The preseason has come and gone, and so too have a handful of QB2s. Jacoby Brissett and Case Keenum got drafted into starting duty in Indianapolis and Washington. Paxton Lynch and DeShone Kizer failed their auditions to back up MVP candidates in Seattle and Green Bay. Brian Hoyer went from the Patriots’ high-value backup to the Colts’.
Taking these promotions, cuts, surprise signings, and injury moves into account, where do each of the NFL’s backups stand now that the 2019 season is here?
I’ve broken them all down into tiers ranging from the guys you can trust to win a game to those you hope you won’t see until garbage time this fall.
Tier I: Guys who could acceptably start in worse situations
Brissett jumped out of this tier and into the lower tier of NFL starters after Andrew Luck’s retirement. Hoyer could feasibly take his spot in this group, but his forgettable 2017 season with the 49ers (in which he was frightfully outplayed by midseason addition Jimmy Garoppolo) dropped him down a notch. Tannehill and Bridgewater have each led teams to the playoffs in years past. Mullens still has plenty to prove but averaged 8.3 yards per pass — fifth-best in the NFL! — to enter the conversation of “league’s best backup.”
Tier II: Our bridge to the future. Maybe
Drew Lock’s injury took him off our list for now, while Keenum’s place as Washington’s starter puts Haskins in this tier. Jones’ high-profile preseason means he could wind up supplanting Eli Manning at the first sign of trouble in New York. Rosen’s Dolphins just traded away their best lineman and blindside protector so ... good luck to him should Ryan Fitzpatrick get injured or demoted this fall.
Tier III: Career backups
- Brett Hundley, Cardinals
- Matt Barkley, Bills
- Chase Daniel, Bears
- AJ McCarron, Texans
- Brian Hoyer, Colts
- Matt Moore, Chiefs
- Trevor Siemian, Jets
You don’t want to have to rely on these guys for long, but they can carry you past inferior teams and occasionally string together a shockingly cohesive performance (see Barkley’s 2018 41-10 showcase win over the Jets). Surround them with a strong defense and useful set of playmakers and these guys can push you to a wild card spot. Moore, Siemian, and Hoyer are living proof of this; they’ve each had seasons in which they’ve gone .500 or better after making at least 12 starts. Moore has occasionally been pretty good in his 13-year (!) NFL career. He was signed by the Chiefs in late August, however, and that could impact his grasp of Eric Bieniemy’s offense in Missouri.
Tier IV: Former starters who no longer (or never did) have it
- Blake Bortles, Rams
- Robert Griffin III, Ravens
- Mike Glennon, Raiders
- Blaine Gabbert, Buccaneers
- Geno Smith, Seahawks
These once-promising passers mostly fit into the type of offense the starting quarterback has set in front of them. Throwing them into the lineup for a few series won’t create unsolvable problems. Throwing them into the lineup for a few games might.
Tier V: Holy crap, this guy is still in the league?
This tier was “veteran mentors” back in the spring, but McCown’s return from retirement, Johnson’s signing in Detroit, and Schaub’s unpleasant preseason turned it into something else. With the exception of the Atlanta backup, all three of these guys were lost to a state of semi- or real retirement at some point the past two years. They were once capable backups, but now it’s tough to be sure what you’re getting. McCown will likely be bumped from his perch behind Carson Wentz by a Tier VI guy, Nate Sudfeld, when he returns from injury this season.
Tier VI: Possibly in our long-term plans, but possibly not ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Ryan Finley, Bengals
- Jarrett Stidham, Patriots
- Kyle Allen, Panthers
- Mason Rudolph, Steelers
- Gardner Minshew, Jaguars
These mid-round lottery tickets haven’t shown enough to inspire confidence in a regular season performance, but they’ve got talent that could be useful in a pinch. Finley’s potent preseason inched him toward Tier II and could push Jeff Driskel down the depth chart once he returns from injury reserve. Stidham impressed Bill Belichick enough to convince him to ditch Brian Hoyer behind a 42-year-old starter. Rudolph is QB2 on the Steelers roster over Josh Dobbs. That’s a shame since Dobbs taught Jacoby Brissett about space this offseason, which makes him a winner.
Tier VII: Young-ish guys who look in no way ready
These guys are like their Tier IV counterparts, just with less hype. Boyle was good enough in the preseason to push DeShone Kizer out of Green Bay, but he’s also the same guy who couldn’t start at UConn and had an 11:13 TD:INT ratio as a senior at FCS Eastern Kentucky. Mannion hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in his four NFL seasons. Allen was drafted in 2016 and hasn’t thrown an NFL pass, period.