Ranking Every NFL Team's Backup QB Situation

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJune 25, 2018

Ranking Every NFL Team's Backup QB Situation

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Which NFL teams have the best and worst insurance policies at the sport's most important position? Let's break it down franchise by franchise. 

    With training camps about four weeks out, 32 quarterbacks have been identified by their coaches as projected Week 1 starters. 

    Now let's look at how those 32 teams stack up when it comes to their backup quarterback situations, taking a combination of potential, experience and past accomplishments into consideration. 


32. Carolina Panthers

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Starter: Cam Newton

    Backups: Garrett Gilbert, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen

    Not gonna lie: I had to Google all three of these guys. Gilbert is a 2014 sixth-round pick out of SMU on his fifth NFL roster in five seasons, Heinicke went undrafted out of Old Dominion in 2015 and is on his fourth roster in four seasons, and Allen is an undrafted rookie who put up pedestrian numbers at Texas A&M and Houston. 

    Between them they've thrown one NFL pass, although it was a 10-yard Heinicke completion in 2017, so they have a perfect combined completion percentage. 

    That won't offer much solace for the Carolina Panthers if something happens to Newton.

31. Dallas Cowboys

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Starter: Dak Prescott

    Backups: Cooper Rush, Mike White, Dalton Sturm

    At least this trio has thrown a combined three passes, but Rush completed just one of his three throws in relief of Prescott last season. The undrafted second-year Central Michigan product can't be relied upon for anything beyond spot duty, nor can White and Sturm. 

    The former is a fifth-round rookie out of Western Kentucky who has a ton of work to do, while the latter isn't close to ready (and probably never will be) as an undrafted rookie out of University of Texas at San Antonio. 

    In an extremely competitive NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys would be screwed if they were forced to go without Prescott for an extended stretch. 

30. Houston Texans

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Starter: Deshaun Watson

    Backups: Brandon Weeden, Stephen Morris, Joe Webb

    Weeden hasn't thrown an NFL pass since 2015, although he wasn't bad in short stretches with Dallas and the Houston Texans that season. He has natural talent and experience, but he's better-suited as a third-stringer. Problem is, he's their best backup. 

    Morris hasn't thrown an NFL pass despite spending time on six different rosters since going undrafted in 2014, while Webb is no longer viewed as a quarterback. The 2010 sixth-round pick was converted to receiver early in his career and has thrown seven passes in the last six years. 

    That's far from ideal, considering Watson is coming back from a major knee injury. 

29. Cincinnati Bengals

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Starter: Andy Dalton

    Backups: Matt Barkley, Jeff Driskel, Logan Woodside

    The Cincinnati Bengals might wind up wishing they had kept McCarron if Dalton struggles or suffers a major injury this season, because Barkley is an inferior quarterback.

    The 27-year-old has changed teams five times in the last five years, and he's coming off an entire season in which he was inactive in Arizona. He started six games and appeared in a seventh with the Bears in 2016, but the 2013 fourth-round pick threw eight touchdown passes and 14 interceptions during that stretch. 

    Barkley shouldn't be a No. 2 quarterback, but Driskel was only a third-stringer the last two years and hasn't done anything to earn a bigger role, while Woodside will at least need time to develop as a rookie seventh-round pick. 

    Dalton simply has to hold up.

28. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Starter: Patrick Mahomes II

    Backups: Chad Henne, Matt McGloin, Chase Litton

    Henne is probably one of the league's most well-known backup quarterbacks, but the 10-year veteran hasn't completed an NFL pass since 2014. He lost all three of his spot starts with the Jacksonville Jaguars that season, and that was actually a "career year" for the now-32-year-old, who has a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 58-to-63. Henne might be the league's only overrated backup quarterback. 

    Amazingly, McGloin might be a better option for the Kansas City Chiefs. The undrafted 28-year-old lost six of his seven spot starts during his first four years in Oakland, and he's been on three different rosters in the last 15 months. But at least he has a little more upside and as many touchdowns as interceptions (11 apiece). 

    Neither looks like he'd be able to offer much in place of Mahomes, and Litton is in the same boat, as he's an undrafted rookie. 

27. New York Giants

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Starter: Eli Manning

    Backups: Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta, Alex Tanney

    As a 30-year-old with 10 career completions, Tanney is nothing more than a camp arm. That means the only two legitimate backup candidates on the New York Giants roster have a combined zero NFL pass attempts.

