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The Brandt Report

Ranking the five most and least enviable QB situations in the NFL

In 2017, the Green Bay Packers lost Aaron Rodgers to injury and drifted to ignominy behind backup Brett Hundley.

In 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles lost Carson Wentz to injury and won the Super Bowl behind backup Nick Foles.

There were obviously a lot of other things at play in determining the disparate post-QB fates of the Packers and Eagles, including overall roster construction. But the examples help illustrate the value of carefully considering the entire quarterback depth chart. You can argue it's not enough to just have a stud QB1. To prevent a random injury from completely gutting your season, your QB2 and maybe even QB3 should at least be capable of winning games in the NFL.

Below, I've identified the five most and five least enviable quarterback situations in the NFL, with depth being the primary deciding factor. Note that I'm taking the entire position group into account, not just the starter -- which is why you won't find some of the top quarterbacks in the league listed here. (That's also why you will find some studs with less-than-inspiring backups on the "least enviable" list.) I've also listed every quarterback on each team's roster, even if the third- or fourth-stringers aren't likely to factor into the season.


1) Philadelphia Eagles

It can be tricky to separate good teams from good quarterback play. Whoever slings the pigskin for the Eagles is blessed with an excellent supporting cast that includes a stout O-line, a strong running game and a potent receiving corps. That said, Philly boasts an impressive trio of passers. Wentz, obviously, was an MVP front-runner before tearing his ACL last December; when healthy, he's a top-five QB. Foles has had his ups and downs and started slowly after stepping in for Wentz, but he was undeniably brilliant in the NFC title game and Super Bowl LII; you can't ask him to do much more in terms of proving his bonafides. And Sudfeld is a promising third-stringer who just posted 312 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Patriots in preseason action. The way Eagles coach Doug Pederson has been developing quarterbacks lately, you have to wonder if he might even be able to make a credible NFL signal-caller out of Hackenberg.

2) Minnesota Vikings

Last year, the Vikings were handsomely rewarded for having a strong contingency plan at quarterback, with Case Keenum rescuing a season that otherwise could have been ruined by Sam Bradford's inability to stay on the field. This year, Minnesota completely changed out its QB room -- but the replacements seem just as reliable. Cousins will show why he was the big prize of the offseason. Cousins' backup, trade acquisition Siemian, is a proven winner who is a lot better than people give him credit for. Despite facing less-than-ideal circumstances in Denver, Siemian still managed to assemble a record of 13-11 there in 2016 and '17. Another former Bronco, Sloter, is a promising developmental project.

3) Cleveland Browns

There are early, encouraging signs that the Browns finally, at long last, got the quarterback position right with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Mayfield looks like he will be pretty good. He might not have the strongest arm in the world, but he's accurate, he can move around and avoid sacks, and he's a competitor who rises to the occasion. I think he'll be the man in Cleveland for a long time to come. Until Mayfield is deemed ready to play, however, Taylor should do well holding the fort. As someone who never turns the ball over, Taylor is like an answered prayer for a Browns team that posted an NFL-worst turnover differential of minus-28 last season. GM John Dorsey did a great job bringing both Taylor and Stanton aboard as veteran mentors.

Crucially, whoever steps up under center in Cleveland will be working with a much better supporting cast than past Browns QBs, which means he'll face much less pressure to keep the team in games via the air. The Browns claim to want Taylor to start, and I'm inclined to think he'll keep the job all season. However, if Mayfield ends up starting, ideally it'll happen late in the year, with the Browns having either clinched a playoff spot or having fallen short after a strong season by Taylor.

4) Indianapolis Colts

Yes, Luck's ability to shake off the rust after missing all of the 2017 season is something of a question mark (as is, to some extent, his ability to throw the ball downfield). But the upside of Luck's lost time was Brissett getting to demonstrate that, after flashing promise in New England, he's a quality backup who can give his team a chance to win when he's on the field. (It sure looks like the Colts got the better end of the deal last September that saw Indianapolis and New England swap Brissett and receiver Philip Dorsett.) Brissett started 15 games last season, completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 3,098 yards with a TD-to-INT ratio of 13:7 and a passer rating of 81.7, and reportedly attracted a recent trade offer from the Seahawksthat included a second-round pick. Against the Ravens the other night, Luck looked to be about 85 percent back to where he was at his peak a few years ago. He didn't really go deep, but he did seem to have the necessary velocity on the throws he did make. Either way, I feel good enough about Brissett to slot the Colts here.

5) Kansas City Chiefs

When I was at Chiefs training camp, Mahomes made a throw that made it seem like he could put the ball in a peach basket 55 yards downfield. He's got great promise. But he's also likely to struggle with consistency as he continues to accrue NFL experience. So why do I feel so good about the Chiefs' QB situation? Because Mahomes has been partnered with Henne, a veteran backup who can help Andy Reid coach Mahomes through his growing pains and unlock his tantalizing upside. I think he really helped Blake Bortles develop in Jacksonville. And if Henne does have to play, consider this noteworthy tidbit: Reid told me that he wishes he'd had a chance to work with Henne earlier in Henne's career. You can't turn the clock back, but Henne does now have the chance to be a backup in a quarterback-friendly offense while mentoring Mahomes. Keep an eye on Litton, who has a chance to make the 53-man squad.


