The backup quarterback, the last bastion of hope in the NFL. He is the most popular guy in town when the starter is struggling, then morphs into the scapegoat when things don’t bounce his way. The struggle is real.
For the past two seasons, the Eagles had the ultimate insurance policy in Nick Foles. The Philly hero known affectionately as “BDN” around town exhibited a calming sense of confidence that translated into four playoff wins and a Super Bowl championship. Since 2017, Foles boasted a 10-2 record while throwing for 20 touchdowns against nine interceptions. The word pressure wasn’t in his vocabulary.
With Foles jettisoned to Jacksonville, the Eagles will enter the 2019 season with Nate Sudfeld as the new backup quarterback. Sudfeld signed a second-round tender last April as a restricted free agent that pays him more than $3 million. The former sixth-round pick out of Indiana has been the team’s third-stringer, but he appears ready to take on a more pivotal role. With Wentz’s chronicled injury history, he better be.
“Nothing’s ever going to be handed to you, and you don’t want it that way,” Sudfeld told NBC Sports. “There’s no sense of entitlement. Everything’s earned. I’m just trying to improve myself as much as possible, try to be the best version of myself, work on my craft. I know if I can keep improving and become a better player, it’ll all take care of itself.”
Sudfeld is also taking care of his teammates. He was one of the first players to rush to Carson Wentz’s defense when a weirdly timed article questioning the franchise quarterback’s leadership and integrity suddenly went viral.
That’s all well and great, but can Sudfeld get it done on the field? Better yet, can he lead the Eagles on a deep playoff run if Wentz goes down? ESPN Insider suggested the Eagles should sign Ryan Fitzpatrick to fill the void left by Foles, lending credence to the notion that Sudfeld can’t be trusted. That doesn’t seem fair since the statuesque (6-foot-6) Sudfeld hasn’t had a chance to prove himself.
Sudfeld has been the model of consistency in three regular-season games (no starts), completing 20-of-25 passes (80.0%) for 156 yards and one touchdown. It’s hard to get more efficient than that. However, Sudfeld’s numbers take a major dive in the preseason where he’s gone 43-of-74 (58.1%) for 524 yards and five touchdowns. (For a point of reference, Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in 2018 with a 67.0% completion percentage).
Breaking it down further, the numbers show the majority of his completions came on check-downs and screens — and the longest pass he connected on was 22 yards. It’s a semi-alarming trend that has continued in OTAs this spring.
“We’re happy with Nate (Sudfeld), and we are excited for him,” head coach Doug Pederson told reporters in March. “This is a big opportunity for Nate coming up this spring. An opportunity to really show us again what he’s capable of doing and how he can handle the number two spot.”
Pederson elaborated on those comments by boldly declaring that he wasn’t freely handing out the No. 2 job. If Sudfeld wants it, he’ll have to earn it.
“Nate has an opportunity to really compete and solidify the No. 2 spot,” Pederson said. “He gets an opportunity and it’s a great opportunity for him to do that.”
Everyone can agree where Sudfeld has one distinctive edge: in the actual experience department. He’s been a fly on the wall in that quarterbacks’ room, learning and watching from Foles and Wentz, and even was chosen to mimic Tom Brady during the team’s Super Bowl run.
Kessler, Thorson Enter the Nest
One sign the Eagles weren’t completely convinced Sudfeld was ready to take the torch from Foles was their decision to draft a rookie and then sign a veteran backup. It’s safe to assume the two newcomers are fighting for the third spot, but Sudfeld shouldn’t take anything for granted. The Eagles are always in win-now mode and they won’t wait for growing pains.
Clayton Thorson seems to be a project, a young quarterback who needs to work on his accuracy with the deep ball, as well as firmly planting his feet and stepping up in the pocket. A four-year starter at Northwestern, Thorson had happy feet at times despite throwing for 10,731 yards and 61 touchdowns. His -0.15 EPA (Expected Points Added, a unit that measures a player’s throws against down and distance) per drop back is a concern.
Meanwhile, Cody Kessler brings a few ounces of veteran leadership having started 12 games in the NFL after enduring stints with the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars. While his numbers don’t jump off the screen, Kessler owns a career 64.2% completion percentage and his accuracy ranks off the charts. According to ProFootballFocus, he finished 18th overall in accuracy percentage (72.3%) and beat out the likes of Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson on short throws.