NFL Handicapping: Best Backup QBs
by Trevor Whenham - 9/2/2013
As NFL handicappers we probably don’t spend enough time thinking about backup quarterbacks. When we are handicapping baseball we look past the starting pitcher and consider the strength of the bullpen because we know the starter isn’t likely to finish the game. The backup quarterback isn’t as likely to be seen, but in this rough league we are just one big hit away from a change. When a team has a strong backup — at least compared to their starter — then they are a whole lot easier to trust than when there is a massive dropoff from starter to backup.
Here are four teams with strong backup situations, and two that are a real concern:
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
The margin between Michael Vick and Nick Foles in the race to be Chip Kelly’s first QB was razor thin, and there are a lot of people who think Foles should have won it. He is far from a prototypical Kelly QB, though, so he doesn’t likely have a long future under the coach with the Eagles. Vick is as fragile as they come, though, so for this year we are likely to see Foles. That is far from a bad thing. Last year as a rookie he completed more than 60 percent of his 265 passes and threw for six touchdowns with five interceptions. Not Hall of Fame numbers by any means, but it’s a nice start to build on. If Foles were to start it wouldn’t be a real cause for concern for the Eagles — exactly what you want from a backup.
Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars
The team had to pick Blaine Gabbert as the starter after all they have invested in him. Henne is at least as good, though. Neither guy is an elite QB, and the team is going to be lousy no matter who is playing, but Henne is a capable starter who has plenty of experience and is comfortable with what is needed in Jacksonville. From a betting perspective, Henne and Gabbert are essentially interchangeable. That’s one less variable you need to worry about when handicapping this team.
Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks
As a starting QB option, Jackson was terrifying. As a backup, though, he is actually quite reassuring — especially behind a young and durable guy like Russell WIlson. Jackson has plenty of experience as a starter, so the situation won’t be too big for him. He has been with Seattle long enough to know the playbook and the players he has to work with, so the chemistry he would have from the outset is as good as it is going to get. Pete Carroll has some trust in him, and that doesn’t hurt, either. Losing Wilson would be a big hit to this team, but the impact would be much less with Jackson than if someone else was still around — like if Carroll hadn’t been smart enough to give up on the failed Whitehurst and Flynn experiments so quickly.
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
There is obviously no question at all about who the starter in Washington should be. Maybe that’s what works so well for Cousins — the total absence of pressure. Whatever it is, Cousins was a revelation last year, and he seems to be the ideal contrast to the flashy Griffin. It remains to be seen how long the team can keep Cousins and resist the bounty they could likely exact in trade, but for now they have a dangerous tool and a very comforting backup option if Griffin’s knee isn’t as recovered as hoped. Because Griffin is such a high-profile, public player, there is a good chance that the betting public would overreact if he were hurt during the regular season and undervalue Cousins as a backup. That’s another reason to appreciate the former Michigan State star.
Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos
I have no particular problem with Osweiler. I liked him as a college layer, and he is as deserving of a look in the pros as a lot of guys. It’s just plain irresponsible, though, for the Broncos to have him as the primary backup for Peyton Manning. Sure, Manning is one of the great quarterbacks we have ever seen. He’s also 38, though, and he is as mobile as a block of cement. He’s also a year removed from a neck injury so serious that it looked like he might never play again. The team is built to be a major Super Bowl contender — currently the co-favorites at 6/1 at Bovada — yet they have bet everything on the fact that Manning can stay healthy. The distance between Manning and Osweiler is larger than can possibly be explained, and it just doesn’t make sense — not with so many veteran guys out there who could provide more comfort at a reasonable price.
Dominique Davis, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan has been very durable during his career so far. That can’t last forever, though — sooner or later his luck will run out and he will miss time. If and when that happens I have little confidence in Davis to effectively keep the team on track as a real contender. Davis had a rocky college career, playing at Boston College and East Carolina with a stint in community college in between. He opened some eyes last year with a strong preseason as a rookie. This year, though, he was given more opportunity in the four preseason games, and he was mostly just plain lousy. He really didn’t rise to the occasion, and that was against inferior competition to what he would face on Sundays during the regular season. The Falcons are really betting that Ryan will be fine. If he’s not then this would be a dramatically different team to bet on.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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