NFL backup quarterback rankings: Where do rookies slot in?

In this season of all seasons, having a backup plan is vital. Below is our ranking of the backup quarterbacks around the NFL.

Rank
1
Jameis Winston
Jameis Winston
New Orleans Saints · 6th year

Post-LASIK Jameis in a Sean Payton offense is something I want to see. For all the mistakes Winston made last season, quarterbacks don't stumble into 121 touchdowns and a 7.7 YPA average (13th all-time!) in 70 starts by age 26. Winston may be the opposite of Teddy Bridgewater in most respects, but they should share an ability to beat out Taysom Hill, he of six career completions, in a quarterback competition.

Rank
2
Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton
Dallas Cowboys · 10th year

If Dak Prescott were to get injured, there is little doubt Dalton could keep the Cowboys' offense above average. For so long the prime meridian dividing franchise quarterbacks from the rest, Dalton inspires gratitude as a backup rather than ambivalence as a starter.

Rank
3
Tua Tagovailoa
Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins · Rookie

Two veterans are ranked ahead of Tagovailoa because this is only taking the 2020 season into account. Early practice reports about Tua's health are promising, but he's still coming into his rookie year fresh off a major injury with very little practice time. He profiles as the type of player, however, to mitigate mistakes while figuring out the pro game on the fly.

Rank
4
Jacoby Brissett
Jacoby Brissett
Indianapolis Colts · 5th year

Coach Frank Reich insists he's going to find ways to use Brissett, easily the highest-paid backup in football with nearly $16 million in cash due this year. Brissett's play plummeted while he gutted it out through a knee injury in the second half of last season, but he was a heady starter before then.

Rank
5
Nick Foles
Nick Foles
Chicago Bears · 9th year

Foles' every-other-opportunity career would put him on track to improve this Bears offense once the Mitchell Trubisky era runs its course. (Estimate: Week 3.) Then again, Foles' all-or-nothing style means that this ranking is either way too high or way too low.

Rank
6
Case Keenum
Case Keenum
Cleveland Browns · 9th year

Only 17 quarterbacks have started more games than Keenum since the start of 2016. He may never reach the heights of his Vikings days again, but Keenum can keep a good ship afloat or provide a spark for a lackluster situation.

Rank
7
Justin Herbert
Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers · Rookie

It is no surprise Herbert's arm looks great throwing against air in Chargers camp. His athletic skill set is similar to Tyrod Taylor's in many ways, which should make for a natural transition if Los Angeles' offense goes south during the season.

Rank
8
Marcus Mariota
Marcus Mariota
Las Vegas Raiders · 6th year

No one has ever doubted Mariota's leadership or toughness. If he wasn't the No. 2 pick in the draft, however, there isn't much about his passing game that stands out. No matter what bouquets Jon Gruden throws Mariota's way publicly, don't expect to see him play this season barring a Derek Carr injury or the Raiders falling 2-to-3 games under .500.

Rank
9
Nick Mullens
Nick Mullens
San Francisco 49ers · 4th year

No one besides Kyle Shanahan seems to give Mullens credit for his performance during eight starts in his first year on an active roster back in 2018. To put it another way: If Mariota played exactly like Mullens, he'd probably have a starting job.

Rank
10
Jalen Hurts
Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles · Rookie

Hurts is ranked a little higher here despite his lack of experience because of my confidence that Doug Pederson would play to his strengths. Hurts' first order of business is to beat out Nate Sudfeld in camp. I know Pederson's been labeling Sudfeld as the QB2, but I'll bet on Hurts' second-round draft pedigree and dual-threat ability winning out in the end.

Rank
11
Geno Smith
Geno Smith
Seattle Seahawks · 8th year

Geno played well in his last extended stretch of starts. The problem is that they took place in 2014, before The Punch. Still just 29, Smith has since backed up Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson, making the Divisional Round the last two years. How many quarterbacks can say that?

Rank
12
Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco
New York Jets · 13th year

Flacco would be ranked higher if he wasn't still recovering from neck surgery. Imagining him behind the Jets' offensive line makes me wince.

Rank
13
Chad Henne
Chad Henne
Kansas City Chiefs · 13th year

Andy Reid named Henne the backup quarterback early in camp, designating Matt Moore the No. 3 option. He's thrown five passes in the last five seasons, but the Reid seal of approval carries weight in these parts.

Rank
14
Chase Daniel
Chase Daniel
Detroit Lions · 12th year

Now seven years removed from his career-defining Making the Leap piece, Daniel is still waiting to break out. He's made over $37 million in career earnings for five starts, which has to be one of the best ratios of cash-to-playing time in NFL history.

Rank
15
Trevor Siemian
Trevor Siemian
Tennessee Titans · 6th year

Signed Wednesday to compete with Logan Whiteside, Siemian had better tape than you remember in 24 Broncos starts between 2016 and '17. While he's coming off a gruesome ankle injury, Siemian profiles as a poor man's Ryan Tannehill, athletic enough to succeed as a system quarterback.

