Ranking the NFL’s top 10 backup quarterbacks: How Minshew, Dalton, Bridgewater and Winston stack up

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The backup quarterback is one of the most important parts of an NFL roster. Just ask the Jets, whose backup became QB1 just four plays into the 2023 season. With Aaron Rodgers out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, backup and 2021 second overall pick Zach Wilson quickly became tasked with leading a team that came into the year with Super Bowl aspirations.

On Sunday, another No. 2 quarterback was thrust into action. Gardner Minshew came on for the Colts when Anthony Richardson left with a concussion and helped guide Indy to a win over the Texans. With two preseason backups already getting significant action in the regular season, we wanted to take a closer look at the best No. 2 options in the NFL.

If your team’s starting quarterback can’t get the job done or gets injured, who is next up? The league’s list of backups is littered with former notable names, once-high draft selections who didn’t pan out and veterans in the final years of their careers, but NFL teams value these players more and more because hopes of the season could end up hinging on them very quickly. Last season, 69 different quarterbacks started a game, the most since 1987. The NFL has only surpassed the 60 starting quarterback mark five times (1998, 1999, 2010, 2021 and 2022). Those back-to-back seasons of abnormal No. 2 QB usage have pushed teams to be more aggressive in adding reliable backups during the offseason.

Let’s take a look at some of the best options around the league, along with a few promising rookies and the most concerning No. 2 situations.

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Top 10 | Rookies | Concerns

Most recent start: Week 17, 2022

Stat to know: Dalton finished with the sixth-highest pass yards per attempt in 2022 at 7.6.

In his prime, Dalton was a consistent starter known to routinely get Cincinnati to the playoffs (five appearances from 2011-19), as he owns the Bengals’ franchise record for career touchdown passes (204). The Panthers were aggressive with signing Dalton — who started 14 games for the division-rival Saints in 2022 — knowing that a high-drafted rookie quarterback would likely be on the horizon. And with Bryce Young now at the helm, having the 13-year veteran as an established security blanket makes Carolina arguably the best backup QB situation in the league.

In 166 career games, Dalton has 38,150 passing yards, 244 touchdown passes and an 83-77-2 record, while also completing 62.5% of his passes. Backups with that type of experience and success are hard to find.

Most recent start: Week 12, 2022

Stat to know: Brissett’s 62.0 Total QBR was the eighth-highest among all QBs last season.

On his fifth team in eight seasons, Brissett has carved out a reputation as a high-end backup QB. He managed to throw for 2,608 passing yards and 12 touchdown throws to six interceptions in 11 starts for the Browns during Deshaun Watson’s suspension last season, and he showed that he can keep an NFL offense on schedule with quick decision-making.

Over 76 career games, including 48 starts, Brissett has accumulated 10,350 passing yards, 48 touchdown passes and a 61.1% completion percentage. He has also won 18 career games as a starter with four different different teams.

Most recent start: Week 16, 2022

Stat to know: Heinicke completed 38.1% of his throws into tight windows in 2022, sixth-best in the league per NFL Next Gen Stats.

An undrafted free agent signing of the Vikings in 2015, Heinicke has continued to play the game with an underdog mentality, and he showed promise in his three seasons with the Commanders (25 starts). Even though he’s undersized — 6-foot-1, 210 pounds — and has borderline average physical traits, he has a fearless playing style as an unorthodox playmaker who isn’t afraid to take risks when forced into action.

Heinicke recorded a 7-8 record in 2021 and a 5-3-1 mark in 2022. He threw for 5,278 passing yards, 32 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions while completing 64% of his throws during those two years. And his 1.6% completion percentage above expectation last season ranked 10th in the league, per NFL Next Gen Stats.

Most recent start: Week 18, 2022

Stat to know: Darnold’s 2.4% completion percentage above expectation was the sixth-best among QBs in 2022, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Despite an already crowded mix of signal-callers, the 49ers added Darnold this offseason, and they affirmed their comfort with him in the backup role behind starter Brock Purdy by trading away Trey Lance in late August.

Last season, Darnold proved he is still a capable passer. He threw for 1,143 yards with seven touchdown passes and three interceptions while starting the final six games for the Panthers. With 55 starts over the past six years, he has plenty of experience — and I still see B-level arm strength to operate various types of offenses. But his inconsistent decision-making and turnover issues have reduced him to a backup-caliber role.