    And while there's hope for both Webb (a second-year third-round pick) and Lauletta (a rookie fourth-round pick), it would nice if Manning were backed up by somebody with NFL experience. It's doubtful either would be able to do much for Big Blue during an extended stretch in 2018. 

26. Green Bay Packers

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Starter: Aaron Rodgers

    Backups: Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle 

    Hundley lost six of his nine starts in place of the injured Rodgers (broken collarbone) last season, throwing more interceptions (12) than touchdown passes (nine) while averaging just 5.8 yards per attempt. The Green Bay Packers can't afford to go down that path again, but Kizer was even worse as a rookie with the Browns in 2017. The second-round pick's 60.5 rating was the lowest qualified passer rating posted by a quarterback since 2011. 

    Both are young and have room to improve, but they can't be expected to help the Packers in 2018.

    Boyle is little more than a camp arm. 

25. Denver Broncos

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Starter: Case Keenum

    Backups: Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly

    Lynch still has some upside as a 24-year-old first-round pick, but he'd need the first strong preseason of his career in order to give the Broncos any confidence beyond the highly paid Keenum. He gets points for potential but hasn't done much to prove he can be counted on. 

    However, at least they have another young option in Chad Kelly, who hasn't thrown an NFL pass but has generated some buzz coming back from a lost rookie season due to a wrist injury. He's also only 24, though, and the Broncos could use some actual experience behind Keenum. 

24. San Francisco 49ers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Starter: Jimmy Garoppolo

    Backups: C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens, Jack Heneghan

    The 49ers clearly believe Garoppolo is the man. Because not only did they hand him a $138 million contract in the offseason, but they've left themselves with no reliable alternatives in case something goes wrong. 

    Beathard could eventually become a decent backup, but the 2017 third-round pick out of Iowa struggled mightily in five starts as a rookie last season, posting a 69.2 passer rating during a 1-4 stretch. 

    Mullens and Heneghan are both undrafted rookies who are unlikely to make the final roster, leaving the Niners short on experience, talent and depth beyond Jimmy G. 

23. Washington Redskins

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Starter: Alex Smith

    Backups: Colt McCoy, Kevin Hogan

    Neither McCoy nor Hogan can likely carry the Redskins if Smith goes down for an extended stretch, but at least you know what you're getting.

    The former is a 31-year-old third-round pick who's made 25 starts in the last eight years and has posted a half-decent completion percentage of 60.3. He's barely thrown more touchdown passes than interceptions, and there's practically no upside there, but he's been around. 

    The latter completed 59.4 percent of 101 passes with the Browns in 2016 and 2017. He has higher potential as a 25-year-old fifth-round pick, but his ceiling probably isn't high enough for him to excel as a starter for an extended run. 

    Without Smith, the Redskins won't be significantly better off than the division-rival Cowboys without Prescott.

22. Baltimore Ravens

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Starter: Joe Flacco

    Backups: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Josh Woodrum

    Jackson and Griffin are both 20-something-year-old first-round picks, which makes it hard to call this a terrible backup situation. The former could become a franchise quarterback, while the latter is an intriguing reclamation project. 

    But Jackson will likely need plenty of time before he's ready to start taking regular-season NFL snaps, as he'll have to improve his footwork, his accuracy and even his strength. He's a project, which isn't ideal for the No. 2 job. 

    Griffin could emerge to grab that role, but it's discouraging that nobody wanted him last season after he flamed out with the Browns in 2016. 

    Woodrum is just a camp arm, so if something happens to Flacco and Griffin can't suddenly rediscover the magic from his past, the Ravens will be in trouble.

21. Tennessee Titans

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Starter: Marcus Mariota

    Backups: Blaine Gabbert, Luke Falk

    Gabbert has enough talent that he was once viewed as a top-10 pick. That was a mistake, but he did fare a lot better in San Francisco (60.6 percent, 6.7 yards-per-attempt average, 80.2 passer rating) than in Jacksonville (55.9, 6.0, 71.5). He wasn't great last year in five spot starts with the Cardinals, but he's a middle-of-the-pack No. 2 at the age of 28. 

    It would just be nice if there were another experienced option behind Mariota and Gabbert, but the only other quarterback on the roster is Falk, who shouldn't come close to the field as a rookie sixth-round pick.

20. Seattle Seahawks

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Starter: Russell Wilson

    Backups: Austin Davis, Alex McGough

    Davis doesn't get a lot of love as a journeyman backup, but the 29-year-old did a hell of a job as a starter for an extended stretch with the Rams in 2014, and he caught fire during a lights-out 2017 preseason in Seattle. 

