervously behind him on the bench. It’s terrible and could ruin a teams’ chances at a successful season.
Backup quarterbacks are of the utmost importance in this league. Without a solid signal caller and decision maker, teams can be left floundering around for years, like the Cleveland Browns. Every team has at least one backup quarterback listed on its depth chart, but how many of those are reliable. It may be less than you think.
Here, we take a look at the backup quarterbacks in the league team by team and rank them. We’ll start with the worst and finish with the organization who is setup best for that worst-case scenario.
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32 OAKLAND RAIDERS: MATT McGLOIN, CONNOR COOK
The Oakland Raiders know more than anyone after this season why it’s important to have good backup options even though the starter will no doubt be the starter for years to come. Derek Carr started every game for the Raiders almost through his entire first three seasons. But an injury late in the year last year forced him to miss the final game and the playoffs.
Had Oakland been better prepared for this, they might not have wasted a playoff berth following a 12-win regular season under Carr. Both Matt McGloin and Connor Cook are way too young to be considered a valuable bench. Their youth and inexperience ranks them near the worst in the league for backup quarterbacks.
31 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: TREVONE BOYKIN
The Seahawks depth at quarterback will probably get better this offseason, but it looks quite rough as of now. Trevone Boykin has just one season of experience, and just about all of that experience came on the practice field.
Of course, no one expects anyone other than Russell Wilson to run this offense. Wilson has been a three-time Pro Bowl selection and has won a Super Bowl. He’s even started every game since he started with Seattle in 2012.
But that doesn’t mean Seattle should plan as if Wilson was going to play in every game next season. If he were to go down, Boykin is going to be shell-shocked, which could ruin the team’s chances at another playoff run. The Seahawks need to get some veteran talent for their bench, or the city of Seattle could be in for a rude awakening.
30 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: CHASE DANIEL
Carson Wentz didn’t do terrible in his first season, but the way the Eagles used him it makes a lot wonder if he’ll have the stamina to keep up. Wentz did manage to go 7-9 as he was forced to play every single game. Even more surprising, he started out in the NFL with a 3-0 record.
But Philadelphia wore him down. He was throwing the ball far too often. Heck, one game against Cincinnati he had 60 passing attempts. His 607 passing attempts set a franchise record and was the second highest number for a rookie in league history. Those numbers are kind of scary for a rookie quarterback.
You’d hope with those numbers that the Eagles would have a veteran starter backing him up. But all they have at this point is Chase Daniel. Daniel has just 78 passing attempts in NFL regular season action, and just two games started through his seven-year career.
29 GREEN BAY PACKERS: BRETT HUNDLEY, JOE CALLAHAN
Green Bay is set in its ways with Aaron Rodgers, and it’s obvious by looking at the Packers young backup quarterbacks. But that’s fair. The only season Rodgers didn’t have a winning record was his first season taking over the team. Since, he’s been among the league’s best quarterbacks. If he ever gets injured though, the Packers are in for a shock.
Next up in line is the unproven Brett Hundley. The Packers drafted him last year in the fifth round probably hoping he could grow into an NFL-ready quarterback behind Rodgers. But he’s definitely not NFL ready just yet. And Callahan hasn’t seen any regular season playing time and has been on and off the waiver wire for his entire career.
28 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: SCOTT TOLZIEN
The Indianapolis Colts are in desperate need of adding another quarterback to the roster. Of course, the Colts are set with Andrew Luck being their starter. He’s been the face of the franchise and barring any major injury, he’ll be the main guy in Indianapolis for many years to come.
But as of now, the Colts only have one guy backing up Luck. That man is Scott Tolzien, who seems better suited as a third string guy for the depth chart. Tolzien has barely seen any meaningful playing time in his brief, four-year career. Colts fans should be worried about this situation as it currently stands. The Colts either need to draft someone to fill the void or shell out some money to get a veteran added to the roster.