1) Buffalo Bills

The quarterbacks:Josh Allen, AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman.

The apparent front-runner to start Week 1 for the Bills is a rookie who, while he has plenty of promise and a chance to be very good, struggles with accuracy and, obviously, has no NFL experience. The big-armed Allen needs to learn, as Hank Stram would put it, when to put mustard on the ball and when to take mustard off the ball. Two things working in Allen's favor: his 10-plus-inch hands, which will help him cut through the wind in Buffalo, and the presence of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who will focus on getting the ball out of Allen's hand quickly. He does have the potential to become a franchise quarterback. Still, it's going to be tough sledding in Year 1, given the state of the Bills' offensive line and receiver corps. The scary thing about this situation is what's lurking behind Allen. McCarron was unable to show enough to claim the starting job despite being a four-year NFL veteran. Peterman has posted good numbers this preseason, but his only real accomplishment of note to date is throwing five first-half interceptions in his first NFL start.

2) Denver Broncos

The quarterbacks:Case Keenum, Chad Kelly, Paxton Lynch.

The Broncos are hoping their $36-million bet on Keenum pays off. I happen to think Keenum is for real, because he's very smart and capable of winning, provided the right talent is around him. Of course, I do have questions about that supporting cast. Moreover, if something should happen to Keenum, Denver is in trouble. Lynch has been playing so poorly (completing 11 of 22 passes this preseason, for 63 yards, zero touchdowns and a 37.3 passer rating) that I would not be surprised if he were cut or traded before Week 1. Kelly -- who was, for what it's worth, "Mr. Irrelevant," or the last player picked, in the 2017 NFL Draft -- played well enough to surpass Lynch on the depth chart, but he has no previous experience as a backup. I would expect Denver to be in the market for a trustworthy veteran to slot behind Keenum.

3) Miami Dolphins

Tannehill was playing the best football of his career when he went down with an ACL injury in late 2016. Based on their decision not to draft a quarterback this year, the Dolphins must be confident Tannehill -- who was also robbed of his 2017 campaign -- can thrive running an up-tempo attack this season. I love Tannehill, and I think he's better than people give him credit for; he's athletic, smart and capable of winning. However, the backup situation is dicey, to put it delicately. Osweiler seems to be a mess. He throws a lot of interceptions (27 in 29 games over the last three seasons) and, perhaps more troublingly, hasn't looked good this preseason despite having been reunited with coach Adam Gase, who was his offensive coordinator during his time in Denver. Fales and Petty (who is dealing with an oblique injury) do not inspire much confidence, either.

4) Carolina Panthers

The Panthers' placement on this list is NOT reflective at all of Newton's ability. I do worry, however, about the way his scrambling style exposes him to repeated big hits. If he were to miss time in 2018, Carolina would, as of now, have to hand the reins to either Gilbert (a good passer without much athleticism) or Heinicke (a good athlete without much passing ability). The Panthers could still choose to re-sign Derek Anderson, Newton's longtime backup, but he might not be the best fit for new coordinator Norv Turner's offense.

5) Seattle Seahawks

As with the Panthers, the Seahawks' spot is not related to starting quarterback Russell Wilson's ability. But he was responsible for a massive portion of Seattle's offensive output last year (Wilson generated 586 rushing yards in addition to his 3,983 passing yards, or 86 percent of the Seahawks' 5,286 yards). Who would fill the gaping hole that would be left by a Wilson injury? Davis hasn't been awful in his career, but the well-traveled journeyman is not anywhere close to capable of replicating Wilson's impact. McGough, meanwhile, is still raw as a rookie. In other words, if Wilson -- who does like to run -- goes down, Seattle's season will likely go down with him. The Seahawks are not alone in their reliance on their No. 1 QB, but the lack of appealing options behind Wilson makes them among the NFL's more vulnerable outfits.


Arizona Cardinals

Bradford has a notable injury history. But he's also demonstrated the potential to be a very good player. Yes, he missed most of 2017. But in 2016, he completed a league-high 71.6 percent of his passes. He was sensational when I visited Cardinals camp. If he's as good as he looked then, he'll cause quite a stir this year. And Rosen might be a rookie, but he's smart and athletic; I think he'll be a good NFL quarterback.

New York Jets

McCown and Bridgewater have piled up some impressive career stats, with McCown's numbers (97 TDs against 78 INTs, with a passer rating of 80.8) looking even better when you consider the bad teams he's played for. In limited time this preseason, Bridgewater has looked pretty good as he continues to seek his first start since having his career derailed by a catastrophic knee injury in 2016. McCown is very smart and had a strong season in 2017, for someone of his age (he turned 39 this July) on a poor squad. Of course, we can expect Darnold to start this year. I do worry about Darnold's relative lack of experience. But he'll be good and, when he's given a better team to work with, will be capable of getting the Jets to the playoffs. For now, this trio of arms makes the Jets worth considering for this piece.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter _@GilBrandt_.

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