We have seen several examples in recent years highlighting the importance of having a good backup quarterback. On one hand is Nick Foles leading the Eagles to a championship when Carson Wentz went down. On the other are teams such as the Jets, Steelers, and Lions falling apart when their starters went down.
Today’s column is a ranking of NFL quarterbacks from 1 to 32. But instead of ranking just the starters, I am doing a team-based ranking that factors in the backups, as well.
1. Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne — Obviously, this ranking has nothing to do with Henne, who hasn’t started a game since 2014. Mahomes, who has an MVP award and a Lombardi Trophy before turning 25, is far and away the best quarterback in the NFL. The Chiefs are sitting pretty for a long time.
2. Saints: Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, Jameis Winston — There are questions about Brees at age 41, and whether he will have anything left come December. But the Saints have great depth, with a 5,000-yard passer (Winston) and one of the NFL’s best Swiss Army knives (Hill).
3. Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith — It is hard to fathom that Wilson, in his eight seasons, has never earned a single MVP vote. Wilson is the only QB in NFL history to lead his team to a winning record over his first eight NFL seasons.
4. Ravens: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III — Jackson has to prove that he is more than a one-year wonder, and RG3 that he has anything left in the tank. But Jackson has the abilities to remain an elite talent for several years.
5. Cowboys: Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton — Prescott had a breakout year statistically in 2019. Now he has to turn those pretty stats into wins, following a disappointing 8-8 season. Dalton is more than capable of keeping a postseason run alive.
6. Texans: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron — Not a big fan of McCarron, but I love Watson, who has gone 21-10 as a starter the past two seasons, has eight fourth-quarter comebacks in his short career, and doesn’t turn 25 until September.
7. Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love — Rodgers, 36, doesn’t seem like a great fit for coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. Love, meanwhile, threw a ton of interceptions at Utah State. That said, Rodgers can still at times be the most talented QB on the planet, and Love is still a first-round pick.
8. Buccaneers: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert — This ranking might be too generous. Brady will be 43 this year, is playing on a new team, and saw his numbers dip significantly in 2019. But on paper the Buccaneers’ offense looks unstoppable, and Brady should be in line for a major bounce-back year.
9. 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard — The Niners’ starting quarterback has a 23-6 career record (including playoffs) and just took his team to the Super Bowl in his first full season. And they have two backups with good starting experience.
10. Eagles: Wentz, Jalen Hurts, Nate Sudfeld — Wentz’s last three seasons have been slowed by injuries and bad roster construction, but when healthy he is a top-10 quarterback. And the Eagles added an intriguing dual-threat QB in Hurts, a second-round pick.
11. Colts: Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett — Rivers may be washed up, and the Colts clearly don’t have faith in Brissett. But if Rivers regains his magic with his former offensive coordinator Frank Reich, the Colts could be dangerous.
12. Cardinals: Kyler Murray, Brett Hundley — I’m predicting 2020 is going to be a breakout year for Murray. Not a big Hundley fan, but here’s betting Murray is going to become a superstar.
13. Titans: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside, Cole McDonald — Based on last year’s stats, Tannehill and the Titans deserve to be much higher on this list, after Tannehill lit up the league with a 117.5 passer rating and a trip to the AFC Championship game. But let’s see Tannehill do it a second time.
14. Vikings: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion, Nate Stanley — Cousins is consistent and durable but hasn’t won a lot — just a 1-2 postseason record in five years as a starter. And if he gets hurt, the Vikings don’t have a great backup situation.
15. Bengals: Joe Burrow, Ryan Finley — I bet there are about 20 teams that would rather have Burrow right now than their current starter — especially with Burrow on an affordable rookie contract. Finley wasn’t bad last year as a rookie, either.
16. Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges — Roethlisberger is 38, hasn’t run a wind sprint in 10 years, and is coming off right elbow surgery that cost him most of 2019. And his two backups cost the Steelers a shot at the playoffs last year.