27 NEW YORK GIANTS: RYAN NASSIB, JOSH JOHNSON
Since 2005, Eli Manning has not missed a game for the Giants and he has started each one of those games. It seems Manning has it figured out, he knows how to avoid injuries that would force him out of the game. But as Manning continues to age, at some point it is getting more likely that he will be forced to miss some time. If/when that time comes, the Giants have Ryan Nassib and Josh Johnson waiting.
In two years, Nassib has thrown the ball 10 times in regular-season game action. It doesn’t mean much, but he did complete nine of those passes. In total, he’s seen just five games (not including preseason) in the NFL. Then there is Johnson. The only reason he was active last season was because Nassib was injured.
As of now, it doesn’t look like the Giants ever intend on utilizing any other quarterback than Manning, and their ranking reflects that.
26 DENVER BRONCOS: PAXTON LYNCH
The Denver Broncos need to add some depth to the quarterback position. Although the Broncos are not the worst in the league in terms of quarterback depth, they’re scaring fans with their depth chart. Denver has two really young guys set up to play the most important position on the field.
Trevor Siemian spent his first season starting last year, and that was just his second year in the league. He was selected to be an alternate for the Pro Bowl, but an injury that kept him out of the final two games also kept him out of the Pro Bowl. Entering the starting lineup was Paxton Lynch.
Lynch is an unproven quarterback who has less time in the league compared to Siemian. The Broncos should be worried about their youth and lack of depth here. Lynch, a rookie last season, went 1-1 in the two games started but that’s nothing to be hopeful for in the future.
25 BALTIMORE RAVENS: RYAN MALLETT
The Ravens are among the list of teams heavily relying on their starter, Joe Flacco. You can’t blame them. Flacco has brought the team a Super Bowl win and has played and started in just about every game in his nine-year career. Flacco has been a reliable and consistent quarterback in Baltimore.
The Ravens should look into drafting a quarterback this year though because their backup situation is bleak. Ryan Mallett has four seasons to account for in the NFL, but he’s struggled quite a bit during that time. He has stared eight games and even spent a year behind Tom Brady (though he didn’t play that year), but his production has been terrible. The Ravens should really look into getting another backup in case the aging Flacco goes down.
24 DETROIT LIONS: DAN ORLOVSKY, JAKE RUDOCK
Except for his first two seasons, Matthew Stafford has not missed a game. The Lions seem set with their starter, and there’s no reason to expect the backup would be tossed into the equation. If they have to move to one of their backup quarterbacks, Dan Orlovsky would be first up to the field. Orlovsky has been around the NFL since he started in 2005 with the Lions. However, he’s only played in 27 games and he’s started just 12 of those games. He’s been on five different teams through his career.
Jake Ruddock, on the other hand, was drafted in the sixth round last year. He doesn’t have any professional experience and doesn’t seem like he’d jump into action with success. There are other teams with worst backups in the league, but Detroit shouldn’t be happy with its backup situation.
23 CLEVELAND BROWNS: CODY KESSLER, JOSH McCOWN, KEVIN HOGAN
The Browns have been a team that rotates through quarterbacks more than just about everyone else in the league. On the teams’ official website, there isn’t currently a depth chart listed. So, the best guess at this point is that Robert Griffin III will be the initial starter. Though the draft and preseason games will most likely change that.
The Browns will probably end up dropping one or two of their current backups, but for the purposes of this list we’ll rank them as is. Cody Kessler, who played in his first year last season, might not be a terrible backup as he started eight games. But he lost each one of those. Josh McCown has been a backup mostly since 2003, but he has started 60 games. But he lost 42 of those. And Kevin Hogan has just one season under his belt with not much playing time.
All in all, the Cleveland backups do have a fair amount of experience. But that experience is littered with losses. They’re not the worst in the league, but they’re nowhere near being considered good.
22 NEW YORK JETS: CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG, BRYCE PETTY, GENO SMITH
The most consistent starter for the Jets last season was Ryan Fitzpatrick. Who knows if he’ll start out next season as the starter, or if he’ll move to the backup role. But for this list, he’s not considered as a backup as the Jets have him listed as the official starter.