Rank
16
AJ McCarron
AJ McCarron
Houston Texans · 7th year

McCarron's Week 17 outing against the Titans last December was his first significant action since starting one of the most infamous playoff games of the 2010s. Last year's spot start (with Deshaun Watson resting for the playoffs) didn't go very well, but his track record of impressing solid quarterback tutors like Hue Jackson and Bill O'Brien is worth something.

Rank
17
Blaine Gabbert
Blaine Gabbert
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · 10th year

Bruce Arians likes Gabbert, which is a strong point in his favor. He needs to be careful, though, after Tom Brady got his last handsome backup run out of town.

Rank
18
P.J. Walker
P.J. Walker
Carolina Panthers · QB

Walker looks like the favorite in a training camp battle with Will Grier. He was the most exciting player in the XFL, and the recency bias of that performance is carrying weight because it's been so long since I've seen most of these guys play that well.

Rank
19
Tim Boyle
Tim Boyle
Green Bay Packers · 3rd year

Early camp reports make it sound like first-rounder Jordan Love has a lot of ground to make up in the battle to be Aaron Rodgers' backup. Boyle has a big arm and flashed in the preseason last year, giving the Packers an enviable quarterback room.

Rank
20
Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III
Baltimore Ravens · 8th year

After missing all of 2015 following a preseason concussion and being out the league entirely in 2017, it's an upset that RG3 wound up outlasting Andrew Luck. The limited sample size Griffin has shown in regular-season action in Baltimore, however, hasn't been great.

Rank
21
Kyle Allen
Kyle Allen
Washington Football Team · 3rd year

New Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner and head coach Ron Rivera liked Allen enough to import him from Carolina. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Allen start games this season despite an uneven run as the Panthers' starter.

Rank
22
Matt Schaub
Matt Schaub
Atlanta Falcons · 17th year

Schaub was only a year younger than Michael Vick when he entered the league as his backup. It's wild that Schaub is still collecting checks all these years later -- and it's even wilder he threw for 460 yards against the Seahawks in his only start last year.

Rank
23
Colt McCoy
Colt McCoy
New York Giants · 11th year

McCoy has lasted a decade in the NFL despite myriad injuries because he usually looks pretty capable until he gets hurt. His role with the Giants is ideally more as a mentor for Daniel Jones.

Rank
24
Jarrett Stidham
Jarrett Stidham
New England Patriots · 2nd year

It is tricky in these rankings to know where to bet on unknown upside over known mediocrity. It's hard to imagine Stidham playing over Cam Newton, but it's also hard to imagine Stidham being a total stiff after the Patriots came so close to handing him the keys to the kingdom. All of his camp interceptions aren't helping.


UPDATE: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported Friday that Stidham has been battling discomfort from a leg injury. Giardi later added that the injury is specifically to Stidham's hip, and it will be several weeks before he's back to 100 percent.

Rank
25
Jeff Driskel
Jeff Driskel
Denver Broncos · 5th year

No one has been called "sneaky athletic" by announcers more despite nothing about Driskel's awesome athleticism being sneaky. That makes him a fun fill-in for a game or two, but that's about it. John Elway could have done a whole lot better when looking for Drew Lock insurance this offseason.

Rank
26
Mike Glennon
Mike Glennon
Jacksonville Jaguars · 8th year

That three-year, $45 million contract with the Bears feels like a long time ago, as does that promising rookie season with the Bucs. The larger the sample size Glennon has seen in the league, the harder it's become to find a coach who believes in him.

Rank
27
Matt Barkley
Matt Barkley
Buffalo Bills · 8th year

Entering his eighth season, he's now outlasted Matt Leinart's NFL tenure. And he always comes into games gunning, which is the right approach to keep a career going.

Rank
28
Mason Rudolph
Mason Rudolph
Pittsburgh Steelers · 3rd year

Pittsburgh coaches and fans say they need to see more from Rudolph before honestly evaluating him, which feels like the same sort of sunk-cost fallacy that makes teams stick with starters like Mitch Trubisky for too long.

Rank
29
Sean Mannion
Sean Mannion
Minnesota Vikings · 6th year

Mannion has two career starts, both coming when his teams rested their starters in Week 17. Spending multiple years under Sean McVay and now Gary Kubiak, if nothing else, should provide an incredible education in offense.

Rank
30
Ryan Finley
Ryan Finley
Cincinnati Bengals · 2nd year

If the Bengals didn't rush Finley into the starting lineup before he was ready last season, they may never have wound up with Joe Burrow. <Insert GIF of man pointing at his head here.>

Rank
31
Brett Hundley
Brett Hundley
Arizona Cardinals · 6th year

It's surprising that Hundley has a No. 2 job while Blake Bortles is out of the league. (Anyone making it this far in a backup-quarterbacks ranking was probably not expecting a take that scorching, but that's why I make the big bucks.)

Rank
32
John Wolford
John Wolford
Los Angeles Rams · 3rd year

Perhaps L.A. gave Goff a few extra million dollars for his durability. The Rams certainly seem to assume they'll never need a backup, especially this year with Wolford as the No. 2. He's another AAF grad who went undrafted from Wake Forest in 2018 before spending last season on the Rams' practice squad.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @GreggRosenthal.

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