Ranking The NFL's Best Back-Up Quarterbacks
Athlon ranks the best back-up signal callers in the NFL for 2012.
By: Braden Gall | 6/28/12, 10:00 AM EDT
Having a quality, dependable back-up quarterback is a must for any NFL team. Last year was a perfect example as Chicago, Houston and Oakland each lost their starters at key junctures of the season, while a back-up took over the reins in Denver and led the Broncos to the second round of the playoffs.
Ranking them can be just as difficult as finding a good one. There are many different ways to look at the back-up. First, raw upside and talent. Names like Tannehill, Locker and Kaepernick have starting potential but are inexperienced. Second, consistent and dependable veteran leadership. This generally comes behind an established star as simply a back-up plan for an injury-prone vet — e.g., Tony Romo, Jay Cutler or Matt Hasselbeck. Finally, the change of pace player who can bring a totally different game plan to an offense — aka Tim Tebow.
Those with the best combination of the three are truly the best clipboard holders in the NFL:
1. Jake Locker, Tennessee (Games Started: 0, Games Played: 5)
The first-round pick’s natural ability won’t keep him on the bench too long. He is extremely talented and will be ready to take over for Matt Hasselbeck in short order — whether the veteran struggles or not. He has a big arm, is a pure competitor and natural leader with above average athletic ability. The big knock has always been accuracy with Locker (53.9 percent passer at Washington), but the flashes of talent he showed against the Falcons last fall has Titans fans excited about the future. There are not too many better options to learn from than the consummate professional Hasselbeck.
2. T.J. Yates, Houston (GS: 5, GP: 6)
The North Carolina product showed in just a handful of games that he likely has what it takes to one day start in the NFL. While Yates is never likely to become a star, he did post a tidy 80.7 QB rating by completing 61.2 percent of his passes and going 2-3 as the starter in place of an injured Matt Schaub. Additionally, he completed 55.0 percent of his passes against the Bengals in the Texans' first-ever playoff win without tossing an interception. How many names on this list won a playoff game as a rookie starter?
3. Shaun Hill, Detroit (GS: 26, GP: 32)
While Hill has no long-term upside like a Locker or Yates, the Maryland product has six years of NFL experience on his resume. This, of course, includes an effective 10-game run in place of Matthew Stafford in 2010. He threw for 244.2 yards per game with 16 TD and 12 INT. He is 13-13 all-time as an NFL starter for bad 49ers and Lions teams. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder is as safe and steady a back-up as there is in the NFL today.
4. Jason Campbell, Chicago (GS: 70, GP: 71)
Few players have as much upside and starting experience on this list as Campbell. He was a first round pick and led an unbeaten Auburn team back in 2004. Yet, he has dealt with new coordinator after new coordinator for much of his career. He has a career TD:INT ratio of 74:50 and is 31-39 as a starter for putrid NFL teams in Washington and Oakland. He will never live up to his draft status, but at age 30, all Campbell needs is a chance and some stability.
5. Kyle Orton, Dallas (GS: 69, GP: 71)
As only a rookie, Orton led the Bears to a 10-5 record before not playing a game on the 2006 Super Bowl team. He then got another chance to start in 2008, where he went 9-6. He finished with an admirable 21-12 record as the Bears' signal caller. He then played three years in Denver and had better numbers across the board as a Bronco than anywhere else. Yet, he lost games at a much higher rate, going 12-21 in an Orange Crush uniform. He is 35-34 all-time and has a career passer rating of 79.4. Dallas could do much worse than the 29-year old Neck Beard.
6. Chad Henne, Jacksonville (GS: 31, GP: 36)
The strong-armed former Dolphin has as much upside as any name on this list. He showed marked improvement from year one as the starter in 2009 (2,878 yards, 12 TD, 60.8 percent) to his second year under center (3,301 yards, 15 TD, 61.4 percent). And, in fact, was passing at his highest career rating (79.0) last year through four games when a non-throwing shoulder separation effectively ended his Dolphins career. But he is only 26 years old, has a huge arm and could easily take over for Blaine Gabbert should the second-year player struggle early on.
7. Tim Tebow, NY Jets (GS: 14, GP: 23)
Tebow’s value to a football team lies much more in his leadership and work ethic than ever throwing a football. He is a consummate professional who will be as prepared as he possibly can be for anything his coach asks him to do. However, his ability to accurately complete passes down the field against NFL defenses on a regular basis is highly questionable. You simply cannot complete 46.5 percent of passes and keep the starting job. He is a great change of pace player and is a tremendous member of any locker room. His value may end there however.
8. John Skelton, Arizona (GS: 11, GP: 13)
Stepping in for Kevin Kolb a year ago, the 24-year-old passer went 5-2 as the starter. The Fordham grad has a huge frame (6-5, 244) and averaged nearly 240 yards per game as the starter last year. He needs to work on being more efficient and protecting the football, but at his age and skillset, Skelton still has plenty of potential.
9. Vince Young, Buffalo (GS: 50, GP: 61)
Young has never been committed to being a professional athlete. He has loads of ability and has proven to be a winner, as his 31-19 starting record would indicate. And it is virtually impossible to get images of the greatest college football player I’ve ever seen out of my mind. Yet, there are plenty of other not-so-flattering off the field images too. Until Young can prove he is willing to dedicate himself to his craft, he will be relegated to the bench.
10. Ryan Mallett, New England (GP: 0, GS: 0)
Just because he has never taken a snap in the NFL doesn’t mean that the mammoth quarterback won’t be a big success. He has a massive frame, an arm that compares to Matthew Stafford’s and is learning under the most successful QB-Head Coach duo of this generation. He may be behind Brian Hoyer on the 2012 depth chart, but he could easily find himself as trade bait and/or the heir apparent in a couple of years.
11. Rex Grossman, Washington
Not an NFL starter but showed flashes with 3,151 yards and 16 TDs last year.
12. David Garrard, Miami
Has started 76 games and compiled more than 16,000 yards passing while accounting for 106 total TDs.
13. Brian Hoyer, New England
Is technically No. 2 behind Brady and has never started. Dependable but limited upside.
14. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco
Extremely productive athlete in college but attempted only five passes in his rookie year.
15. Ryan Tannehill, Miami
Loads of athleticism and upside but is a rookie who was a wide receiver two years ago.
16. Chris Redman, Atlanta
Only has 12 career starts but has been in Falcons system for four full seasons.
17. Drew Stanton, Indianapolis
Has some upside and he should get some looks with a rookie starter ahead of him.
18. Trent Edwards, Philadelphia
Has started 33 games at the NFL level (14-19). No replacement for experience.
19. Derek Anderson, Carolina
Has 43 career starts but is inaccurate and turns the ball over too much to start.
20. Colt McCoy, Cleveland
Has starting experience and is a hard-working and mature member of the team.
21. Byron Leftwich, Pittsburgh
22. Bruce Gradkowski, Cincinnati
23. Chase Daniel, New Orleans
24. Brock Osweiler, Denver
25. Tyrod Taylor, Baltimore
26. Tavaris Jackson, Seattle
27. Joe Webb, Minnesota
28. Charlie Whitehurst, San Diego
29. Graham Harrell, Green Bay
30. Kellen Clemens, St. Louis
31. Matt Leinart, Oakland
32. Brady Quinn, Kansas City
- By Braden Gall
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