And it’s tough for the Jets backup rotation because two of their guys are currently listed on injured reserve – Geno Smith and Bryce Petty. So even if they are able to return to full health for next season, you really can’t consider them very reliable.
That leaves us with Christian Hackenberg, who was inactive for the first 15 games in his rookie season last year. Hackenberg was drafted No. 51 and had a good collegiate career. But he’s unproven in the NFL and had a very shaky preseason showing. So, the Jets can’t place much value in the depth at quarterback these days.
21 LOS ANGELES RAMS: CASE KEENUM, SEAN MANNION
It’s not good when your primary backup was a failed starter just a year earlier. It’s also not good when that backup is working behind an unproven rookie. Jared Goff was terrible last year and was 0-7 as a starter for the Rams. He only threw five touchdowns and paired that with seven interceptions. So, Case Keenum, the Rams original failed starter might get another chance next season.
But that shouldn’t make Rams fans happy. Keenum had his chance and failed. Although Keenum won some games, his stats weren’t much better than Goff’s. And then you have Sean Mannion, who has thrown the ball just 13 times in regular season games.
Without a doubt, the Rams quarterback situation needs some help.
20 LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: KELLEN CLEMENS
A large majority of fans would be surprised after finding out Kellen Clemens has been in the NFL since 2006 and has been backing up Phillip Rivers for the last three seasons. Clemens has started 21 games in his career, but hasn’t seen much action behind Rivers.
Since Rivers took over the starting job back in 2006, he hasn’t missed a game. He is getting older now, so Clemens might begin to see more action. But that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the Chargers. It wouldn’t be good either, though. Clemens is 8-13 as a starter, but has thrown 16 touchdowns vs. 20 interceptions. The good thing is he is a NFL veteran and knows the Chargers offense.
But it would be smart for the Chargers to draft a young guy at quarterback to begin learning the offense.
19 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: LUKE McCOWN
The last 14 seasons have been very consistent for Drew Brees, and in the last 10 on the Saints, he’s missed just two games. So, it’s almost surprising that New Orleans needs a backup at all. But Brees is 37. Who knows how much he has left. Yeah, his stats are still awesome, but his body might not be able to compete much longer.
No doubt the Saints will add some youth to their depth chart this offseason, but for now Luke McCown brings a veteran face to the bench. McCown has been around the league since 2004 and has played for the Saints during the last three seasons. He’s not a guy that will ever see a consistent starting gig, but he’s not bad for those worst-case scenarios.
18 MINNESOTA VIKINGS: SHAUN HILL, TAYLOR HEINICKE
Sam Bradford will almost certainly begin the season as the Vikings quarterback. He’s proven he deserves a starting spot in his short career. Though, he’s also proven to be streaky at times. He’s just one stretch of losses away from getting benched (however, it would be more likely he’d see the bench because of injuries).
Minnesota’s backups are Shaun Hill and Taylor Heinicke. While Heinicke is very young and unproven, Hill has been playing since 2005 and is a good backup quarterback who won’t be gaining a consistent starter spot, but can fill in if needed. With that, the Vikings aren’t in too bad of shape.
17 WASHINGTON REDSKINS: COLT McCOY, NATE SUDFELD
Since becoming a starter a couple years ago, the Redskins have not needed to worry about a backup to Kirk Cousins. He’s started all 32 regular season games, and he’s been reliable at the helm of the offense. The Redskins better hope that Cousins remains their signal caller because it’s pretty dreary looking on their depth chart.
Colt McCoy is a notorious loser when it comes to his NFL starts. He boasts a 7-18 record, which includes going 1-3 for the Redskins in 2014. Of course, he did play with the Redskins when they were struggling and he started on the ever-struggling Cleveland Browns. So maybe there is still hope for McCoy. And at least he does have a good amount of experience in the league. All that can be said for Washington’s third string guy, Nate Sudfeld, is that he played good enough in college to be drafted in the sixth round last year.
16 HOUSTON TEXANS: TOM SAVAGE, BRANDON WEEDEN
Brock Osweiler seems to be solidified as the Texans starter, but he doesn’t have a long track record in the league. So, these backups may be more likely to see playing time then some of the other quarterbacks showing up on this list. Though, that may not be a good thing for Houston.
