Ranking all NFL teams' backup quarterback situations from best to worst
The NFL is a league of attrition, even as it pertains to the quarterbacks whom so many have suggested are encased in bubble wrap as the modern game's rules have evolved to protect them.
And yet several are banged up entering in Week 3, some heading to the bench or injured reserve to lick their wounds. And so the spotlight shifts in several cities to the position some consider the second-most important on any NFL roster: the second-string quarterback. Teams manage it differently, some pairing a veteran backup with a young starter or vice versa. Many teams carry two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, others opt for more. It's a fascinating dynamic in a "next man up" game ... even if it's generally folly to think the next man, as it pertains to quarterbacks, will capably replace the guy atop the depth chart.
With that as a backdrop – and heading into Thursday night's game as the Texans make a change under center – let's rank all 32 teams by their backup QB options:
1. Chicago Bears
It's a group in flux, rookie first-rounder Justin Fields set to make his first start – precisely what many of the team's fans have been begging for – Sunday at Cleveland as veteran Andy Dalton recovers from a knee injury. Matt Nagy said he plans to restore Dalton to QB1 status once he recovers, though Fields, who's got traits in spades that could equate to greatness, might change his coach's mindset if he consistently exhibits the same brilliance he flashed in preseason. Oh, and Da Bears also have Super Bowl 52 MVP Nick Foles in reserve (for now). Any way you cut it, pretty tough trio to beat.
2. New Orleans Saints
They're the only team carrying four QBs on the active roster and what an eclectic mix behind starter Jameis Winston, a pocket passer who's already perpetuated his boom-or-bust reputation through two weeks. QB2 Taysom Hill went 3-1 in place of injured Drew Brees in 2020, but his skill set – has there been a more bruising runner classified as a quarterback since Tim Tebow? – necessitates an entirely different game plan. Fourth-round rookie Ian Book has been compared to Brees, both for his physical stature and reputation as a sharp football mind, which explains why the Saints are unwilling to put him on the practice squad and expose him to other teams. Sixth-year veteran Trevor Siemian offers 25 starts' worth of NFL experience, including a 13-12 record.
3. Buffalo Bills
Mitchell Trubisky took plenty of flak in Chicago, much of it justifiable – and unavoidable when you're drafted second overall (2017). But he also played well enough (29-21 record, 64 TDs, 37 INTs, more than 1,000 career rushing yards) to get one Pro Bowl nod and helped the team to two playoff berths even though he wasn't exactly surrounded by a wealth of offensive talent. The supporting cast Trubisky would have in Buffalo if Josh Allen goes down is certainly good enough to help him thrive and allow the 2020 AFC East champs to survive for an extended period if need be. Jake Fromm and Davis Webb are on the practice squad.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
Plenty of rumors they could be in the market for a new QB1 if second-year starter Jalen Hurts doesn't put a hammer lock on the job this year. But if he's forced off the field prematurely, Philly also has a former Super Bowl MVP (Joe Flacco) waiting in the wings – he showed the tank wasn't empty while toiling for the Jets in 2020 – along with recently acquired Gardner Minshew, who performed pretty admirably (37 TD passes, 93.1 QB rating) over 23 appearances in Jacksonville the previous two seasons under less-than-optimal circumstances of his own.
5. Cleveland Browns
Veterans Case Keenum and Nick Mullens, who currently resides on the practice squad, aren't going to step in if Baker Mayfield goes down and take Cleveland to a long-awaited Super Bowl berth. But either is capable of keeping a team afloat for six or eight weeks, especially given this offense doesn't rely nearly as heavily on the pass as so many around the league do.
6. Las Vegas Raiders
Marcus Mariota arguably has more upside than any backup in the league. Problem is, no telling when he'll be available after injuring a quadriceps on a 31-yard run on opening night. Nathan Peterman arguably has the least amount of upside among reserve QBs in the league, though his putrid 34.0 career passer rating was mostly compiled during his first two years with Buffalo. But if Derek Carr's ankle issues flare up, it will be Peterman who gets the call for the foreseeable future, and Raiders fans will have to hope he's been rehabilitated by Jon Gruden. Practice squad member Kyle Sloter could also get into the mix.
7. Washington Football Team
If they let Taylor Heinicke run with this job – which is probably the correct strategic move for this organization – then the WFT is left with a pair of backups, Kyle Allen and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who have both shown the ability to be spectacular or unsightly spectacles depending on the week. The hip injury Fitzpatrick suffered in Week 1 is expected to keep him shelved for a significant chunk of the season.
8. San Francisco 49ers
Trey Lance, the No. 3 pick of this year's draft, hasn't played much football in the past two seasons but only needs Jimmy Garoppolo to struggle or get injured again in order to get his shot to lead a potential powerhouse – maybe for the next decade-plus if the Niners' pre-draft gamble to get in position for Lance proves justified. Nate Sudfeld, formerly a backup in Washington and Philadelphia, is currently on the practice squad.
9. Kansas City Chiefs
Chad Henne is a journeyman but also owns 54 career starts and has been in Andy Reid's system since 2018. There may not be a human alive who can replicate Patrick Mahomes' magic, but Henne capably came out of the bullpen in last season's divisional playoff round, when Mahomes went out with a concussion, and enabled the eventual AFC champs to survive a stiff challenge from the Browns.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
Mason Rudolph has won five of nine career starts and shown he's efficient enough to keep this team on track when everything is working well enough around him. Dwayne Haskins, the 15th overall pick by Washington two years ago, provided reminders in preseason for why he was drafted so high ... and others that suggest he needs more seasoning. Regardless, intriguing options for coach Mike Tomlin if Ben Roethlisberger's recently revealed pectoral injury relegates him to the sideline.
