The Best & Worst NFL Backup Quarterbacks In 2020

min read
Sam Herder Jun 16, 2021, 2:16 PM
Quarterback Case Keenum #5 of the Cleveland Browns waits for player introductions prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 14, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Is being a backup NFL quarterback the best job in the world? You get paid a handsome salary to prepare for games you’re probably not going to play in. Now, the value of a backup QB in the NFL is big. Whether it’s mentoring a younger player, stepping in to win a few games if the starter is sidelined with an injury, or becoming the full-time starter to provide some spark, a quality backup relieves a lot of stress for coaches.

And hey, let’s be real, even in blowout games when the backups are in, online betting enthusiasts are cheering these guys on when the betting spreads are still close to hitting.

So who has the best backup in the NFL? Who has the worst? We rank them below.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Instead of figuring out who qualifies as a backup quarterback and who doesn’t in this particular week of the season, we’re going to rank the No. 2 QBs on Week 1 depth charts. That means current starters like Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa will be included. It also means players like Alex Smith and Marcus Mariota will NOT be included since they were rehabbing injuries and were not listed as the No. 2 QB entering Week 1. Essentially, this is a ranking of who had the best backup quarterback entering this season.

The Best Backup QBs From Week 1

1. Los Angeles Chargers - Justin Herbert

When it comes to online sports betting and NFL odds, the safest bet right now is for Herbert to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. After beginning the season as QB2, the No. 6 overall draft pick in 2020 took over as the starter in Week 2. In his first 12 games started, he has thrown for 3,467 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.

2. Miami - Tua Tagovailoa

Tagovailoa was drafted one spot ahead of Herbert at No. 5 overall. Dolphins fans got what they wanted in Week 8 when he got the nod as the starter. Tagovailoa shows tremendous promise in his first seven games, throwing for 1,214 yards, nine touchdowns, and one interception.

3. New Orleans - Taysom Hill

Hill has been used as a gadget player for the Saints. The fourth-year player has gotten a chance to show he is a capable starter in the league. With Drew Brees out due to broken ribs, Hill has started Weeks 11-14 as of this writing, going 3-1 in those games.

4. Cleveland - Case Keenum

Keenum looked like a franchise quarterback when he led the Vikings to the 2017 NFC Championship Game. But when things didn’t work out in Denver in 2018 and Washington in 2019, it became clear Keenum is a guy you can’t build your team around. But when it comes to having him as a backup, he’s as good of an Option B as you can ask for. 

5. San Francisco - Nick Mullens

Mullens has had great value for the 49ers. They signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and then was signed to the practice squad. Mullens was on the practice squad again in 2018 and eventually found his way as the starter that year. He served as the backup in 2019, and this season is back in the starting lineup since Week 9. Mullens has thrown for 2,218 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions this season.

6. Baltimore - Robert Griffin III

RG3 is the perfect backup for Lamar Jackson. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Griffin has started 43 games in his career. An early-career injury, something Griffin can mentor Jackson on since both have the same running threat, knocked him off a path of a promising career. A majority of Griffin’s starts came from 2012-2014. He has started only three games from 2017 to this season. But he’s been a trusted backup for the Ravens since 2018.

7. Dallas - Andy Dalton

Not only is Dalton a great backup, he’s a serviceable starter. He had 137 starts with Cincinnati from 2011 to 2019 before going to Dallas to serve as Dak Prescott’s No. 2. After a serious ankle injury to Prescott, Dalton stepped in as the starter in Weeks 6 and 7, then missed a few games with a concussion before returning to the starting lineup. Dalton has thrown for 1,340 yards, nine touchdowns, and six interceptions in 2020.

8. Chicago - Nick Foles

Foles is a Super Bowl winner and a Super Bowl MVP. So Mitchell Trubisky had a pretty short leash when he was named the starter before the season began. A three-week-long leash to be exact. Trubisky was benched in Week 3 and Foles took over up until suffering an injury in Week 10, resulting in Trubisky returning as the starter. Foles hasn’t exactly lit it up this season, throwing 10 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Like Keenum, Foles had that lightning-in-a-bottle season. He may not be starting material, but that one season will keep him in the league for a long time as a valuable backup. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

9. Indianapolis - Jacoby Brissett

Brissett is a respected backup that has started 32 games in his career. He was drafted by the New England Patriots in the third round in 2016 and arrived in Indianapolis in 2017, where he started 15 games. Brissett started another 15 games last season before backing up Philip Rivers this year.

10. New England - Jarrett Stidham

New England drafted Stidham in the fourth round in 2019. The Patriots released veteran Brian Hoyer that season as Stidham proved to be a quality backup. After Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay, Stidham was viewed as the potential successor until the team signed Cam Newton in July.

11. Kansas City - Chad Henne

Chad Henne #4 of the Kansas City Chiefs smiles during pregame warmups prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
David Eulitt/Getty Images

The 35-year-old is a great backup and mentor for the NFL’s top quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Henne has 53 career starts, the last coming in 2014, and 12,990 career passing yards.

12. New York Giants - Colt McCoy

McCoy has been in the league since 2010. After being a full-time starter in 2010 and 2011, McCoy has remained in the league and has gotten his chance to start every now and then. He started four games in 2014, two games in 2018, one game in 2019, and one game this season.

13. Atlanta - Matt Schaub

Schaub is still in the NFL and serving as a team’s backup. What a world. Schaub is 39 years old and has been in the NFL since 2004. He has 25,467 career passing yards and 95 starts.