Tom Savage filled in for Osweiler last season for a couple of starts and came out with a 1-1 record. He didn’t throw any touchdowns, but he also didn’t throw any interceptions (he also completed 63 percent of his passes). While Brandon Weeden has played in 34 games, but has seen little success. But that’s really good experience for a third-string guy who is not likely to see the field next year.
15 CHICAGO BEARS: BRIAN HOYER, MATT BARKLEY, DAVID FALES, CONNOR SHAW
Jay Cutler is another starter on the list who will almost certainly miss games in any given season. There were just three seasons where he appeared in every game, and that hasn’t happened in the last seven years. That must be why the Bears have a slew of guys backing him up, though they’ll probably get rid of at least one before the start of next season.
Brian Hoyer has the most experience in the group and lifts the Bears backup status to a higher level. He’s 16-15 as a starter and even had a 7-6 record one year with the Browns. He did however, go 1-4 last season with the Bears. The other three guys don’t have much experience, but it’s not likely they’ll be seeing the field much next year anyways. Still, they get factored into the rankings. Hoyer raises them while the rest lower them down making them an average backup squad.
14 ARIZONA CARDINALS: DREW STANTON, ZAC DYSERT
The good news for Cardinals fans, if the aging Carson Palmer goes down, the fill-in quarterback still has David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald to work with. Palmer will be 38 next year, and even when he was young he had a history of missing games. So, it’s not unlikely that the Cardinals bench will see some action next season.
Drew Stanton would be called first and he’s been in the league since 2008. He’s only played in 33 games and has started in just 13 (though those numbers might seem high, he’s only attempted 500 passes). He does have an 8-5 record as a starter, which is better than a lot of backups can say, while Zac Dysert hasn’t done anything, he has two guys he can learn a lot from.
13 BUFFALO BILLS: EJ MANUEL, CARDALE JONES
The Bills have an interesting set of quarterbacks behind their starter, Tyrod Taylor. They’ve got EJ Manuel, who is seemingly a failed starter in the NFL. And they’ve got Cardale Jones, a relatively unproven quarterback, even at the collegiate level.
Taylor isn’t solely a rushing quarterback, but he’s none to scramble out of that pocket often, making him a target for injury. Whenever you got a quarterback that will run – in the season finally against Miami he rushed 12 times – you’ve got a recipe for injury.
Knowing this, the Bills aren’t in the best position, but they’re not hurting for backup talent either. Manuel has four seasons under his belt with a total of 17 games started. If Taylor goes down, the Bill are safe in knowing they have a guy who understands their offense and can keep his poise. And who knows, Jones may surprise you if he ever gets thrown into action.
12 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: CHAD HENNE, BRANDON ALLEN
Jacksonville doesn’t seemingly need to worry about a backup quarterback, but the Jaguars are in a good position if they need to call up the bench. Currently, Blake Bortles has been playing quite well despite Jacksonville’s losing ways. Next up in line is a man who spent time running the offense previously.
Chad Henne, though he might not be considered a good starting quarterback, has ample time starting in the league and has even spent considerable time running the Jacksonville offense. Not many things would change for the Jaguars if Henne were tossed onto the field as he’s started 22 games already during his four years with the team. Brandon Allen was drafted in the sixth round last year by the Steelers before getting traded to Jacksonville. So, the Jaguars most have seen at least something good from the young quarterback.
11 CINCINNATI BENGALS: AJ McCARRON, JEFF DRISKEL
Although Andy Dalton has started in all but three games through his six-year career, the Bengals are better suited than other teams that have a similar type of starting quarterback. For Bengals fans, it should be good seeing that their team is preparing for a potential worst-case scenario at the quarterback position. But Cincinatti partly got lucky with its backup situation.
