NFL Handicapping: Best and Worst Backup Quarterbacks
by Trevor Whenham - 8/18/2014
As the saying goes, when things are going poorly in football there is no player more popular than the backup QB. Even when things are going well, the backup QB is a crucially important position. Few things can be more disruptive for a team than the loss of a starter. As a handicapper we always live in fear of losing a starter we have bet on. Those fears can be eased substantially, though, when the backup is viable and can be trusted to step in and perform at a reasonable level.
There are some backup situations out there that are strong and impressive. Others don't inspire any confidence at all. Here's a look at the best and worst backup QB situations heading into the season this year to help with your NFL handicapping:
Michael Vick, New York Jets: Vick has been a starter a lot in this league, and he is still good enough and smart enough to be one. He has matured, though, and seems capable of being a positive presence behind Geno Smith without making the youngster feel like his job is in jeopardy. It is a rare luxury when a team has two starting quarterbacks and can, at least theoretically, shift from one to the other without skipping a beat. The Jets are in such a position.
Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Glennon struggled down the stretch last year, but there was a lot working against him in the circus that was Tampa Bay. He was never expected to be a starter, yet he stepped up as a rookie and even earned Rookie of the Month for November. It is a good thing that he doesn't have to bear the responsibility of starting now. He can learn from a veteran in McCown, and he will benefit immensely from the order that has been restored to this team now that Lovie Smith is in charge.
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins: Cousins is young and not particularly proven, but I liked his poise and competitiveness in college, and he has so far exhibited the same in a very tough position in Washington. He may never get his chance with the Redskins - team management certainly hopes that that is the case - but when he does I expect him t be ready and more than competent.
Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia Eagles: Sanchez needed to leave the Jets badly. It was a situation that had gone very poorly, and he just wasn't a fit there anymore. Now he is in a much more stable, well-coached organization, and he is out of the intense spotlight. He is also in a higher-tempo system that suits his playing style well. Despite his woes in New York, he did start a lot of games, so he will be ready when given the chance. He'll have better players, a better system, and much less chaos around him. This was an outstanding signing for Chip Kelly.
Wild card - Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars: The plan was to have Bortles, the third overall pick, sit out his rookie year to learn and grow on the bench. No one told Bortles, though, because he is looking ready to play. It is only preseason, of course, but he has looked poised and competent. The combination of the youngster and veteran Chad Henne allows the team to be patient and work towards the long term in the best way possible. After all, though the team should be much improved, no one expects them to be a big winner this year.
Charlie Whitehurst, Tennessee Titans: Whitehurst has underwhelmed in multiple stops - remember when he was brought in as Pete Carroll's first QB savior in Seattle? He has not been impressive in the action he has seen. His accuracy is questionable, and that's being kind. Jake Locker is far from durable, and it doesn't give a lot of confidence to think that we could be one snap away from the Whitehurst era at any point.
Ryan Nassib, New York Giants: Nassib is in his second year in the league, and he has yet to throw a pass. He came through the draft with some hype, but it hasn't yet materialized. That's not a concern particularly for a QB picked in the fourth round - not usually. Eli Manning has looked really lousy so far this fall, though, and could be vulnerable as he gets older. The NFC East is a race, but the Giants could fall far behind if Manning had to miss time because it just doesn't seem likely that Nassib is ready for live fire.
Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick puts his body on the line many times each game. If he were to get hurt then a very promising season could be derailed in a flash. Gabbert was awful in Jacksonville, and he has looked even worse in San Francisco. A team that has done such a good job of building depth and hoarding talent elsewhere has totally failed with their backup.
Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos: How many times have we seen this same story? Peyton Manning is a control freak, and he loves to play. He won't leave a game even when most veterans would be out and cooled off, so his backups don't get meaningful game experience. Osweiler has been Manning's backup for two years, and he has thrown only 20 career passes. Even worse, 13 of those 20 passes came in the final game last year against Oakland after Manning had already thrown four touchdowns to break the spirit of the Raiders. In other words, Osweiler has never done anything meaningful, so we have no reason to believe he is ready. That's fine - as long as the ageless one remains ageless. He's 38 now, though, and the injuries have piled up for him. If Manning were to get hurt things would go very, very badly for the team - and you can't blame Osweiler for that. It's irresponsible management.
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