Quarterbacks are always the talk of the NFL, and this year, there is no shortage of star power at the position. Consider just the top 10 signal-callers of 2022, a crop headlined by the ageless Tom Brady but chock-full of young, ascending play-makers. But what happens when the big names go down? Injuries take their toll every year, and unfortunately, that includes the QB position.
But which teams are best prepared to weather a loss under center? Here’s a look at the best backups in the league:
We’re ranking recent high draft picks (since 2020) separate from the rest, only because they differ so much from career No. 2s. For example, if our starter went down, we might rather gamble on Jordan Love’s upside than, say, Andy Dalton’s experience. But we might also prefer the proven vet for a single important start or two. So here’s how we’d rank the youngsters:
5. Desmond Ridder (Falcons)
It may be a challenge to separate him from the Falcons’ rebuilding lineup. Will his confidence translate into consistency?
4. Jordan Love (Packers)
We’ve seen just one real game from him, and he’s still developing his vision, but at 23, with good size and a legitimate arm, we still like his potential as a big-play passer.
3. Malik Willis (Titans)
Like Love, he’s almost a total unknown, but he also possesses some freakish athletic qualities. In his case, it’s not only the laser arm but the electric legs. In a pinch, those kinds of gifts can mask other flaws. There are quite a few similarities between his situation and that of Trey Lance behind Jimmy Garoppolo with the 49ers in 2021.
2. Kenny Pickett (Steelers)
He’s widely considered more of a safe than special prospect, but the guy did a lot of the little things well in and around the pocket at Pittsburgh, and his preseason composure makes him a candidate to take over for Mitchell Trubisky as Ben Roethlisberger’s successor sooner rather than later.
1. Tyler Huntley (Ravens)
No, he’s not Lamar Jackson, but he’s a perfect substitute in Baltimore, where he’s shown in limited sample sizes that he can throw confidently and create space on the ground. It’s not such a bad thing to have an athlete as your emergency fill-in.
The best of the vets
10. Colt McCoy (Cardinals)
You don’t want him in the lineup for an extended stretch, but he’s grown a bit more efficient and, dare we say, comfortable moving around the pocket into his 30s. Arizona fared decently well without Kyler Murray during his 2021 action.
9. Tyrod Taylor (Giants)
New York is overpaying considering he’s struggled to even stay healthy coming off the bench in recent years, and he’s not particularly accurate despite a tendency for short-area passing. Still, he’s been a serviceable starter before, and he can move.
8. Andy Dalton (Saints)
He hasn’t posted a winning record as a QB in seven years. He still throws a lot of picks despite an increasingly “safe” approach. But you also can’t teach 148 games of starting experience, and he’s proven he can be OK with talent around him.
7. Jacoby Brissett (Browns)
Technically he’ll enter 2022 as a starter with Deshaun Watson suspended, but he’ll revert to the No. 2 spot as soon as Watson is back. Like Taylor and Dalton, he’s somehow managed to be both conservative and relatively inefficient during extended action. But he’s adapted quickly in sudden career changes and shown, with the Colts, he can be borderline playoff-caliber with good support.
6. Case Keenum (Bills)
Keenum gets himself into trouble with his gunslinging style, but he also extends plays and wins over teammates the same way. A true journeyman after starting runs in Minnesota and Denver, he would’ve been a higher-upside backup plan for the 2022 Browns, who opted instead for Brissett as Watson’s suspension substitute.
5. Taylor Heinicke (Commanders)
Washington got the total Heinicke experience in 2022: energetic, exciting and mercurial. He’s best suited for a run-heavy or short-area attack, but his moxie, mobility and willingness to try big throws make him one of the more enticing emergency starters.
4. Gardner Minshew (Eagles)
The size and arm power might never be there, but this guy is a prototypical No. 2, oozing swagger, flashing athleticism and touting pretty downfield touch. In 27 career games with rebuilding Eagles and Jaguars teams, he’s thrown 42 touchdowns to just 12 picks.
3. Nick Foles (Colts)
His disappearing act in 2021 is an indictment of the Bears, who preferred the pricier Andy Dalton as Justin Fields’ predecessor. Foles and his big arm are volatile, and he needs protection up front. But few backup QBs have been more calm, collected and willing to make tight-window throws in crunch time when called upon.
2. Teddy Bridgewater (Dolphins)
He’s never been more than a serviceable full-timer, offering a steady hand over big-time throws. But he’s well-liked, generally accurate, mostly avoids killer turnovers and has guided several winning streaks in talented lineups. Most teams would love to have him in their locker rooms, so long as he’s only stepping in under center for a select number of games.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers)
Jimmy G has so far maxed out as a mid-tier starter, thriving more when the burden is not on his arm but rather on the system in which he plays point guard. He’s also really struggled to stay healthy. And yet, at his best, he’s a prototypical pocket passer who can make all the throws with deep playoff experience. Odds are, he’ll still start somewhere, for some amount of time, in 2022.
These guys make up the majority of the backup QBs in the NFL and, to be frank, aren’t separated by much. Sure, you can make the case for one over the other, but at the end of the day, you’re especially hopeful they don’t have to see extended action. They are listed roughly in order of preference:
Drew Lock/Geno Smith (Seahawks), Sam Darnold (Panthers), Chad Henne (Chiefs), Joe Flacco (Jets), Chase Daniel (Chargers), Nick Mullens (Vikings), C.J. Beathard (Jaguars), Brandon Allen (Bengals), Josh Johnson (Broncos), Kyle Allen (Texans), Blaine Gabbert (Buccaneers), Trevor Siemian (Bears), Brian Hoyer (Patriots), Jarrett Stidham (Raiders), Cooper Rush (Cowboys), John Wolford (Rams), Tim Boyle (Lions)