Immediately behind Dalton is AJ McCarron, who has proved to show up in a big way when needed. You wouldn’t expect that from a fifth-round draft pick, but McCarron took over and went 2-1 in those three games Dalton missed. He tossed 854 yards, six touchdowns and just two interceptions. Not that the Bengals need a third guy at quarterback, but they’re also grooming Jeff Driskel, who was drafted last year in the sixth round by the 49ers.
10 PITTSBURGH STEELERS: LANDRY JONES, ZACH METTENBERGER
The Steelers are among the top teams in the league that are in need of a backup quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger has played in all 16 games just twice in his career. That’s scary for the organization. That’s scary for fans. That’s even scarier for Roethlisberger, who knows its almost certain he won’t make it through an entire season. At some point, surely, there’s going to be some reason he has to miss some games.
That leaves the Steelers with Landry Jones and Zach Mettenberger. Mettenberger, though currently third on the depth chart, has more starting experience in the NFL. Though, in the 10 games he’s started, he’s lost every one of them. That was in Tennessee though, not Pittsburgh. Landry is 2-2 as a starter when he’s been implemented for Pittsburgh’s offense.
These two aren’t the best backup in the league. But they’re a heck of a lot better than a lot of the guys out there.
9 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: BLAINE GABBERT, CHRISTIAN PONDER, THADDEUS LEWIS
As the roster currently sits, the 49ers have four guys who have been starters as well as bench warmers. Colin Kaepernick leads the way for now, but who knows how long that is going to last. But as much as a mess the quarterback situation is here, the 49ers have a bench that a lot of teams dream about.
Blaine Gabbert went 9-31 as a starter, but he has been in San Francisco for the past three seasons. He may not be considered a good quarterback, but he’s reliable. Christian Ponder once led Minnesota to a 10-6 record. For a third-string quarterback, that’s really good. Then there’s Thaddeus Lewis, who isn’t starter-caliber, but can run an offense for a few games if he is needed.
8 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: MIKE GLENNON, RYAN GRIFFIN
Tampa Bay has a solid 2-3 punch from quarterbacks on the bench. Although these guys would be bench warmers everywhere else, they’re good at what they do. Jameis Winston isn’t going anywhere unless he suffers from an injury. Winston has been really, really good since joining the league and has played in every game.
But if that awful day comes when Winston needs to be carted off the field, the Buccaneers still have a shot at winning with either of their backups. Not many teams can confidently use both of their backup quarterbacks, but Tampa Bay is one of them.
Mike Glennon has been in the league for three years and Ryan Griffin has played for the past four seasons. Both have seen time in the starting position. And although neither guy has put up great numbers, they proved they can run an offense if needed for a short time.
7 MIAMI DOLPHINS: MATT MOORE, TJ YATES
Ryan Tannehill is no doubt the Dolphins guy behind center. They would like to see him ride out his entire career in Miami and that’s a respectable decision given his time in the league. Plus, before last season he had started every game since being drafted. It seemed the Dolphins wouldn’t need to worry about their depth at the quarterback position.
However, Tannehill missed the final three games last season because of a knee injury. That’s scary for Dolphins fans because Tannehill may tweak that knee at any time and need some relief from the bench. Behind him, there’s Matt Moore and then TJ Yates. Moore is someone considered as a veteran backup. He’s been in the league since 2007 and doesn’t see much meaningful action. Yates is much of the same but has less time in the league.
But each of these backups has time at the starting position and has ample time practicing in the NFL. Moore even went 2-1 in the final three games last season. So, if Tannehill continues to struggle with injuries, Dolphins fans shouldn’t be worried.
6 CAROLINE PANTHERS: DEREK ANDERSON, JOE WEBB
Having experience on the bench elevates a team. When that experience has made a bad team good, then you know you’re in a good spot. Carolina hasn’t needed to utilize its bench that much since Cam Newton has been in the league. But if they have to, Derek Anderson is ready to helm the offense.
Anderson has been a Pro Bowl selection and too the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs in 2007. Of course, Anderson is on the bench because he failed to put up those numbers again, but he’s been learning the Panthers offense for the last six seasons. He’s 2-2 whenever starting for the Panthers. And if somehow the third string quarterback needs to play, Joe Webb has three seasons with the Panthers and wouldn’t spoil the offensive rhythm too much.
