Every NFL team goes into a season hoping they’ll never have to use their backup, unless it’s in garbage time or in a meaningless game after a playoff berth has been clinched. The reality is that poor play by the starter, or injury, thrusts a backup quarterback into action more than most fans would hope. Below is a ranking of the 32 backup quarterbacks in the NFL coming into week 1, suggesting which teams are in better shape should disaster strike.
1. Michael Vick, New York Jets: Despite very poor play as a starter and constant injuries since 2011, some still tout Vick as one of the best second/third tier quarterbacks in the game. Vick is still an explosive athlete that can hurt you and he seems very likely to get some playing time at some point this season with the Jets. His play this preseason was quite solid. He can’t be counted on long term, but he can get hot and have a fantastic stretch if he stays healthy. He does seem to be out of shape, though, so that could be a concern for the Jets.
2. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins: He caught lightning in a bottle his rookie season filling in for RGIII but he regressed quite a bit last season. Expectations have come back down to earth with Cousins a bit, but a strong preseason proves he’s very capable and comfortable with his current surroundings.
3. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars: He will definitely play sooner than later and his play in preseason did nothing to temper optimism. He looks like the real deal so far and there’s a lot of reason to be excited for Jags fans. They may finally have their quarterback of the future.
4. Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia Eagles: It seems crazy to have him this high but Sanchez was terrific in the preseason completing 80% of his passes. We’ve already seen what this offense has done for Nick Foles and so this is a terrific situation for Sanchez. He’s a guy that has started, has playoff experience, and could thrive in this system if called on.
5. Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lovie Smith claimed that Glennon was the Bucs’ quarterback of the future, but if that was the case he would have been comfortable with him as his guy and would not have brought in Josh McCown. The reality is that Glennon is nothing more than decent at this point, and he showed that again in preseason. Although McCown seems to be coming back down to earth and was mediocre on preseason, so Glennon may be playing sooner than later.
6. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings: Christian Ponder is still in the mix here but Bridgewater was so good in preseason he made a very strong case for starting. He won’t yet, but Vikings fans are feeling really good about him after what he was able to show.
7. Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis Colts: He may be old, but he’s in the perfect situation in Indy backing up a young blossoming passer in Andrew Luck. Hasselbeck gets to mentor Luck while still having the ability to fill in in a pinch and make plays. At 38 his durability is a major question mark, but he is still capable of making a play.
8. Matt Schaub, Oakland Raiders: It’s a shock he’s not the starter and it begs the question of whether or not his injuries have caught up with him for good. If he’s healthy he’s arguably the best backup on this list. His career with the Texans was very good and he’s only 33, but his recent season combined with his play in preseason suggest he’s not the player he once was by a longshot.
9. Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns: It’s really hard to rank him because at this point it’s all potential. He’s an explosive and exciting player that could take the league by storm if he’s successful, but the preseason suggests he has a long way to go. With Brian Hoyer as the starter, odds are he’ll get a chance to play soon.
10. Chase Daniel, Kansas City Chiefs: He’s likely one of the more overpaid backups with an inflated contract based on his successful seasons backing up Drew Brees, but Daniel is a capable player in his own right. Should something happen to Alex Smith, he’s a guy that can come in and win games with the talent on that team.
11. Ryan Nassib, New York Giants: That three touchdown pass performance against the Jets in preseason has soared his stock. Eli Manning better be careful if he continues down this horrific slump because he’s got a young promising player that’s playing pretty well behind him at the moment.
12. Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots: The Ryan Mallett trade will thrust Garoppolo right behind Tom Brady as a rookie. He earned that by being lights out in preseason. A very good sign.
13. Kyle Orton, Buffalo Bills: He was average filling in for Romo last season and he was average again in preseason. He may seem ancient, but he’s only 31. He’s a great veteran to have as a backup, though, that can manage a game if needed and is a good guy to have around a young starter.
14. Derek Anderson, Carolina Panthers: He’s another one that seems ancient but is only 31. He’s most remembered for his impressive season in Cleveland as the full time starter way back in 2007. Since then he’s played little, but he had a steady preseason.
15. Luke McCown, New Orleans Saints: He’s grown to be a lot more comfortable in this offense and working with Brees has done wonders for him. He’s a mediocre journeyman backup that’s never impressed much but he seems to be playing at the best level of his career. This is the second consecutive very strong preseason from him.
16. Jason Campbell, Cincinnati Bengals: He’s proven over the years he can consistently deliver inconsistent and spotty play. He’ll make nice throws, orchestrate some drives, and make mistakes too. He hasn’t really regressed, just stayed the same throughout his career. Nothing more, nothing less.
17. Brandon Weeden, Dallas Cowboys: After a strong start to training camp he really faded down the stretch. He has starting experience and could fill in for Romo in a pinch, but he continues to be very up and down.
18. Matt Flynn, Green Bay Packers: For some reason he’s only a competent backup in Green Bay. Everyone else pays him a boatload of money and he can’t make the roster. But with the Packers he’s found a place to survive and be decent. I don’t think the Packers want to suffer through an extended period with him behind center, though.
19. Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks: He’s average. He could fill in and make a play here or there, but the Seahawks would be in trouble if something happens to Rusell Wilson.
20. Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins: He had a good stretch in 2009 with the Panthers and 2011 with the Dolphins but he has a bad habit of following up promising play with serious regression.
21. Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals: He would be on the very bottom of this list based on how his career has gone but he played very well in this preseason. Perhaps he is improving and could give some quality play if needed.
22. Kellen Clemens, San Diego Chargers: He did an ok job filling in for Sam Bradford last season, but he also made it clear he will never be confused with a starter.
23. Dan Orlovsky, Detroit Lions: There’s a reason this guy can’t stick with a team. This is his second stint with the Lions and he’s been on 4 teams as a backup.
24. Case Keenum, St. Louis Rams: He’s not the official backup yet as he was just acquired, but I think we all know he will be behind Shaun Hill soon enough. After a decent rookie season he was a disaster in preseason. A mixed bag, but he’s a developing guy that can make throws.
25. Tyrod Taylor, Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens better hope nothing happens to Joe Flacco. Taylor is simply not ready.
26. Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers: His preseason in San Francisco didn’t really show us much, accuracy is still a major issue. Gabbert’s days as an NFL quarterback are on serious notice.
27. Bruce Gradkowski, Pittsburgh Steelers: He too is 31 and it’s surprising to see him still in the league. He’s proven over his career that he can’t be counted on for any length of time.
28. T. J. Yates, Atlanta Falcons: Before that last preseason game at Jacksonville, Yates seemed like he was headed for unemployment. That game at least showed the Falcons he can make a play, but his career up to that point has been poor. The Falcons have very questionable depth behind Matt Ryan.
29. Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos: Besides him being 6’8″, we know very little about Osweiler at this point. He hasn’t impressed in preseason much but the Broncos love his potential. He has zero experience, though, and the Broncos would be in a world of trouble if they had to play him most likely.
30. Ryan Mallett/Tom Savage, Houston Texans: There is a reason Ryan Fitzpatrick is starting in Houston.
31. Charlie Whitehurst, Tennessee Titans: Despite suffering through injuries in the preseason and watching rookie Zach Mettenberger play pretty well, Whitehurst is still the backup in Tennessee for now. That should change fairly soon, but perhaps the Titans want some experience if/when Jake Locker goes down again. The problem is Whitehurst can’t stay healthy either and he’s never been that impressive when he’s fine.
32. Jimmy Clausen, Chicago Bears: This is a very steep drop off from the luxury of having Josh McCown a year ago, and with Jay Cutler’s injury problems it could lead to disaster.