11. Denver Broncos
A shame third-year player Drew Lock doesn't currently have the opportunity to refine his prodigious talent in regular-season game action. But his inconsistency through 18 career starts and least season's league-high 15 interceptions suggest Denver (2-0) made the right choice opting for game manager Teddy Bridgewater as QB1 for now.
12. Green Bay Packers
Welp, 2020 first-rounder Jordan Love better be as good as Pack brass thinks he is ... though no real evidence provided (so far) at the NFL level to vindicate that hope.
NFL POWER RANKINGS:Raiders, Ravens rocket into top 10
13. Miami Dolphins
Jacoby Brissett is one of the league's better backups even if he didn't show it Sunday when he was thrust into the lineup after Tua Tagovailoa fractured his ribs in a game the Fins lost 35-0. Expect Brissett to perform much better in Las Vegas after a week of first-team reps in practice.
14. Arizona Cardinals
Twelfth-year vet Colt McCoy is a total pro and a great asset for Kyler Murray to lean on. Chris Streveler helped the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers win a Grey Cup before joining the Cards, but he's a better athlete than quarterback at this early stage of his career.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Hard to get too excited about Blaine Gabbert, given the 2011 first-round bust's overall résumé, but Bruce Arians has liked him since they were in Arizona together. Second-rounder Kyle Trask probably isn't ready to contribute, but Ryan Griffin probably could if recalled from the practice squad given he's been with this organization since 2015.
16. Atlanta Falcons
Former first-rounder Josh Rosen and undrafted rookie Feleipe Franks are enticing projects ... though little chance either is remotely ready to fill in for Matt Ryan.
17. Minnesota Vikings
Sean Mannion has been in the league for six years, for what it's worth, though he's been unimpressive in spot duty. Third-round rookie Kellen Mond has potential ... and the potential to muck things up if he remains unvaccinated against COVID-19 and causes a disruption in the QB room, as he did in training camp, given starter Kirk Cousins has also been reluctant to get a shot.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Since being drafted by the Jets in 2013, Geno Smith has started 31 games – but only two since the beginning of the 2015 season. Third-stringer Jake Luton didn't look good in three starts as a rookie with Jacksonville last year, though his circumstances hardly presented an environment for a fair evaluation. And what does it matter anyway, given starter Russell Wilson has never missed a game in the NFL, nor played fewer than 95% of the snaps in any of his 10 seasons?
19. Los Angeles Chargers
Chase Daniel has been in the league since 2009, though it's worth noting he's only started five times. Easton Stick is a nice developmental player snatched in the fifth round of the 2019 draft.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars
C.J. Beathard earned quite a bit of respect from his teammates while dealing with difficult circumstances on and off the field during his four years with the 49ers. A capable player who should be a good sounding board for No. 1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence as he navigates his first NFL season.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Brandon Allen has kicked around the league for five years but did a respectable job (925 yards passing, 5 TDs, 4 INTs) after taking over for injured Joe Burrow last season.
22. Los Angeles Rams
Former AAF standout John Wolford led the Rams into the playoffs last season and started in the wild-card round before being injured. Despite limited NFL experience, he's shown Sean McVay enough to earn the backup job behind Matthew Stafford. Bryce Perkins received a lot of playing time in preseason.
23. New England Patriots
Brian Hoyer has plenty of institutional knowledge and should be a good mentor for rookie Mac Jones but hasn't been an effective player in about five years. Jarrett Stidham (physically unable to perform list) and Garrett Gilbert (practice squad) haven't shown much in limited opportunities in their nascent NFL careers.
24. New York Giants
Mike Glennon has a big arm and nine years of experience, though hard to say what it's worth given he's been on the losing end 21 times in 27 career starts. His lack of mobility would certainly force the G-Men to scale back the game plans designed for far more athletic Daniel Jones.
25. Detroit Lions
David Blough has seven INTs in 184 career attempts – not great. Tim Boyle, currently on injured reserve, is a nifty prospect who kept Love inactive last season in Green Bay.
26. Houston Texans
It might not be a stretch to say their QB circumstances are the weirdest in NFL history. Third-round rookie Davis Mills is stepping in Thursday and likely to start at least as long as veteran Tyrod Taylor is down with a hamstring injury. Jeff Driskel (9 NFL starts) should come off the practice squad to backstop Mills. Meanwhile, three-time Pro Bowler Deshaun Watson remains on the active roster ... but apparently won't play again until Houston finally finds a trade offer it deems sufficient to move him.
27. Baltimore Ravens
Sophomore Tyler Huntley won the QB2 job with a very impressive preseason but remains untested when it counts.
28. Dallas Cowboys
Will Grier, Cooper Rush and Ben DiNucci (practice squad) have combined to throw 98 NFL passes, none for TDs, and 48.4 QB rating. Don't get hurt again, Dak.
29. Indianapolis Colts
Jacob Eason is in line to get his first NFL start this weekend if Carson Wentz's sprained ankles don't allow him to suit up. Eason looked shaky in relief during Week 2 and could be looking over his shoulder at Brett Hundley, who started nine games in place of Aaron Rodgers four years ago.
30. Carolina Panthers
P.J. Walker, the would-be MVP of the XFL in 2020, would be the man if Sam Darnold goes down.
31. Tennessee Titans
With three NFL passes to his name, Logan Woodside is unproven. Practice squad alternative Matt Barkley has proven he's not a very good fallback since being drafted in 2013.
32. New York Jets
Now in his fourth season, Mike White has never taken an NFL snap – making him infinitely less experienced than rookie starter Zach Wilson. Josh Johnson has kicked around the periphery of the NFL (8 career starts) and other professional leagues since 2008 and could be promoted from the practice squad.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.