The NFL season is finally upon us! Well the preseason at least. While we all love to watch Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady slinging it around the field, we are often forced to settle for watching unheralded quarterbacks (often asking ourselves, who is this guy?) attempt to live out their dream of making an NFL roster. This is also what makes preseason so great though isn’t it? If it weren’t for preseason performances, we may never have heard of Kurt Warner or Tony Romo. This is the time of year that underdog stories dominate the headlines and we gather hopes that our favorite team has found a hidden gem just waiting to be given his chance to shine.
As enticing as it is to change the channel from the game to that episode of Pawn Stars (that you’ve probably already seen) after the starters are pulled from the game, don’t do it! It will be worth it to say that you watched the next big star quarterback excel in that meaningless preseason game years ago and knew right then that he was going to be a star. It will also make you sound like an expert scout in your office watercooler football debates!
This list provides a quick reference of the top 15 most intriguing backup quarterbacks to keep your eye on this season. These are guys that could one day be starters, be it for their current team, or getting an opportunity elsewhere. So sit back, open a beer, and watch the drama for depth-chart position unfold during those “meaningless” preseason third and fourth quarters.
15. Mike Bercovici – San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers have a steady stable of arms right now, with Phillip Rivers ready to roll in his 13th season and veteran Kellen Clemens sitting behind him on the depth chart. The Bolts also claimed Zach Mettenberger off of waivers this offseason (reuniting him with his former head-coach and current Chargers OC Ken Whisenhunt). But undrafted free agent Mike Bercovici has the potential to make a case for a roster spot.
Bercovici (known as “Berco”) is a gunslinger. Playing in a spread offense at Arizona State University, Berco put up huge numbers in his time as starter. In a little over a year and a half as starter at ASU, Bercovici threw for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns, including a 510 yard, 5 touchdown performance against USC in his first career start (actually winning that game on a hail-mary). He also has good mobility, rushing for 6 touchdowns as well. He achieved these stats while simultaneously attending ASU’s Law School after completing his undergraduate course work early. The kid clearly has the smarts to run an NFL offense.
Although a long-shot to make the roster and being a likely practice squad candidate, if Bercovici can play free and confident as he did in college, it will be difficult to deny him a spot on a team with an aging starting quarterback. Plus his girlfriend, former ASU cheerleader Jaylee Merrill, is a total smokeshow.
14. Logan Thomas – New York Giants
The Giants took a flyer on the 6’6″, 250 pound Thomas with the hopes that he is finally able to develop the physical tools he is so blessed with. Thomas is arguably the most physically gifted quarterback in the league that is not named Cam Newton. Unfortunately, his short stints with the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins produced little to be excited about and showed no glimpses that he is ready to produce on the field.
His physical tools alone will get him another shot in this preseason and he will have to show drastic improvement if he wants to make the Giants 53-man roster. If he can reign in his physical tools and perform well, it could make an interesting decision for the Giants when looking beyond this season, as 2nd string quarterback Ryan Nassib enters the final year of his rookie contract. In the least, Thomas is worth watching this preseason as his arm strength and size make him capable of producing highlights at any given time.
Fun Fact: Thomas has completed only one regular season pass in his short career, but that completion went 81 yards for a touchdown.
13. Jimmy Garoppolo – New England Patriots
This one was a given to be on this list. Jimmy G enters the season as the starting quarterback for the Patriots’ first four games, due to Tom Brady’s deflategate suspension. It will be important for him to find a rhythm and perform well in the preseason in order to ease the minds of Pats fans all over the country. His performance in preseason and the first four games will be vital in displaying his ability to replace Tom Brady this season and potentially in the near future.
Garoppolo has the support of his teammates and coaching staff at this point and an efficient and effective preseason will only further that support. Can he limit his turnovers and feed the Gronk? Be sure to tune into preseason game number three to truly evaluate Garoppolo’s ability. Even if his future as a starter isn’t in New England, this is definitely an amazing opportunity.
12. Chase Daniel – Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles made it clear that they believe Carson Wentz will be the future of their franchise, drafting him 2nd overall in this year’s draft. However, they have made it clear that they would prefer to have him hold a clipboard and learn from the sideline this season (how likely that is will depend on the team’s record in the first half of the season). Other than Wentz, the Eagles’ quarterback situation is very speculative. They have spent a good amount of cash on presumed starting quarterback Sam Bradford and backup Chase Daniel.