Most recent start: Week 3, 2022

Stat to know: Winston’s 10.1 air yards per pass attempt ranks No. 1 in the NFL since he was drafted in 2015.

Winston has started 10 games for the Saints since signing to backup Drew Brees in 2020. He plays with a gunslinger mentality and isn’t afraid to test tight windows, as he became the first quarterback in NFL history to ever record 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in a single season in 2019.

Winston has thrown for 2,103 passing yards, 18 touchdown passes and eight interceptions while completing 61% of his passes with the Saints. Even though he has been turnover-prone throughout his career (nearly 100 picks since 2015), his game never lacks excitement.

Most recent start: Week 17, 2022

Stat to know: Minshew’s 7.7 yards per dropback ranked second among QBs with at least two starts in 2022.

Minshew might end up being the only player on this list to start in Week 3. Colts starter Anthony Richardson exited their Week 2 game with a concussion in the second quarter, and Minshew stepped in to throw for 171 yards and one touchdown. He made 20 starts from 2019-20 with the Jaguars and threw for 5,530 passing yards, 37 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. He also saw action in nine games after being traded to the Eagles before the 2021 season as Jalen Hurts’ primary backup, and Minshew followed coach Shane Steichen to the Colts this offseason.

Despite limited physical traits, we know Minshew can come in and manage an offense if the team’s starter has to miss an extended period of time. And Indianapolis might need to rely on him against the Ravens on Sunday if Richardson doesn’t clear concussion protocol.



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Most recent start: Week 17, 2022

Stat to know: Huntley’s 67% completion percentage in 2022 was the ninth-best among quarterbacks with at least four starts.

Huntley has settled into a reliable backup role in Baltimore, throwing for 1,754 yards, five touchdown passes and seven interceptions since 2020 (eight starts and 15 total games). He’s a capable passer, but the fact that Huntley is also mobile allows the Ravens to keep a similar playbook to what they use with starter Lamar Jackson. Huntley has averaged 4.5 yards per carry over his career, picking up 35 first downs with his feet. His experience in the scheme helps, and he’s a sudden reactor who doesn’t hold onto the ball too long.

Most recent start: Week 6, 2022

Stat to know: Rush’s 60.8 Total QBR was the 10th-highest among all QBs with at least five starts last season.

Rush is a pure pocket passer and has made a living off playing in rhythm and taking advantage of what defenses present to him in the short-to-intermediate areas. He was an unsung hero of the Cowboys’ 2022 season, helping the team to a 4-1 record during Dak Prescott’s absence after thumb surgery. He struggled in Week 6 that year against the Eagles, but Rush had 775 passing yards, four touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the four games leading up to it.

His lack of mobility will always be a challenge, but behind a formidable offensive front and with explosive targets, Rush can keep an offense on schedule.

Most recent start: Week 17, 2022

Stat to know: Bridgewater’s 7.5 yards per dropback in 2022 was third-highest among QBs with at least two starts.

Bridgewater, the No. 32 overall pick in the 2014 draft, was on a visible path to become a reliable starter. But a catastrophic knee injury suffered prior to the 2016 season resulted in him becoming a career journeyman. He has played in 34 games over the past three seasons for three teams (Panthers, Broncos and Dolphins), and he has compiled 7,468 passing yards, 37 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions during that span.

Bridgewater is known for his accurate and safe playing style, but he is reluctant to put the ball in the deeper portions of the field. Only 10.9% of his passes since 2020 have been thrown 20 or more yards downfield, 19th in the NFL (NFL Next Gen Stats). He’s a true game manager and hardly ever puts the ball in harm’s way.

Most recent start: Week 13, 2021

Stat to know: Taylor is one of seven quarterbacks with 300-plus carries since 2011 to average at least 5.7 rushing yards per carry.

Taylor has been a popular bridge quarterback around the league, helping make way for Josh Allen and Justin Herbert in previous stops. Before signing with the Giants in 2022, he had 52 career starts, including multiple years in Buffalo as QB1. Over his career, Taylor has completed 61.5% of his passes for 10,800 passing yards, 60 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.

