Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL. So what happens when the centerpiece of one team’s offense gets carted off to the locker room and relinquishes his claim at the top of the depth chart?
Then it’s time for Plan B — and for some teams, that’s a manageable, or even opportunistic swap. Others, like last year’s Bengals or the 2017 Packers, face disastrous returns after downgrading their depth charts. A good backup can keep the offense afloat and even create a permanent change behind center. A bad one will leave the team with little to look forward to besides a strong start at the following year’s NFL Draft.
So who is best positioned to deal with a quarterback injury in 2019? This year’s crop of backup passers can be broken up into seven categories. Here’s how all 32 teams and their collections of Art Garfunkels rate this offseason.
Tier I: Guys who could acceptably start in worse situations
Jacoby Brissett, Colts
Tyrod Taylor, Chargers
Teddy Bridgewater, Saints
Nick Mullens, 49ers
Ryan Tannehill, Titans
Case Keenum, Washington
These are the players who’d likely hover around No. 25-30 in terms of quarterback rating over the course of a full season — good enough to be a fill-in, but not good enough to build a franchise around.
Brissett’s inclusion in this tier is dicey, but I’m willing to chalk up his underwhelming year of starting in Indianapolis to a piecemeal offensive line that allowed him to get sacked every 1 in 10 dropbacks in 2017. Taylor was outright bad for Cleveland last fall, but he only started three games and is less than two years removed from getting the damn Bills to the playoffs, so he can’t be written off entirely. Bridgewater is an enigma, and his lack of free agent interest this offseason suggests the league is still uncertain about his comeback.
Mullens threw for more than 280 yards per game in relief of Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard, making an impressive leap from practice squad veteran to league-average quarterback. Tannehill takes too many sacks and is an injury-prone backup to an injury-prone starter, but when healthy he can give you enough production to win around him.
Washington presents an interesting case, as it’s got three quarterbacks vying for a starting role, all of whom fit into different categories. Assuming Keenum backs up first-round pick Dwayne Haskins, he’s stuck here. The journeyman struggled in Denver last season, but his breakout 2017 showcased his potential under the right coaching staff.
Tier II: Our bridge to the future. Maybe
Drew Lock, Broncos
Daniel Jones, Giants
Josh Rosen, Dolphins
Here lie the players selected either in 2018 or 2019 who won’t be guaranteed any starts this fall. While Haskins and Kyler Murray have great odds to start their season openers in 2019, this trio may have to wait behind veterans in the name of development. Jones, in particular, may be waiting two to three years behind Eli Manning, according to his general manager.