Bradford started the offseason tumultuously, going as far as demanding a trade after the Eagles drafted Wentz. Lost in the mix has been the signing of Chase Daniel away from the Kansas City Chiefs. There were people last season who were calling for Daniels to supplant Alex Smith as the Chiefs starting quarterback because of his aggressiveness to take shots down the field. This gunslinger mentality will make Daniels an immediate fan favorite this preseason. If Daniels can frequently connect on those downfield passes, it could make for an interesting decision at starting quarterback come Week 1.
11. Matt Barkley – Arizona Cardinals
This former USC star currently sits as the 3rd string quarterback for the Cardinals, behind fellow USC quarterback Carson Palmer and long-time backup Drew “teach me how to dougie” Stanton. This is a make or break preseason for Barkley as the Cardinals signed undrafted NCAA Champion Jake Coker to compete for the last quarterback spot on the roster.
Bruce Arians apparently wants an open competition for the spot and wants to see solid production in order to keep either on the roster. If Barkley fails to beat out Coker, it could be and should be the end of Barkley’s NFL run.
Barkley still has some pedigree though, dating back to his days with the USC Trojans, so maybe in a good setting like Arizona, he can find a way to revive his NFL career. Carson Palmer won’t be around forever.
10. Cardale Jones – Buffalo Bills
The Bills found a gem in Tyrod Talyor and he appears to be the future of the franchise at the quarterback position. Behind Taylor, the Bills have former first-round pick EJ Manuel and Ohio State rookie Cardale Jones. Although Manuel was initially impressive for the Bills, it appears he has fallen out of favor with their staff.
Cardale Jones won a national championship at Ohio State after rising from the third-string position. He is a massive human with incredible arm strength, but arm strength means nothing if he can’t place the ball in the tight windows he will face in the NFL. Jones is clearly a project as of now and is unlikely to rise past Manuel on the depth chart, but he will be one of the more intriguing prospects to watch in extended snaps this preseason. It may take a few years, but there’s definitely potential in him as a starter.
9. A.J. McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals
McCarron received an extended look as a starting quarterback for the Bengals last season after starter Andy Dalton went down with an injury. The former Crimson Tide quarterback did more than hold his own when given the chance and would have won a playoff game, if not for the antics of Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones.
Although entrenched as the backup to Andy Dalton, this preseason is important for McCarron to show other teams that he has the chops to be a permanent starting quarterback in the league. If McCarron continues to produce and shines this preseason, it could go a long way when teams are shopping for a quarterback next offseason. He won’t surpass Dalton on the Bengals’ depth chart, so if he’s ever a starter, it will have to be elsewhere.
Plus if you’re watching McCarron get reps in the preseason, odds are the cameras will pan to his wife Katherine Webb every chance they get… which is always a plus.
8. Geno Smith/Bryce Petty/Christian Hackenberg – New York Jets
Between Geno Smith, Christian Hackenberg, and Bryce Petty, the preseason reps are going to be extremely important to how the Jets depth chart pans out. Smith, who was once considered the franchise’s quarterback of the future, is apparently halfway out the door and believes he is essentially trying out for the 31 other teams this preseason. Hackenberg was drafted in the second round of this year’s draft and most teams do not spend a second round pick on a third string quarterback. Then there is second year quarterback Bryce Petty who put up eye-popping numbers during his time at Baylor.
This leaves plenty of room to speculate that the depth chart behind Ryan Fitzpatrick is wide open heading into the preseason. Hackenberg appears to be the favorite as he has prototypical size, ran an NFL style offense in college, and hasn’t been punched in the jaw by a teammate (sorry Geno). Don’t overlook Petty though. The guy can sling it and has the capability of putting up big numbers this preseason. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters will be more important for the Jets QB room than any other team in the league this preseason.
7. Trevone Boykin – Seattle Seahawks
Boykin was perhaps the most exciting quarterback in college football, finishing his career at TCU with 86 passing touchdowns and 27 rushing touchdowns. His mobility makes him a good fit to backup Russel Wilson, but can he show enough in preseason to solidify a backup spot as an undrafted free agent?
Off the field issues aside, this kid can ball and will be must see TV when he is on the field this preseason. The Seahawks are still a powerhouse in the NFC, but could they handle an injury to Wilson? Boykin could help ease the minds of Carrol and the 12th man if he can display his tremendous skill set this preseason.
With the NFL becoming a more progressive league in terms of utilizing mobile quarterbacks, there is potential for Boykin to land a starting job somewhere if he makes a good impression with the Seahawks.
6. Brett Hundley – Green Bay Packers
Obviously the Green Bay Packers are Aaron Rodgers’ team and will be for the distant future. But Hundley has been extremely impressive in his limited playing time. His stats last preseason were eye-popping (45-65, 7 TDs, 1 INT). If Hundley blows away the competition again this preseason, it could be enticing for other teams to try and convince the Packers to part ways with the former UCLA star.