17. Raiders: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota — Carr has a 39-55 record and just one playoff appearance. Mariota was a bust as a starter and hopes to revive his career with the Raiders. The adage applies: When you have two quarterbacks, you have none.
18. Falcons: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub — There’s just something a bit off with Matty Ice, who is still compiling good numbers but has a 14-17 record the last two years. And I’m surprised the Falcons haven’t upgraded from Schaub.
19. Lions: Matthew Stafford, Chase Daniel — Stafford, 32, is coming off a major back injury that cost him eight games last year. And for all of Stafford’s big passing numbers in his career, he is 0-3 in the postseason, with no appearances since 2016.
20. Browns: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum — The 2019 season was a disaster for Mayfield, but I’ll chalk that up to lousy coaching from Freddie Kitchens. Here’s betting new coach Kevin Stefanski will get much more out of Mayfield.
21. Rams: Jared Goff, John Wolford — Goff‘s numbers dipped across the board last year, as the Rams missed the playoffs. And they could use an upgrade at backup. Perhaps Cam Newton comes aboard in training camp?
22. Dolphins: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tua Tagovailoa — No team has a bigger boom-or-bust QB room than the Dolphins. Fitzpatrick is a roller coaster unto himself, and Tua has the potential to be a superstar or a bust who can’t stay healthy.
23. Panthers: Teddy Bridgewater, Will Grier, P.J. Walker — Bridgewater was more of a game manager than a gunslinger for the Saints last year. But he went 5-0 and only threw two interceptions as a starter, and now he has a great young coordinator in Joe Brady.
24. Jets: Sam Darnold, Joe Flacco — Darnold actually had a decent second half of 2019, finishing on a 6-2 stretch with 12 touchdown passes and four interceptions. But this is a big prove-it season for him.
25. Giants: Daniel Jones, Colt McCoy, Cooper Rush — I like Jones better than Darnold, and think this could be a nice breakout year for him. But Jones, 3-9 last year, still has to prove he can win.
26. Chargers: Tyrod Taylor, Justin Herbert — At his best, Taylor can be a poor man’s Jackson. But he is raw as a passer, and there’s a reason the Bills gave up on him. As for Herbert, I wasn’t a fan in the pre-draft process, but we’ll see.
27. Bears: Mitchell Trubisky, Foles — If this ranking were based solely on Trubisky, the Bears might be 30th or lower. But bringing in Foles as the backup was smart.
28. Bills: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Jake Fromm — Allen deserves credit for leading the Bills to a 10-6 record last year. But he has been brutal as a pocket passer, and the Bills won in spite of him. They could use an upgrade at backup, too.
29. Jaguars: Gardner Minshew, Mike Glennon, Jake Luton — The NFL figured out Minshew pretty quickly, leading to a midseason benching. Minshew will get another shot this year, but he’s no long-term answer.
30. Patriots: Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer — The Patriots used to have a 20-year, six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Now they have Stidham, whose only touchdown pass last year was a pick-6, and Hoyer, who hasn’t won an NFL start since 2016.
31. Redskins: Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen — Haskins showed very little in an abbreviated rookie year, though he was working with an interim coach. Allen went 5-7 with the Panthers last season and may beat out Haskins.
32. Broncos: Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien — The Broncos were encouraged by Lock’s 4-1 record down the stretch. But this is the least-experienced depth chart in the league, and could cost John Elway his job.
SEE YOU SOON?
How to get fans in stands
For a story a couple weeks ago on the viability of playing this fall, I spoke with several infectious disease experts who expected that the NFL and other leagues won’t have fans in the stands as a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
But now I get the sense that while banning fans is probably the most sensible approach, it’s very much a last resort.
Game-day revenue, which includes tickets, parking, concessions, merchandise, and more, accounts for $4 billion to $5 billion for the NFL, which is nothing to sneeze at — about one-third of the league’s annual revenue.
