2019 has been the year of the backup quarterback.
Nine different starting passers have been sidelined either by injury or ineffective play through just four weeks of the regular season — and that doesn’t count Jacoby Brissett’s ascent following Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement. That’s been a crisis for some teams and an opportunity for others.
Some of these starters-by-necessity have exceeded expectations, like Gardner Minshew in Jacksonville or Daniel Jones in New York — each of whom is riding a two-game winning streak. Others, like Chase Daniel or Teddy Bridgewater, have failed to dazzle but have still done enough to lead their teams to victory.
So given what we know through four weeks, which backup passer who’s been pressed into a starting role would you build a team around?
I know, I know. I was probably very, very wrong about Jones when the Giants made him the sixth overall pick of last spring’s draft. I looked at him and saw a player whose measurables and collegiate production were separated by a gulf as wide as the Pacific Ocean. But after averaging 6.2 adjusted yards per pass over three seasons as a zero-time All-ACC honoree at Duke, Jones has revived the Giants, averaging 7.9 adjusted yards per attempt in his two starts.
More importantly, he’s looked like he’s belonged behind center as an NFL quarterback. Jones wasn’t overwhelmed in the pocket while leading New York back from an 18-point second half deficit against the Buccaneers in his first pro start, even without Saquon Barkley in the lineup.
His second start, which saw him throw a pair of interceptions in an easy win over a bad Washington team, wasn’t as strong statistically but was still somehow similarly inspiring. Jones looked light years better than Dwayne Haskins, the former Ohio State QB selected nine slots after him in April. While Haskins struggled under pressure and failed to get his timing right, Jones remained composed in the pocket, mostly made the right decisions, and used his legs to avoid pressure — he ran for 33 yards while not taking a sack all afternoon.
Jones seems to have a better innate feel for the NFL game than he did at the college level, and he’s used that to inspire hope in New York and potentially save head coach Pat Shurmur’s job. If I’m building an offense from scratch around one player who didn’t start in Week 1, the former Blue Devil is my guy.
I’m not the only one that feels this way, though there’s more than one correct answer (helllooooo, Mr. Minshew).
Danny Dimes is the best replacement QB that's starting right now, according to our readers.— SB Nation (@SBNation) October 3, 2019
Do you agree? pic.twitter.com/SHb0tb3RK9
— Christian D’Andrea
There’s something to be said for anyone who fully embraces the idea that playing football for a living should be fun. Minshew Mania isn’t just about the mustache or the NSFW workout anecdotes, though. He’s a competitor who takes his job seriously (sometimes, maybe a little too seriously), while also approaching life off the field with a carpe diem attitude. Minshew is someone who can go hang out with Uncle Rico and then turn around the next day and march his team down the field for a game-winning drive.
That last part is important, too. A quarterback can’t just be a Cool Dude. He’s gotta wins games. Everything he’s done so far in his career suggests he’s up for that task.
When Minshew was called into duty in the first half of his first NFL game, he completed 13 straight passes and went toe-for-toe, at least for a little while, with Patrick Mahomes. In a game he wasn’t even supposed to play in, Minshew completed 22 of 25 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception that wasn’t in fault.
The next week, he put the Jaguars in a position to beat the Texans at home. With just over three minutes to go and down 13-6, Minshew came alive on a 14-play drive that included his pivotal 18-yard scramble on fourth-and-10. Two plays later, he hit DJ Chark with a touchdown pass. Despite Minshew’s clutchness, Doug Marrone opted to take the ball out of his hands on the two-point conversion attempt and it failed.
The next week, Minshew easily handled the Titans, a team the Jags had only one win against in their previous seven tries. The following week, he was instrumental in Jacksonville digging out of a 17-3 hole in Denver.
His most impressive moment of the day, and probably his career, was all the dancing he did to keep a play alive, with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb up in his business, until he found an open Ryquell Armstead for the touchdown:
The Broncos took a one-point lead with a 1:32 remaining, but Minshew didn’t bat an eye. He helped get the Jaguars into field goal territory with two big passes: 32 yards to Dede Westbrook and 17 yards to Chris Conley.