This is not an unfamiliar position for the Packers, as they gained valuable draft assets for their former backup Matt Flynn. A similar circumstance could arise if Hundley continues his preseason assault. He’s in the perfect spot to learn and not experience any pressure. Rodgers sat for several years under Brett Favre, flying under the radar. If Hundley can do that, it will eventually benefit him and he can find himself a good home with a team willing to give him a starting job.
5. Brian Hoyer – Chicago Bears
He’s done it once, and he can do it again. The Bears are the latest team that could be subject to the “Brian Hoyer Cycle.” The journeyman has a tact of joining a new organization and making a strong first impression with his preseason performances. Every stop he has made since first starting a game for the Arizona Cardinals, has led to Hoyer essentially coming out of nowhere to be named the starting quarterback. Everybody loves an underdog?
In 2013, Hoyer went straight from third-string to starter when then Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Brandon Weeden went down with an injury. He was named their starting quarterback in 2014, despite the excitement of drafting Johnny Manziel. Hoyer didn’t perform up to par and later signed with the Texans to be the presumed backup to Ryan Mallet. Hoyer again outplayed the competition in preseason to be named the starter only to fail to live up to the expectations in the regular season.
Now the Bears are taking a flyer on Hoyer to be the backup to Jay Cutler. Bears fans appear to have grown tired of Cutler’s lackluster care of the football and could call for his head should Hoyer dominant the preseason competition again. Cutler is clearly the preferable option, but can he survive the mysterious aura that is Bryan Hoyer?
4. Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos
The Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos lost one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Peyton Manning and also failed to re-sign his apprentice Brock Osweiler. They apparently are comfortable with Mark Sanchez, or possibly Trevor Simian, taking the starting role going into the season, but both have very limited ceilings.
Paxton Lynch fits the physical mold of a Manning or Osweiler, but is extremely unproven. If Lynch outperforms Sanchez and Simien this preseason, will the Broncos be able to resist thrusting him into the starting role?
This is a major moment for Lynch and preseason will reveal whether he is ready for the bright lights or not. Let’s face it, Lynch wasn’t taken in the first round because the Broncos thought he would remain a backup. Lynch could wind up starting sooner than many expected. He’s certainly in a good spot, having such a ferocious defense to keep the offense in games.
3. Jared Goff – Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams sacrificed a lot of assets to move into the number one spot to draft Jared Goff, signaling their intention of making Goff the franchise quarterback moving forward. As of now, Goff continues to sit behind Case Keenum on the depth chart and will need an impressive preseason to move into the starting spot by Week 1.
Hollywood’s team needs a leading man, however, and it will be very difficult for Jeff Fisher to resist declaring Goff as the opening day starter. Also, don’t sleep on Sean Mannion this preseason as he showed the tools in college and has the size to develop into a capable starter in the NFL. Make no mistakes though, this is Goff’s team for better or for worse. The move to Los Angeles means the Rams will have to capture the attention of their new market, and it’s not going to come from Keenum.
2. Blaine Gabbert/Colin Kaepernick – San Francisco 49ers
This may be the most spirited quarterback competition waiting to be played out this preseason, despite the fact that the Niners look far from capable of competing in the stacked NFC West. Gabbert impressed the Niners staff last season when moved into the starting quarterback spot, but Kaepernick finally appears to be healthy again and is still only three years removed from taking the Niners to the Super Bowl.
Watch for Kaepernick to improve on his accuracy this preseason and continue to use his mobility to extend plays and scramble for first downs. Although Gabbert is more mobile than most people give him credit for, it’s foreseeable that Kaepernick will fit perfectly in a Chip Kelly spread offense system. Kaepernick could be in line for an impressive preseason.
We know that Blaine Gabbert is not capable of carrying an offense, while Kaepernick still has the ability to do so. We’ll have to see who will get the chance to start this season.
1. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo should be healthy and ready to roll for the regular season, but it’s debatable how much playing time he will receive during the preseason. Odds are good that rookie quarterback Dak Prescott will receive the majority of the snaps this preseason and the thought of that alone should excite any true football fan.
Prescott was one of the most exciting quarterbacks to watch during his career at Mississippi State and should continue to shine this preseason. The Cowboys are loaded with weapons on offense and have arguably the best offensive line in football. Given Tony Romo’s proneness to injury and his increasing age, this could be a glimpse of the Cowboys near and distant future. Be sure to tune in when Prescott is on the field, he won’t disappoint.
It’s unknown how many good years Romo has left with his recent injury troubles, so watching Prescott will be very intriguing.
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