More so than any other season in recent memory, 2015 has featured a lot of quarterback turmoil around the NFL. Top tier starters like Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Marcus Mariota have lost significant time due to injuries, while there is always the usual outcome of teams deciding to change starting QB's in the middle of the year. And when that happens, it is time to turn to the backup.
As it turns out, this almost never turns out well. It is obvious that finding 32 NFL-level quarterbacks is a tall task, so it is then more obvious that the 32 men behind men may not be suited to face the hardships of playing one of the toughest positions in pro sports. For every success story, like Tom Brady relieving Drew Bledsoe in New England, there are tens and dozens of flops who produce short-lived changes in many franchises.
And yet, it is always important to have at least a semblance of talent in place in case of any contingency as the season rolls around. With this in mind, today we rank the NFL's backup quarterbacks from worst to best, starting with the NFC. We list the backup QB according to each team's depth chart to begin the season, with the special cases of those who have been called to action. While many of these benchwarmers haven't been part of any meaningful action in 2015, we can browse through their career stats to make a judgment call.
#16 - Chicago Bears – Jimmy Clausen
After being a complete bust in Carolina, Clausen went a full three years without throwing a pass before landing in Chicago, where he's served as Jay Cutler's primary backup. In these two seasons, he's twice had to enter in relief and then start a game when Cutler got injured, taking a respectable 6-point loss in 2014, and then being blanked 26-0 by the Seahawks in 2015. These games have added to Clausen's miserable 1-11 record as a starter. While he certainly is experienced, the Bears never want to see him under center.
#15 - Washington Redskins – Colt McCoy
At 4-5, the Redskins have been a mild surprise, and have a chance to contend in the NFC East. The biggest surprise may be their stability at QB, as Kirk Cousins has played every offensive snap for the team in 2015. This has made Colt McCoy stay on the sideline for the whole season, where he certainly belongs. With Washington being his third franchise, McCoy has gone 7-18 as a starter, with 25 touchdowns versus 23 interceptions for his career. While his previous experience could make him a viable option to manage games in an extreme scenario, the Redskins' hopes rely on Cousins remaining healthy and effective.
#14 - St. Louis Rams – Case Keenum
After trading for Nick Foles, the Rams were expecting a more stable QB than Sam Bradford. So far, it has worked out well at least on the health part, with Foles starting every game and leaving backup Case Keenum on the bench. Keenum went 2-0 as the emergency starter for Houston last season, but that came on the heels of a 0-8 record in 2013. His stats and build suggest all the makings of a subpar QB, which is why the Rams need Foles to remain in control.
#13 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mike Glennon
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 Draft, Glennon was supposed to be the QB of the future in Tampa. Instead, his 5-13 record as a started led the Buccaneers to landing Jameis Winston as the top overall pick, and now Glennon serves as his backup. The former starters has not taken the field at any point in 2015, and he now projects to remain on the bench unless a different organization takes a chance on him. While he does have the distinction of being familiar with his teammates, the Bucs are way better off with Winston.
# 12 - Atlanta Falcons – Sean Renfree
With Matt Ryan not missing a game in more than 5 seasons, the Falcons have been fortunate to have one the best quarterbacks in the league also being healthy. This means that backup Sean Renfree, who was selected deep in the 7th round of the 2014 Draft, is yet to throw a pass as a pro. In fact, his only career appearance came this season, when he came in to kneel in Atlanta's blowout win over the Texans. This means that Renfree's career line includes a single rush for -4 yards as his lone play.
#11 - New York Giants – Ryan Nassib
At this point, it may all be very frustrating for Ryan Nassib. After being selected 110th overall by the Giants in 2013, he has served as the primary backup for Eli Manning. The only problem is that the younger Manning has become the NFL's iron horse, never missing a game since his rookie season in 2004. That has limited Nassib to action in only 4 games off the bench, with 5 pass attempts scattered among them. With the Giants usually involved in tight games, and Manning as healthy as ever, it seems as if Nassib should be content with holding the Big East's all-time record in pass completions.
# 10 - Green Bay Packers – Scott Tolzien
The “penalty” of having a star QB making millions as your starter is having to pinch pennies for a subpar backup. This is why the Packers are forced to go with Tolzien despite Aaron Rodgers' injury history. Tolzien has already played a few snaps this season, but they came in garbage time as the Packers were blown out in Denver, but still hasn't thrown a pass since 2013. This is probably a good idea considering his career 1-to-5 TD/Int. ratio.