Taylor is an undersized (6-foot-1, 217 pounds) but steady passer, and he is an experienced second option who can manufacture positive plays in multiple ways as both a passer and a runner.


With injuries following Jimmy Garoppolo throughout his career, the Raiders weren’t shy about adding a quarterback in the draft. O’Connell’s experience at the collegiate level — he started 27 games over four years — has translated well, and he’s an efficient processor under center. Most impressive about his preseason performance was his accuracy. He completed 69.4% of his passes in three preseason games.

O’Connell is actually the Raiders’ No. 3 option behind Garoppolo and Brian Hoyer, but with how promising the fourth-rounder has looked so far, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if he’s inserted into action instead of Hoyer if Garoppolo’s durability concerns continue.

Fifth-rounder Thompson-Robinson was among the biggest standouts of the preseason. On a national stage in the Hall of Fame Game against the Jets, DTR displayed competitive drive, poise and accuracy even though it was his first exposure to pro football. He went 8-for-11 with 82 passing yards and one touchdown and contributed on the ground with six carries for 36 yards. Thompson-Robinson’s quick adjustment to the NFL and how solid he looked in preseason/training camp were part of the reason the Browns decided to trade away Joshua Dobbs and waive Kellen Mond. DTR is one of the more exciting Day 3 passers from the 2023 class.

The Cardinals cutting Colt McCoy and quickly acquiring Joshua Dobbs came as a surprise, as many expected McCoy to start for Arizona while Kyler Murray continues to recover from a torn ACL. Dobbs has started the first two games, throwing one touchdown pass in two losses, but fifth-rounder Tune is a mobile and accurate QB who could see playing time at some point for a team that’s clearly in full-on rebuild mode.


Joe Burrow missed time during the preseason with a strained right calf and aggravated his injury on Sunday, meaning this is a backup QB situation to watch. Despite a solid college career at Washington, Browning was an undrafted free agent in 2019 and has only taken four snaps in the NFL — and has yet to complete a pass. With limited arm strength, he struggles in the intermediate-to-deep areas of the field and trying to fit the ball into tight windows.



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Jordan Love is now in the spotlight for Green Bay after two decades of high-level QB play from Aaron Rodgers, and he has thrown three TD and zero interceptions in back-to-back games to begin his tenure. Should Love eventually struggle, the Packers don’t have many options. Clifford was a surprising Day 3 pick this year after an underwhelming career at Penn State. The biggest worry is his accuracy and over-reliance on his arm strength. In watching his tape, I saw a lot of times when he was a second late on his reads, leaving him to force throws.

Peterman has had some woeful performances during his career, displaying some questionable decision-making. Remember his five-interception first half in a 2017 game against the Chargers? These issues have plagued Peterman throughout his career, and with Justin Fields struggling through two games, Chicago’s quarterback situation is concerning. Undrafted free agent Tyson Bagent was one of the best stories of training camp but remains an unknown on the field. Despite record numbers at the Division II level, he struggled at the Senior Bowl, his first exposure to upper-level competition.

Matthew Stafford has started strong this season, but he dealt with injuries last year, and the Rams are relying on Rypien and rookie Stetson Bennett as secondary options. The Los Angeles offense is heavily reliant on rhythm and timing, which makes Rypien a serviceable backup. But he lacks arm strength and struggled to throw downfield. Rypien has averaged 6.0 passing yards per attempt over his career, showing he’s more comfortable in the short areas. Deeper targets stretch his limitations. (Bennett was just placed on the non-football injury list for an undisclosed reason.)

Justin Herbert just inked a new multiyear contract extension, but he battled injuries last season. Stick — now in his fifth season with the team — is mobile and creative, and he benefits from run-pass option concepts. He is at his best when he’s able to get the ball out of his hands quickly. But when Stick is forced to play out of rhythm or make throws deep down the field, things get demanding for him.

Baker Mayfield is off to a surprising start, but the Bucs’ quarterback situation still has major question marks in the longer term. Trask, a second-round pick in 2021, hasn’t proven reliable, throwing just nine career passes. If Mayfield shows any signs of regression or suffers an injury, things could quickly go south. Mobility is Trask’s biggest weakness; he has trouble when moved off his spots.

Source: ESPN

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