5 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: NICK FOLES, TYLER BRAY
For Kansas City, the fans are almost happier about their backups rather than their starting quarterback. Alex Smith has been winning, but he often fails to score when his team needs it most. But he is still better than the backups waiting behind him, which means he’ll still be starting for the Chiefs next season.
If Smith goes down, Nick Foles would be the next guy up. Foles isn’t great, but he’s shown flashes of greatness. In fact, he was a Pro Bowl selection in 2013 when he tossed 27 touchdowns against two interceptions (he started just 10 games that season). Foles would be considered a starter on some teams in the league. Tyler Bray, the third stringer, shouldn’t expect to see the field but he’s got a good couple of veteran quarterbacks to learn from when he does get that chance.
4 ATLANTA FALCONS: MATT SCHAUB
For as good as Matt Ryan has been for Atlanta, it’s surprising that the team has a solid backup in place. Not having a third-string guy at the moment hurts the team, but not much. Ryan has not missed a game since his second year in the league. That means Ryan has 112 consecutive regular season starts. And he’s been very good during just about that entire stretch, so there hasn’t been any need for a backup.
But Ryan is getting old and eventually that wear and tear is going to force him out of a game or two. It’s not the best situation, but at least the Falcons have an almost equally experienced quarterback on the bench. Matt Schaub has a career 47-45 record and would be a starter on a lot of teams. Although he’s the only backup, he makes the Falcons quarterback depth chart one of the best in the league.
3 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: JIMMY GAROPPOLO, JACOBY BRISSETT
New England has an interesting scenario going on, as they have for years. Tom Brady, no questions asked, is the Patriots starter as long as he wants to continue lining up under center. Since Brady has been the starter for one of the league’s most hated teams, there’s been rare appearances by the backups. But it has happened and those backups have shined.
A lot of it is due to the offensive scheme. Any time a player goes down, Belichik plugs the next guy up and they always get the job down. The offense never seems to miss a beat. This past season, Tom Brady was suspended for the first four weeks and the Patriots didn’t even seem to notice. The Patriots went 2-0 with Jimmy Garoppolo and then he got injured.
But it didn’t matter. The team then plugged in the unheard of Jacoby Brissett and as a starter he managed to win a game, even though he did lose one to Buffalo.
So, whether it’s the backups talent or Belichik’s brain, the backup situation in New England will always remain near the top.
2 TENNESSEE TITANS: MATT CASSEL, ALEX TANNEY
Because Marcus Mariota’s injury, a broken right fibula, came so late last season, he may not be fully ready to compete in training camp. However, with the success he’s had, it’s likely he’ll have a spot waiting for him on the field for Week 1. Although Matt Cassel finished the season as the starter, he is considered the backup because of Mariota’s control over the offense.
Cassel has had a solid career with some really good seasons and some bad seasons. But that makes him a great backup quarterback. He has a lot of experience and he’s failed, so he’s not concerned with riding the bench. Alex Tanney is more of a backup option with only a chance at seeing the field because of Mariota’s injury, but he doesn’t add much value to the Titans depth. However, Cassel is still one of the better backups in the league.
1 DALLAS COWBOYS: TONY ROMO, MARK SANCHEZ, KELLEN MOORE
Though there was a bit of brief controversy, Dak Prescott was the undoubted starter of the Cowboys for the entirety of last season. And he was fun to watch. But if Prescott went down, the Cowboys have immense talent on the bench. For starters, Tony Romo has proven to be pretty good in the NFL and has shown, at times, that he can be really good. If he remains on the Cowboys bench next year, the Cowboys will continue to have the best backups in the league.
Even if he doesn’t, they’ll still remain near the top because of Mark Sanchez. Sanchez, though he wasn’t a great starting quarterback, has a better track record than most backups in the league. He was just overly scrutinized playing for the Jets. And Kellen Moore hasn’t proved anything in the league, but he has started a couple of games. Not bad for a fourth-string guy.
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