#9 - Detroit Lions – Dan Orlovsky
As the owner of one of the NFL's most infamous plays of all time, it was likely that Orlovsky would never get the chance to be a quality quarterback. However, he has managed to hang around the league for more than 10 years and 4 franchises, serving mostly as a backup. This season, he has already appeared in three games as the Lions have been part of their share of blowouts, with 40 attempts, one touchdown and a pick. At age 32, Orlovsky could keep this role for a while, even as his 2-10 record as a starter suggests he should not get the chance.
# 8 - Seattle Seahawks – Tarvaris Jackson
Jackson is only 32, but it seems like ages since he was the future of the Vikings franchise. Instead, he became a career backup who is now in his third team. With Russell Wilson becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Jackson's services have not been needed much, appearing in only four games since 2012, and still without a snap in 2015. He owns a career 17-17 record with a penchant for mobility, so he could still be a viable option if Wilson goes down.
#7 - Minnesota Vikings – Shaun Hill
Hill is an 11-year veteran who has gone 16-18 as a starter in the NFL, with the Vikings as his fifth pro franchise. At 35 years old, it is clear that his future is limited in the league, which is probably why Minnesota also has Mike Kafka on its roster. Hill started 8 games in St. Louis last season, and has only once been called to action in 2015, leading the Vikings to an overtime win versus the same Rams as Teddy Bridgewater left the game with a concussion. It is clear Minnesota's playoff hopes reside on Bridgewater's play, but Hill has proven capable to handle the backup job.
#6 - Arizona Cardinals – Drew Stanton
In his eighth year in the NFL, Stanton has been almost a textbook career backup, with only 12 starts among his 23 total games. His best performances have come in Arizona, where he arrived in 2013. Stanton was highly visible last season, as he had to relieve Carson Palmer and led the Cardinals to a 5-3 record and the postseason. His eventual injury forced Arizona to use a third-stringer, though denying Stanton a chance to play in the postseason. With Palmer playing at his best in 2015, Stanton is likely to remain on the sideline, but he should be a quality option if anything happens.
#5 - New Orleans Saints – Garrett Grayson
As a rookie, Grayson still hasn't seen the field after being drafted 75th overall by the Saints earlier this year. And yet, he could hold some kind of upside for the franchise now that Drew Brees is aging and a franchise overhaul appears to be on the works. Grayson had two strong seasons as the starting QB for Colorado State, while having Sean Payton around to coach him could be what he needs if New Orleans ever hands him the starting gig. Despite the many unknowns, Grayson at least represents hope.
#4 - Dallas Cowboys – Brandon Weeden/Matt Cassell
When Tony Romo went down with an injury in Week 2, it was widely assumed that as long as his backup could win as few as two games, the Cowboys could be in decent shape when Romo returned. Instead, a failed backup and his eventual replacement fell flat on their faces, leading to a 7-game losing streak that has all but ended Dallas' hopes. The painful part for the Cowboys has to be that 5 of those losses came by a touchdown or less, with Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassell failing time and again to close out winnable games. A -6 turnover differential is mainly to blame, though Cassell could be considered an overqualified backup once Romo mercifully returns.
#3 - San Francisco 49ers – Blaine Gabbert
After running out of patience with incumbent Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers were forced to turn to their backup mid-season. While many expected Blaine Gabbert to be even worse, he delivered an unlikely win in his first start, at home versus the Falcons. However, let's remember that Gabbert was an absolute bust with the Jaguars after being picked 10th overall in 2011, and that this win elevated his career record to a dismal 6-22. On the other hand, Gabbert's experience makes him valuable as a backup, and it will be interesting to see how he performs if he retains the starting gig in San Francisco.
# 2 - Carolina Panthers – Derek Anderson
With a perfect 9-0 season and Cam Newton emerging as a solid MVP candidate, it would seem as if having a good backup is an unnecessary luxury. However, the Panthers can boast that Derek Anderson is there to perform capably in case of any contingency. As a 10-year veteran with 45 career starts, Anderson went 2-0 in a couple of emergency starts last season, and even as he is yet to take the field in 2015, he could be used if Carolina clinches early in the NFC. Should he be trusted with a few snaps, the Panthers shouldn't be worried that much.
#1 - Philadelphia Eagles – Mark Sanchez
When the Eagles acquired the fragile Sam Bradford to be their starting QB, it was clear that they needed a trusty backup. This is why Mark Sanchez was retained by Chip Kelly to be on the bench. Sanchez served the same role in 2014 with Philly, going 4-4 as the starter after relieving the injured Nick Foles. His time came again in Week 10 of the present season, though his return was painful due to a crushing late end-zone interception to seal the Eagles' loss. However, Sanchez is a veteran who owns a winning record as a starting QB, so even if he is definitely not suited to be a starter, he is certainly a quality backup.