    Still, he hasn't attempted an NFL pass since 2015, and it's not a good sign that McGough—a rookie seventh-round pickseems to be pushing him for the backup role. 

    Davis has changed teams five times since coming into the league in 2012, so there might be something coaches just don't like. Throw in that McGough isn't likely ready coming out of Florida International, and there'll once again be a lot of pressure on Wilson to stay on the field in 2018.

19. New Orleans Saints

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Starter: Drew Brees

    Backups: Taysom Hill, Tom Savage, J.T. Barrett 

    Savage embarrassed himself in seven starts for the Texans last season and has put up ugly numbers since coming into the league as a fourth-round pick in 2014. He's best suited as a third-stringer, which might be the case if Hill continues to shine this offseason. 

    Hill gets points for potential because he's an exciting young player who did big things last preseason in Green Bay. But he's still an undrafted 27-year-old with zero career regular-season pass attempts under his belt. 

    Undrafted rookie J.T. Barrett also has some upside after a huge career at Ohio State, but he's at best a long-term project as a passer.

    They won't likely survive without Brees, but they could at least get a better feel for their future at that position.

18. New England Patriots

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Starter: Tom Brady 

    Backups: Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling

    At this point last year, the Patriots had one of the best backup duos in the league in Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, but they're both gone now. That leaves them thin with only Hoyer and the rookie seventh-round pick Etling behind Brady.

    Hoyer at least has plenty of experience and a strong touchdown-to-interception ratio of 48-to-30, but he struggled while losing all six of his starts last season as part of a 49ers team that Garoppolo excelled with. 

    That might have been a sign that he's fading at 32, which would lead to even more uncertainty if the Pats were forced to use him this season.

17. Los Angeles Rams

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    Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

    Starter: Jared Goff

    Backups: Sean Mannion, Brandon Allen, Luis Perez

    Just a year ago, Mannion was receiving so much hype that there were suggestions he could steal Goff's job. That won't happen, but only because Goff became a star in 2017. To Mannion's credit, the 26-year-old 2015 third-round pick put together another superb preseason last August. 

    But he hasn't been able to shine in limited regular-season opportunities, so it's tough to tell how he'd perform if tasked with having to replace Goff for an extended period.

    Same goes for Allen, a sixth-round pick by the Jaguars in 2016 who has never been active for an NFL game, and Perez, an undrafted rookie out of something called Texas A&M-Commerce.

    This is a middle-of-the-pack backup situation only because Mannion has upside.

16. Atlanta Falcons

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Starter: Matt Ryan 

    Backups: Matt Schaub, Garrett Grayson, Kurt Benkert

    Ryan didn't miss a single snap in 2017 and hasn't missed a game this decade, but the 36-year-old Schaub has the experience and ability to guide the offense for short stretches without him if need be. For what it's worth, he completed 77 percent of 48 passes for 426 yards (8.9 yards per attempt) in his last two preseasons with the Falcons. 

    But the Falcons don't have any depth beyond that. Benkert won't come close to the field, while Grayson hasn't thrown a single pass since being drafted in the third round by the Saints in 2015. 

15. Detroit Lions

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Starter: Matthew Stafford

    Backups: Jake Rudock, Matt Cassel

    Cassel can spend the rest of his life calling himself a "Pro Bowl quarterback," but it's been nearly a decade since the 36-year-old accomplished that feat while posting a 93.0 passer rating with the Chiefs. He didn't appear to have much left in the tank the last couple of years in Tennessee. 

    But if Rudock can hold him off for the backup job, Cassel would at least bring a ton of experience to the table as a third-stringer and an alternative to the young Michigan product in case Stafford goes down. If Rudock can take another step forward in his third season after putting up strong numbers last preseason, the Lions will have a viable backup tandem on their hands. 

14. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Starter: Blake Bortles

    Backups: Cody Kessler, Tanner Lee

    Kessler might have lost all eight of his starts with the Browns in 2016, but the rookie was thrown to the wolves with a terrible team. He still managed to complete 65.6 percent of his passes while tossing only two interceptions and posting a 92.3 passer rating during that run.

    Throw in a solid 2017 preseason showing, and the 25-year-old isn't a bad insurance policy for Bortles. 

    The Jags could just use a little more experience back there, because rookie sixth-round pick Tanner Lee isn't close to ready. 

