Two former Patriots backups will face off Sunday in Cleveland, the latest in an NFL season that has been all about the backup quarterbacks getting chances. The Texans' Ryan Mallett will be the 48th different starting quarterback this season when he takes on the Browns' Brian Hoyer. That total's more starters than we saw for the entire 2014 season.
The top names on my weekly quarterback rankings are glorious and historical. All of that success can get a little boring after a while, so this week I wanted to write about all of this season's replacements. Below are my rankings on this year's backups based on their 2014 play alone. Mallett, whose "starting ability" remains unseen by the common man, is not eligible. (And if you really want my top 10 overall rankings, they're in the table below.)
1. Mark Sanchez: It's a little unfair Sanchez nabs the top spot after only one game, but he's 1 for 1. It's also unfair that Sanchez gets to play in Chip Kelly's quarterback-proof system, but no one said life in the NFL was fair. Imagine how good Cam Newton or Ryan Tannehill would look if supported by Kelly's uptempo approach? Sanchez has a chance to rewrite his career. If he's smart, he'll stay in Philaldelphia as long as they'll have him.
2. Kyle Orton: Most of the names below have more talent. Some are better bets for the rest of the season. But no backup has been more valuable with more surprising panache than Orton.
He wasn't even in the league until Aug. 29, showing how overrated training camp can be. (That's the most Orton thing to do possible.) Orton has been far from flashy, but he's provided competent play highlighted by quick decisions and the occasional flash of brilliance. While his performance against Kansas City was a bad omen, Orton is exactly what teams want in a backup. He hasn't been the problem.
3. Colt McCoy: His win in Dallas on Monday night could represent the apex of McCoy's career, but it was a pretty sweet moment for a player that almost fell out of the league.
4. Michael Vick: I'm not going to count Vick's relief appearances, which were regrettable. In his two starts, he's played a version of Orton's steady backup game. Vick doesn't always make the best decisions when to run, and the Jets aren't asking him to do that much, but he's capable of escaping pressure and making a few pretty deep throws every week. It's a little sad that "staying out of the way" represents Vick's late career style, but it's an upgrade over Geno Smith.
7. Austin Davis: I'm grading Davis on his entire body of work, and not just the disappointing last few weeks. His final game against Arizona was a microcosm of his season. He was remarkably steady, not throwing a truly bad pass until the end of the third quarter. The Rams limited his exposure to the game and he didn't always know what he was seeing, but he made a few nice plays down the field when asked. And then the roof caved in. There's something here, and Davis could still have a strong career as a backup. But it's hard to blame Rams coach Jeff Fisher for benching him.
8. Mike Glennon: He made the Bucs more fun to watch with his aggressive throws under pressure. Glennon looked better than his stats, and the stats weren't bad at all considering the team he plays for: 10 TDs, 6 INTs, and 7.0 yards per attempt.
10. Teddy Bridgewater: He looked fantastic against Atlanta. He didn't look remotely ready against Detroit. The games since then have fallen somewhere in between with flashes of brilliance interrupting long bouts of erratic play. Typical rookie stuff.
12. Blake Bortles: I'd take Bortles long-term over this entire list, but the rankings are based on this year's play only. Bortles has undeniably struggled, and his problems have multiplied. This is exactly what the Jaguars feared when they originally planned to start Chad Henne all season. Bortles' decision-making has grown more careful in recent games which has limited his mistakes and reduced his handful of jaw-dropping throws each week. The struggles with routine short passes are a real concern.
13. Christian Ponder: He was put in a rough situation on a short week against Green Bay, and it will not help him find work this offseason in free agency.