Backup quarterback doesn’t ever seem to be a position of urgency in the NFL. That is, until the starter gets hurt and the team is unexpectedly battling for their postseason lives. See Nick Foles, circa his entire career.
There have been plenty of serviceable options over the years, guys like Jason Garrett and Doug Pederson and Frank Reich parlayed prominent backup roles into head coaching gigs. However, there is no value placed on the No. 2 quarterback, an odd phenomenon considering quarterback is the most important position on the football field. Simply scroll the list of available free agents to get a better understanding of how rare it is to find diamonds in the scrap heap.
The biggest name out there is arguably Brock Osweiler, not the most awe-inspiring option for a franchise with Super Bowl aspirations. It’s a strange state of affairs. In the NFC East, the Philadelphia Eagles have been blessed with decent backups for the better half of the past two decades. Koy Detmer, A.J. Feeley, Jeff Garcia, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick have all filled in admirably and kept the Eagles in contention for long stretches. Of course, what Nick Foles did may never be duplicated.
Heavy.com decided to take roll call in the NFC East to see how the Giants, Redskins, Cowboys and Eagles are prepared to deal with life without their starting quarterbacks. These are the strengths and weaknesses among the four teams in the division, with special attention on how they have fared when thrust into the starting role.
Washington might have the most intriguing quarterbacks room in the division. With Alex Smith recovering from his season-ending leg injury — and no timetable given for a return — the position is wide open. The Redskins drafted Heisman Trophy finalist Dwayne Haskins with the 15th overall pick in April. Haskins has become a media darling to win the starting job, but head coach Jay Gruden has cautioned about not wanting to throw him into the fire too soon. That being said, Gruden has praised Haskins for having “exceptional tools” and confirmed he will have an opportunity to play. Washington also traded Denver for Case Keenum, an eight-year NFL veteran with playoff experience. Let’s assume Keenum is the Redskins starter on September 8 at Lincoln Financial Field and assess their backup situation.
Option 1: Dwayne Haskins. The rookie has been receiving a ton of praise since April’s draft, including one analyst comparing him to Tom Brady. Was he the best quarterback prospect in the draft? Maybe. Most talented, for sure. Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer made the Brady analogy when talking about Haskins’ “intellectual process.” That remains to be seen, but Haskins certainly was impressive in his final year at Ohio State. He completed 70 percent of his passes for 4,831 yards and threw 50 touchdowns against eight interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the second-most accurate player in the draft.
Dwayne Haskins (in two years and 22 games at Ohio State)
Completion Percentage: 70.0
Passing Yards: 5,396
QB Rating: 174.0
Option 2: Colt McCoy. The Redskins also have veteran journeyman Colt McCoy on their roster, a quarterback who was forced into action last year after Alex Smith tore his ACL. McCoy has never wowed in his two previous stops in Cleveland and San Francisco, but he has been very serviceable. His overall record is 7-20 (again, not exactly Folesian). However, the majority of his playing time has come in garbage time. Here is what McCoy did in his 27 starts.
Colt McCoy (in eight seasons and 27 NFL starts)
Completion Percentage: 60.2
Passing Yards: 5,556
QB Rating: 76.8
This is another team featuring a very complicated backup plan should Eli Manning miss any significant amount of time. The Giants selected Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick and appear ready to groom the rookie to take over for Manning. When he actually gets in a game remains up in the air as Giants GM Dave Gettleman indicated that he may let Jones sit on the bench for three years.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula has since back-tracked those on those comments when he told Ralph Vacchiano of SNY that Jones may play sooner and he’ll be ready for Week 1. New York may just be playing mind games with the media and assessing just how much Manning really has left in the tank. Either way, Jones will start the season as the team’s primary backup quarterback. Let’s take a look at what he did during his four years at Duke.
Daniel Jones (in four years and 36 games at Duke)
Completion Percentage: 59.9
Passing Yards: 8,201
QB Rating: 122.9
New York has a bit of an inexperienced logjam behind Jones. On the team’s website, Alex Tanney is listed as Manning’s backup and Philly native Kyle Lauletta is jotted down as the third option. The general consensus is Lauletta will be the odd man out, but it’s interesting to note that Lauletta saw a few snaps last season despite being listed at No. 3. He played in two games and went 0-of-5 with an interception. Meanwhile, Tanney was signed from the Tennessee Titans in 2018 and recently inked a two-year extension with the Giants. The 31-year-old has gone 10-of-14 for 99 yards and one touchdown in parts of three NFL seasons.
The backup job in Dallas is up for grabs — and it really has been since Jason Garrett left in 1999. This year, the two arms competing for the spot are Cooper Rush and Mike White. Rush is the front-runner after the undrafted rookie majorly turned some heads last year during preseason and even drew highly favorable comparisons to former Cowboy Tony Romo. According to Rick Gosselin, Rush fits the Romo mold and deserves a “long look” because he started four years in college and threw at least 1,300 career passes.
It also doesn’t hurt his street cred that the red-headed kid from Michigan looks like Garrett and does a mean impression of the coach. He made his NFL debut on October 22, 2017 in mop-up duty with the Cowboys up big on San Francisco. He completed one pass and rushed for a first down. Since Rush has zero NFL starts under his belt, let’s take a look at his preseason numbers.
Cooper Rush (in eight preseason games, including two starts)
Completion Percentage: 67.2
Passing Yards: 756
QB Rating: 88.6
What about White? The Cowboys took the Western Kentucky product in the fifth round in 2018. He has yet to make his debut in a regular-season game, but he has gone 44-of-70 for 414 yards with one interception in four preseason games.
It all begins and ends with Nate Sudfeld. There may be no team that has higher expectations for a backup quarterback than Philadelphia, thanks to the haunting shadow of Nick Foles. It’s not fair to expect the same results since Foles will arguably go down as the greatest backup quarterback in NFL history. Sudfeld has shown, in fleeting flashes, that he can handle the pressure. Again, the sample size is small.
In 2017, Sudfeld relieved Foles since the Eagles had already punched their playoff ticket and he was extremely efficient. The Indiana product went 19-of-23 for 134 yards against Dallas, mostly on dink-and-dunk stuff, and some fans in Philadelphia suggested he might be a better fit over Foles to replace Wentz. Luckily, the Eagles stuck to their emergency plan and Foles won the Super Bowl. However, there is still excitement around Sudfeld. He has gone 20-of-25 for 156 yards and one touchdown in three regular-season games. Let’s take a look at his preseason numbers to paint a broader picture.
Nate Sudfeld (in nine preseason games, including three starts)
Completion Percentage: 56.8
Passing Yards: 1,122
QB Rating: 82.7
The Eagles used a fifth-round pick on Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson in April’s draft and the rookie looked good in spring practices. While it seems highly unlikely he would supplant Sudfeld for the backup role, Thorson will be an interesting name to keep an eye on at training camp. His college highlight reel shows he was a very good quarterback stuck on a bad team. Plus, Eagles coach Doug Pederson has a long history of mentoring young arms.
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