The 10 Best Backup Quarterbacks in the NFL
No one would argue that starting quarterback is the single most important position on any NFL team, but oftentimes the quality of the backup signal-caller is also of paramount importance. It's what makes quarterbacks like Matt Moore (Dolphins), Matt Hasselbeck (Colts) and Kyle Orton (Cowboys) so valuable.
Now, this list is about the best backup quarterbacks, so I am in no way, shape or form intimating that I would be comfortable with anyone on this list being my team's starting quarterback for 16 games.
I rank backup quarterbacks based on my confidence level on them to get the job done in a pinch. What if the starter sprains an ankle and needs to come out of a game? What if the starter sustains a concussion and must miss a few games? How much trust would you have in the backup to come in and potentially win a few games in his stead?
That's what separates the great backup quarterbacks from the average ones: The ability to steer the ship successfully for an undisclosed period of time while the starter gets healthy or returns to form.
With that said, here, in no particular order, are the 10 best backup quarterbacks in the NFL, with apologies to Jason Campbell (Browns), Kevin Kolb (Bills) and Nick Foles (Eagles), who just missed the grade.
Kyle Orton, Dallas Cowboys
While the Dallas Cowboys roster won't evoke memories of the '70s Steelers, they are just fine at the quarterback position, with Tony Romo entrenched as the starter and Kyle Orton as his backup.
Throughout his NFL career (2005-present), Orton has shown a proclivity to succeed when needed, sporting a 35-34 career record as a starter. He's also tossed 81 touchdown passes against only 57 interceptions.
Bottom line: If Romo had to miss a few weeks, Orton could absolutely come in and hold down the fort. That makes him an easy inclusion on this list.
Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins
While Matt Moore's career numbers (13-12 as a starter, 33 touchdown passes against 26 interceptions) are solid for a backup, it was his performance in relief of an injured Chad Henne in 2011 that merits inclusion on this list.
That year, the Dolphins started 0-6, but Moore helped them rebound to finish 6-10 by winning six of his 12 starts with a passer rating of 87.1. In that stretch, Moore showed the kind of poise and mental wherewithal needed from a backup quarterback.
It should give Dolphins fans faith that if Ryan Tannehill needed to miss a period of time, they'd be in good hands with Moore.
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
While some scoffed at the Redskins selection of quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 draft after selecting their franchise signal-caller, Robert Griffin III, in the first, it was a brilliant move, as the team would have both the luxury of developing Cousins to trade him and a quality backup for Griffin.
Well, it turned out that the Redskins would need Cousins last year, and he delivered when needed.
In Week 14 against Baltimore, Cousins stepped in for an injured Griffin against the Ravens and led the Redskins to a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion, and they went on to win in overtime. That result was critical in the Redskins eventually winning the NFC East.
Then, in Week 15, Cousins started and sparkled against the Browns, throwing for 329 yards and two touchdown passes in a 38-21 Washington victory.
Cousins has already shown that he has the talent and moxie to be one of the better backup options in the NFL, and with Griffin still sidelined from a torn ACL suffered in the postseason, he's shown command of the offense during offseason workouts.
Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis Colts
Matt Hasselbeck is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the Seattle Seahawks, leading them to a berth in Super Bowl XL and five trips to the postseason. Hasselbeck has also thrown for over 200 touchdown passes in his career.
While he might not be a starting-quality player at this stage of his career (he'll turn 38 during this season), he's certainly capable of stepping in and getting the job done.
Now he'll back up Colts superstar quarterback Andrew Luck, and while the absolute last thing Indianapolis fans would want to see is Luck missing any games, there's little question that Hasselbeck could foot the bill if necessary and help keep the team afloat.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tennessee Titans
Previously in this space, I've been a major critic of Ryan Fitzpatrick's tenure as starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills.
He was miscast in the role of franchise player, which isn't his fault, but Fitzpatrick didn't deliver the goods after signing a big-money deal to be Buffalo's long-term answer at quarterback. He was 20-33 as the Bills starter.
But, he is capable enough to be one of the better backup options in the league. He's thrown 92 career touchdown passes against 81 interceptions and has proven to be a capable player.