The Jaguars are now 2-2 and could easily be 3-0 with Minshew as their starter, and they’re right in the thick of things in the AFC South. His performance through the first month has vaulted him to the top of the Rookie of the Year race.
There was a lot of reason to doubt Minshew coming in. He was a sixth-round draft pick. He looked shaky for most of the preseason. What’s the shelf life on a phenomenon like this anyway? But so far, he’s proved he belongs — and that he can enjoy every second of it. Sign me up. — Sarah Hardy
Yes, I’m sure you’re surprised that I didn’t pick Gardner Minshew, but someone claimed him before I could, smh. No, but seriously, what Allen has done over two weeks as the Panthers’ starting QB while Cam Newton rehabs a foot injury has been quite impressive.
Before getting into how he did, his backstory is pretty interesting, too. Allen is a former five-star recruit who started his career at Texas A&M. He started in five games as a true freshman, and split time with fellow former Aggie Kyler Murray before transferring to Houston. There, he played in just four games before declaring for the NFL Draft and signing as an undrafted free agent with the Panthers in 2018. He eventually started (and won) their Week 17 game and earned the backup job this preseason.
But back to what Allen has done so far in Carolina this year. In his first start against the Arizona Cardinals, Allen went 19-of-26 passing for 261 yards and a whopping four touchdowns to give the Panthers their first win of the season.
In Week 4 against the Texans, Allen completed 24 of 34 passes for 232 yards. His best play of the day came when he evaded this sack from J.J. Watt:
Not only did that keep the drive alive, but it took some time off the clock and set the Panthers up for an easier field goal. They went ahead 16-10 with 31 seconds remaining, which only left the Texans (who had no timeouts) a chance to get to midfield and throw up a prayer.
Sure, it certainly helps Allen to have weapons like Christian McCaffrey, Greg Olsen, and Curtis Samuel around him, but stepping up like this with not a whole lot of college experience under his belt is really cool to see. — Morgan Moriarty
With rookies like Jones, Minshew, and Allen all balling out, it’s hard to argue in favor of other replacement quarterbacks, but the rest of the list isn’t too shabby. One player who seems consistently overlooked is New Orleans Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater, so I’m going to say some words at your face about him and why he’d be good to build around.
First and foremost: Bridgewater has a lot of experience for his age. He’s still just 26 years old, but has played in 38 regular season games, including a full 16 games as starter for the Vikings in 2015. He was thrown into a difficult situation when he severely injured his knee in 2016, but he came out the other end in one piece.
Now, he’s playing for the Saints, who are without Drew Brees, one of the absolute best to ever throw the ball. The Saints are playing smart football with Bridgewater, not asking him to go deep a lot or win the game with scrambling. Some might consider that a lack of faith in Bridgewater’s abilities, but I tend to think it’s that it has more to do with how complete New Orleans is as a team.
In other words: the defense is good, and thus far, Bridgewater doesn’t have to put the team on his back. But he’s doing with the Saints need him to do and he’s now 2-1 as the starter this year. Given he’s played three tough teams — the Cowboys, Seahawks and Rams — with good defenses, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Other than his experience, he’s also an efficient passer, completing 76.7 and 70.4 percent of his passes in his last two starts. In his full season as a starter for the Vikings, he went 11-5, completed 65.3 percent of his passes, threw for 3,231 yards, and made the Pro Bowl.
Bridgewater hasn’t blown anybody away this season, but he has all the tools of a successful quarterback: a big arm, good pocket presence, no fear, and he can always scramble if need be. I might be projecting a bit of my own expectations and prior feelings about Bridgewater here, but I think there’s still a ton to work with when it comes to the six-year (!) veteran. — James Brady
Those are just our picks. Maybe you prefer another replacement quarterback, like Mason Rudolph or Josh Rosen. Let us know in the comments.