13. Minnesota Vikings

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Starter: Kirk Cousins

    Backups: Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter, Peter Pujals

    The advantage with Siemian is he's young (26) but experienced enough (24 career starts) that you know what you're getting if Cousins isn't available. The problem is his numbers plummeted in his second season as a starter in Denver, and he might have already peaked. 

    But watch out for Sloter, who was a star as an undrafted rookie last preseason. The 24-year-old completed more than 70 percent of his passes for 413 yards, a 9.6 yards-per-attempt average, three touchdowns to zero picks and a 125.4 rating in four outings. 

    Pujals won't make the 53-man roster, but Minnesota has two above-average backups with upside.

12. Oakland Raiders

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Starter: Derek Carr

    Backups: EJ Manuel, Connor Cook

    Manuel and Cook both had strong college careers and still have some potential at the NFL level.

    Cook was abysmal in a playoff loss to the Texans two years ago, but it wouldn't be fair to hold that surprise start against him. He was a rookie fourth-round pick at the time and, in his defense, he performed well against the Broncos in the regular-season finale. We haven't seen Cook in an NFL game since, though, and his preseason performances haven't been pretty. 

    Manuel is older (28 versus 25) but still probably has more upside than Cook. He's certainly a better athlete, and he at least didn't embarrass himself in limited action in place of Carr last season. 

    It wouldn't be surprising if one of the two emerged as an above-average second-string quarterback in 2018, and the other guy wouldn't be a bad No. 3. 

11. Indianapolis Colts

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Starter: Andrew Luck

    Backups: Jacoby Brissett, Brad Kaaya, Phillip Walker

    Because Luck's surgically repaired throwing shoulder continues to be a cause for concern as the three-time Pro Bowler fights to get back into action for the first time since 2016, the Colts have still left themselves a little too thin on the quarterback depth chart.

    Brissett isn't bad. He limited his turnovers and made plays with his legs during a full season in place of Luck last year, and he still has room to grow as a 24-year-old third-round pick. But he took too many sacks, and his rate-based numbers weren't adequate.

    Kaaya is a high-upside No. 3 a year removed from a great college career at Miami, but it's not a good sign that he's changed teams three times since being drafted in the sixth round a year ago. He's not close to ready, nor is Walker, who spent his rookie season on the Indy practice squad. 

    If Luck isn't available, they might again be in trouble.

10. Chicago Bears

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Starter: Mitchell Trubisky

    Backups: Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray

    The Bears' backup quarterback tandem isn't sexy, but it's reliable. 

    Despite rarely getting opportunities, Daniel has been a top-quality backup quarterback for years. Two of his last three preseasons (in Philadelphia in 2016 and in New Orleans in 2017) have been superb, and new Bears head coach Matt Nagy knows him well from their time together in Kansas City.

    There's no long-term potential there, but he's a quality 31-year-old second-stringer. 

    And they're probably in trouble if they need to use Bray extensively, but the former Chief was also good last preseason under Nagy's tutelage. 

9. Buffalo Bills

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Probable starter: AJ McCarron

    Backups: Nathan Peterman, Josh Allen 

    Peterman or Allen could win the starting job, but in either of those events, the Bills' backup situation would become even stronger because McCarron was one of the top backups in the league the last few years in Cincinnati. 

    But as is, Allen is a rookie top-10 pick with tantalizing measurables and athletic ability. He's raw, but he could shine in relief of McCarron this season. Peterman was a wreck as a rookie fifth-round pick, but he's generated buzz this offseason, and the coaching staff seems to like him (why else bench Tyrod Taylor for him in the midst of a playoff race?).

    This backup crew loses points for a lack of experience, but there's a lot of talent there.

8. Miami Dolphins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Starter: Ryan Tannehill

    Backups: Brock Osweiler, David Fales, Bryce Petty

    Osweiler takes a lot of heat because of what happened to him as a starter in Houston, but he certainly was a strong backup quarterback before that. Problem is he loses points here because he struggled in six appearances with the Broncos in 2017. 

    Has he just lost it? 

    Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald notes that while Osweiler has struggled in Miami this offseason, Fales has performed well. The 2014 sixth-round pick was the team's third-stringer last season, though he also put up nice numbers in a Week 17 loss to the Bills. 

    Throw in that Petty has some pedigree, and the Dolphins get credit for having three quarterbacks capable of emerging behind Tannehill this summer. 