With young quarterback Jake Locker having failed to shine thus far in his two years in Tennessee and head coach Mike Munchak likely needing to win to save his job, it's possible that we'll see Fitzpatrick play this year for the Titans.
That wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, as long as the Titans don't give him a long-term extension and expect him to be their franchise player. That, he's not.
T.J. Yates, Houston Texans
In 2011, Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates stepped into one of the toughest situations imaginable, as both signal-callers in front of him on the depth chart, Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, were lost for the season with injuries, and Houston was fighting for the franchise's first ever playoff berth.
While Yates, then the third-stringer, only won two of the three games he started in the regular season, he didn't embarrass himself (three touchdown passes against three interceptions), and it was enough to guide the Texans into the postseason.
Yates then did enough to lead the Texans to a Wild-Card playoff victory over the Bengals, throwing a touchdown pass in the win and avoiding turnovers.
The storybook run for Yates ended the following week in Baltimore, but he certainly showed enough to earn the confidence of coach Gary Kubiak and the Texans organization.
Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars
Again, it's important to reiterate that this list does not represent a list of players I'd feel comfortable with as my starting quarterback for a full season. If that were the case, Chad Henne would not have made it.
But, assuming Blaine Gabbert wins the Jaguars quarterback job, Henne is an extremely capable backup who can come in, put up big numbers and potentially win games.
Just look at his performance in Week 11 last year in Houston, where Henne relieved an injured Gabbert and lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 354 yards and four touchdowns. While the Jaguars lost 43-37 in overtime, that certainly can't be blamed on Henne.
So, while Henne lacks the talent to be a full-time starter, he's the kind of backup that you can feel confident in for a few games.
Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings
Much like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel is another quarterback who is better suited for a backup role, as he's compiled a 29-33 record as a starter, albeit with 82 touchdown passes against 57 interceptions.
Cassel went 19-28 in his time as the Chiefs starter but has enough skill to be a quality backup, and the Vikings desperately needed one, which made his signing a perfect fit.
When Minnesota starter Christian Ponder was forced to miss the team's Wild-Card playoff loss in Green Bay with an elbow injury, the team's backup, Joe Webb, turned in a performance that would make Amanda Bynes blush, giving the Vikings no chance of winning.
Now, if Ponder needs to miss time, coach Leslie Frazier and the Vikings organization can feel confident in knowing that they have an experienced backup who has won games in the league. That makes Cassel an easy inclusion on this list.
Shaun Hill, Detroit Lions
Seeing Lions quarterback Shaun Hill on this list might shock you. It shouldn't.
Hill is absolutely one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league. He owns a 13-13 career record as a starter, but what's more telling is his touchdown-to-interception ratio: 41 against 23.
He's one of the more underrated backup quarterbacks in football, but that doesn't take away from his value. He's a guy who could definitely come in and win a few games if your starter needed to miss time.
Ryan Mallett/Tim Tebow, New England Patriots
With the Patriots reportedly set to sign quarterback Tim Tebow, according to ESPN, New England now possesses the most intriguing backup situation in football, as Tebow joins Ryan Mallett behind franchise player Tom Brady.
Mallett was a star in college, but character concerns dropped him to the third round of the 2011 draft. Mallett's huge arm and ability has piqued the interest of several teams, including the Buccaneers and Browns, who, earlier this offseason, were rumored to have interest in trading for him.
Then, there's the always-polarizing Tebow, coming off an absolute disaster of a season in 2012 for the Jets. While Tebow barely saw the field last season, that can be more attributed to Tony Sparano being one of the worst offensive coordinators in NFL history.
While no one will ever confuse Tebow with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, he did show flashes of winning ability in Denver, and if there were ever a team to absorb everything he brings to the table, both on-field and off, it's the Patriots.
Coach Bill Belichick is a master at controlling media exposure of his players, so don't expect a press conference to announce the signing of their third-string quarterback. Plus, the team's offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, drafted Tebow while he was head coach of the Broncos, so there is a familiarity there.
With Mallett and Tebow behind Brady, New England would likely be able to fashion together some victories in the unfortunate event of a Brady injury.
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