The Dolphins already have presented a plan to have about 15,000 fans inside of Hard Rock Stadium (capacity: 65,000). The company that manages the Superdome in New Orleans said this past week that it is working with the Saints to come up with a social distancing plan to host as many fans as possible. Strict social distancing could allow approximately 13,000 fans (capacity: 74,000), but the Saints want to get 20,000-30,000 fans in the stands, and are exploring ways to seat fans in pods of four, six, or eight.
Even if teams are only allowed to have 15,000 or so fans at games, that’s better than nothing. And don’t underestimate the owners’ will to have a season and get paying customers through the gates.
As Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said this past week on CNBC, there “definitely will be a football season this year. The real question is will there be fans in the stadium?”
League must get it right
The NFL has the benefit of time before making any drastic decisions about the season. Most importantly, the league must decide on a testing protocol, and how much testing is appropriate in order to keep COVID-19 out of football facilities.
The German Bundesliga is testing its players twice per week, while the NHL reportedly plans to test players every day. The Premier League is also getting back to contact training and full-team practices, which should give the NFL an idea of how to hold its practices in a few months.
“We can’t miss, we can’t fail,” NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said. “We still have time, [but] we have to be right.”
Riveron appears to be losing power
Al Riveron has been the target of frequent criticism from fans, players, and coaches in his three seasons as the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, and it seems that the league is reducing his power.
Riveron will still be in charge of all instant replay decisions from the control room at league headquarters in New York. But the NFL recast most of his other duties to new hires brought on this spring, and is adding more voices to the instant replay room.
The NFL announced this past week that former longtime coach Perry Fewell will be a senior vice president of officiating administration, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the officiating department. And former 24-year official Walt Anderson, who retired after last season, is now the senior vice president of officiating, training, and development. Anderson will be in charge of all game officials, which includes overseeing the performance evaluation system and the recruiting system for developing new officials.
Riveron will continue to be aided in the instant replay control room by Russell Yurk, the NFL’s vice president of instant replay and administration. But the NFL also is adding three replay assistants in the room to give Riveron some help.
In a media call announcing all of the changes and new hires this past week, Vincent addressed Riveron’s role by stating, “Al is still on board with us.” But it certainly doesn’t seem like Riveron is the man in charge anymore.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has smartly kept a low profile this spring. Mayfield was a media darling all last offseason, starring in national TV ads and talking smack in interviews. But a terrible 2019 season humbled Mayfield quickly, and this spring he knows he needs to keep quiet and get to work. “This is the first media thing I’ve done,” Mayfield told Cleveland reporters this past week. “There’s no need to be talking about it. It’s time to go do it.” … Vincent confirmed on Thursday that the NFL was planning in 2020 to use the Hawk-Eye instant replay system that was used by the XFL this spring, which allows the video feed to go directly to the replay booth and speeds up/simplifies the process. But the NFL had to push those plans into 2021 because the pandemic has prevented workers from installing the systems in stadiums, Vincent said … Philip Rivers may be new in Indianapolis, but he knows the offense well, after spending three years with coach Frank Reich in San Diego. “I mean, he’s already taken control of meetings,” receiver T.Y. Hilton told reporters … The pandemic is forcing teams to plan for normal, but create several contingency plans. The Cowboys hope to hold training camp as usual in Oxnard, Calif., but are preparing to practice at home in Frisco, Texas. The Raiders planned to hold one last training camp in Napa Valley, but instead are considering moving to their new team facility in Henderson, Nev., in June, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But the Rams are still moving ahead with plans to open SoFi Stadium on time, putting tickets to the Aug. 14 preseason opener against the Saints up for sale last week. The Rams will offer full refunds if the game isn’t played or fans aren’t allowed in … Of course it was Browns owner Jimmy Haslam who didn’t know his microphone was hot during the NFL’s virtual owners’ meeting May 19. When Cowboys owner Jerry Jones couldn’t get his microphone to work, Haslam reportedly cracked, “They should keep Jerry on permanent mute,” not realizing that he was talking to dozens of owners and league executives.