14. Detroit - Chase Daniel

An undrafted free agent in 2009, Daniel has stuck around as a career backup. Daniel has started only five games, but his value is obvious considering he’s been in the NFL this long and has been a part of six different rosters.

15. Seattle - Geno Smith

Smith started for the New York Jets in 2013 and 2014, but things didn't work out there. After a couple of stops serving as a backup, Smith has been QB2 in Seattle since 2019.

16. Washington - Kyle Allen

An undrafted free agent in 2018 by Carolina, Allen started 12 games for the Panthers in 2019. He was traded to Washington in 2020 and took over as the team’s starter in Week 5 before dislocating his ankle in Week 9. In four games this season, he threw for 610 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception.

17. Tampa Bay - Blaine Gabbert

The No. 10 pick in the 2011 draft, Gabbert has started 48 games with 24 of those coming in 2011 and 2012. Since then, he has started at least three games in the 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 seasons for four different teams.

18. Pittsburgh - Mason Rudolph

Drafted in the third round in 2018, Rudolph was the third-stringer in 2018 before being elevated to the backup in 2019 and 2020. Rudolph ended up starting eight games in 2019, throwing for 13 touchdowns to nine interceptions.

19. Arizona - Brett Hundley

Hundley was drafted by Green Bay in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He started nine games for the Packers in 2017 after a collarbone injury to Aaron Rodgers. Hundley served as the backup in Seattle in 2018 and then joined Arizona in 2019.

20. Houston - A.J. McCarron

AJ McCarron #2 of the Houston Texans warms up before playing the Baltimore Ravens at NRG Stadium on September 20, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

McCarron will always be known for leading Alabama to national titles in 2012 and 2013. But he has made a healthy living as a backup in the league and has five starts to his name.

21. Philadelphia - Nate Sudfeld

A 2016 sixth-round draft pick by Washington, Sudfeld opened the season as the No. 2 quarterback behind Carson Wentz. Rookie Jalen Hurts quickly jumped him and has now replaced Wentz as the starter. 

22. New York Jets - Trevor Siemian

Siemian started 24 games for Denver in 2016 and 2017, but it did not go well. He moved on to Minnesota in 2018 and didn’t appear in any games. Siemian started one game for the Jets in 2019 and is the backup again this season.

23. Denver - Jeff Driskel

A sixth-round draft pick in 2016, Driskel started five games for Cincinnati in 2018, three games for Detroit in 2019, and one game for Detroit so far in 2020. He has thrown for a career 13 touchdowns to eight interceptions.

24. Carolina - Will Grier

The Panthers drafted Grier in the third round in 2019. He started two games in 2019, throwing zero touchdowns and four interceptions. Grier is the backup in 2020.

25. Buffalo - Matt Barkley

You have to love some of these well-known college names, right? The former Heisman candidate has been a career backup since 2013 but did start six games for the Bears in 2016.

26. Minnesota - Sean Mannion

Mannion is a 2015 third-round draft pick out of Oregon State. He has attempted 74 passes in five NFL seasons, throwing zero touchdowns and three interceptions. Mannion started one game for the Rams in 2017 and one game for the Vikings in 2019.

27. Tennessee - Logan Woodside

Woodside played college ball at Toledo and was drafted in the seventh round in 2018. He started seven games in the short-lived AAF in 2019, then signed with Tennessee after the league was suspended.

28. Jacksonville - Jake Luton

Luton was selected in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. As a senior at Oregon State, he threw for 2,714 yards, 28 touchdowns, and three interceptions. Luton started in Weeks 9-11 this season, throwing for two touchdowns and six interceptions.

29. Las Vegas - Nathan Peterman

Peterman began the season as the No. 2 QB while Marcus Mariota recovered from an injury. Mariota jumped Peterman on the depth chart and just recently got into game action for an injured Derek Carr. Peterman has started four games in three NFL seasons with a 3:12 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

30. Green Bay - Tim Boyle

Boyle signed with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent in 2018. He was the third-string quarterback that season, then saw limited action in three games in 2019. Boyle is listed as the backup in 2020, but rookie Jordan Love is right there as QB3 after the Packers spent a first-round draft pick on him in 2020.

31. Los Angeles Rams - John Wolford

Wolford went undrafted in 2018 and signed with the Jets. He started seven games in the AAF in 2019 before the league suspended operations. He is now the backup for the Rams.

32. Cincinnati - Ryan Finley

The Bengals drafted Finley in the fourth round in 2019. He started three games as a rookie, throwing for two touchdowns and two interceptions. He began 2020 as the backup, but when rookie and No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending injury, Cincinnati decided to start Brandon Allen over Finley.

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Sam Herder is a writer for BetMGM and HERO Sports. A North Dakota State journalism grad, he spent several years in the print media industry before writing for online outlets. Sam has covered sports at all levels — high school, college, and professional — since 2011.

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Sam Herder

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Sam Herder is a writer for BetMGM and HERO Sports. A North Dakota State journalism grad, he spent several years in the print media industry before writing for online outlets. Sam has covered sports at all levels — high school, college, and professional — since 2011.

Sam Herder is a writer for BetMGM and HERO Sports. A North Dakota State journalism grad, he spent several years in the print media industry before writing for online outlets. Sam has covered sports at all levels — high school, college, and professional — since 2011.