7. Los Angeles Chargers

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Starter: Philip Rivers

    Backups: Geno Smith, Cardale Jones, Nic Shimonek

    Smith has his limitations, but ever since bombing as a rookie in 2013, he's put up solid numbers (59.9 completion percentage, 17 touchdowns to 15 picks, 79.1 rating). There's also still some upside there for the 27-year-old former West Virginia star. 

    Ditto for Jones, who had the measurables coming out of Ohio State and could be developing below the surface. 

    It wouldn't be surprising if either suddenly shined in place of Rivers in 2018, but there's an equal chance both would fall on their faces. 

    Shimonek will need time as an undrafted rookie, but there's quite a lot of talent sandwiched between him and Rivers. 

6. Cleveland Browns

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Starter: Tyrod Taylor

    Backups: Baker Mayfield, Drew Stanton, Brogan Roback

    Mayfield probably needs time, but the rookie No. 1 overall pick obviously has a super-high ceiling. He could be ready to at least perform well in relief of Taylor as a rookie. After all, the guy threw 1,497 passes in four seasons in the Big 12.

    And while Stanton's career numbers are putrid, at least he brings plenty of NFL experience to the table in case Taylor goes down and Mayfield isn't ready. 

    Roback won't likely be a factor, but the Browns have a nice mix of upside and wisdom behind Taylor.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Starter: Jameis Winston

    Backups: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin, Austin Allen

    If indeed Winston has to deal with an early-season suspension, the Buccaneers can take solace in the fact that Fitzpatrick has been one of the best backup quarterbacks of this era. The 35-year-old has shown time and again that he can step in as a starter and perform admirably, just as he did when he won two of three spot starts while throwing seven touchdown passes to three interceptions in 2017. 

    Fitzpatrick is no longer viewed as a potential every Sunday starter, but he's the perfect insurance policy for the high-upside Winston. 

    But the Bucs lose some credit here because Fitz is beyond his prime and Griffin and Allen aren't factors as undrafted 20-somethings with a combined zero career pass attempts. 

4. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Starter: Ben Roethlisberger

    Backups: Landry Jones, Mason Rudolph, Joshua Dobbs

    Roethlisberger is backed up by three intriguing middle-round picks on the right side of 30. That's not bad at all. 

    Jones doesn't have much upside at this point, but he's at least completed 63.9 percent of his passes while averaging a solid 7.8 yards per attempt as Big Ben's primary backup the last three seasons. Dobbs (23 years old) and Rudolph (22) might not be ready to jump in yet, but with Roethlisberger and Jones on board they shouldn't have to. 

    Still, that's a hell of a lot of talent and potential in third- and fourth-string spots. 

3. Arizona Cardinals

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Probable starter: Sam Bradford

    Backups: Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon, Chad Kanoff

    Rosen might be the most polished rookie in this class, and he's already drawn strong reviews this offseason. If he wins the job, Bradford would immediately become one of the most talented and experienced backups in the league. If he doesn't, they've got a hell of a lot of upside waiting in the wings. 

    Even if Bradford keeps the starting job, the Cards would still have experience behind him thanks to the presence of Glennon, who has 22 NFL starts under his belt and a solid career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 34-to-20. 

    Kanoff might wind up on the practice squad, but there aren't many better top threes than Bradford, Rosen and Glennon. 

2. New York Jets

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    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    Starter: Josh McCown

    Backups: Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold

    But the Jets might have Arizona beat there.

    McCown is coming off a strong season in which he completed 67.3 percent of his passes while posting 18 touchdowns to nine interceptions and a 94.5 rating, Bridgewater has more talent and a higher ceiling than Glennon, and Darnold was drafted seven spots higher than Rosen. 

    Even if Darnold isn't as far along as Rosen right now, there's no doubt that Bridgewater has Glennon beat. And if either of those guys beats out McCown, the 38-year-old will be one of the most accomplished backups in pro football. 

1. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Starter: Carson Wentz

    Backups: Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld, Joe Callahan

    Foles is reigning Super Bowl MVP. Need anything else be said? 

    If you insist on more words, he's got a 61-to-29 career touchdown-to-interception ratio, and if you exclude a disastrous 2015 season with a bad Rams team, he's won 21 of 32 career starts. 

    The Eagles would be ranked in the top spot here even if Sudfeld were a scarecrow in pads, but the 2016 sixth-round pick is a strong No. 3 who completed 19 of 23 passes in his NFL debut last December. 

    So, yeah, they've got Wentz covered.


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