Ranking Top 10 Backup Quarterbacks: Which NFL Team Is Most Prepared?

Backup quarterbacks should be a high priority for teams at every level – high school, college and certainly the NFL. They’re so important because they need to do three crucial things, and the team has to trust them to do those. 

The first one is when the starting quarterback gets nicked; keep the train on the tracks for a period of time. It could be a few plays or a few series. In Green Bay in 1995, Jim McMahon replaced Brett Favre for half of a series. He threw the football three times, and the Packers went down the field and kicked a field goal in an important game. 

Second, when disaster strikes, it’s an opportunity for the backup quarterback. When a highly accomplished starting quarterback is out for weeks or the entire season, the backup needs to inject a little juice into that team, so it can keep rolling.

When Donovan McNabb went down with an ACL injury in 2006, Jeff Garcia came in and led the Philadelphia Eagles to five wins in six games to win the NFC East. Lamar Jackson did the same thing for the Baltimore Ravens when Joe Flacco was out because of a hip injury for 6-8 weeks in 2018. Jackson went 6-1 down the stretch to lead the Ravens to the AFC North crown.

The third thing a backup quarterback must do is play at a high level on a consistent basis. That might inject confidence and a little juice into the rest of the team. Those are the three things I’ll be considering when compiling this list. 

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Here’s a look at the best of the backups.

Top 10 NFL Backup Quarterbacks

10. Sam Darnold, San Francisco 49ers

Sam Darnold has 55 NFL starts, and he’s only 26. He must overcome inconsistency, especially with his accuracy. Great quarterbacks rarely miss easy passes. Poor quarterbacks miss them regularly, which just sucks the juice out of your team. Darnold must overcome that.

The San Francisco 49ers are a great landing spot for the talented Darnold. Brian Griese is his quarterbacks coach, and head coach Kyle Shanahan runs the offense. Darnold may be able to overcome those and fix some of those inconsistencies.

>> READ: 49ers Can Help Rebuild Darnold’s Career

Tyler Huntley Baltimore Ravens

9. Tyler Huntley, Baltimore Ravens

Tyler Huntley is a great athlete, and he’s only 25. He has to elevate his passer rating, which is only 76.6. Huntley is 3-5 as a starter when Jackson is injured, so he has accumulated some invaluable experience. He even started a playoff game at the Bengals this past season. 

Huntley is so talented in the running and passing game I wouldn’t be surprised if his production leaps the next time he gets an opportunity. Some quarterbacks make a big jump between their second and third NFL seasons or third and fourth seasons. 

8. Taylor Heinicke, Atlanta Falcons

Taylor Heinicke is an exciting player who can inject some juice into a team. He’s only 30, and his career passer rating is 85.7. Heinicke has a .500 record as a starter, so he’s proven he can win games. He’s the type of player who can inject confidence into a team when he’s called upon. 

7. Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints

Jameis Winston is a very talented player. He has 80 NFL starts and has had some terrific games. Winston is capable of throwing three, four or even five touchdowns in a game. He also can do the opposite of that. He’s had some really bad games due to interceptions.

His challenge will be to play at a high level on a consistent basis. Winston is only 29, and his career passer rating is 87.5. If he can raise that above 90, he’ll be a terrific backup for the New Orleans Saints.

6. Marcus Mariota, Philadelphia Eagles

Some believe Marcus Mariota doesn’t pass the ball well enough, but he has an 89.3 career passer rating. He can do the job in the passing game. Mariota is 29 and has excellent running ability as well. If the Philadelphia Eagles call on him, they’re going to lean on the running game but don’t be surprised if his passer rating takes a big jump. 

5. Gardner Minshew, Indianapolis Colts

Gardner Minshew is only 27 and has a 93.1 career passer rating. This is the highest of all the backups except former backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who has a 99.6. The Las Vegas Raiders signed Garoppolo to be their starter this season. Minshew has 24 starts, mostly with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and has 44 touchdown passes to 15 interceptions.

He also has more than 6,600 yards passing. Minshew would be higher on this list, except he has an 8-16 record, which is a commentary on the caliber of teams he was on before joining the Eagles in 2021. The next time he gets an opportunity to play, don’t be surprised if Minshew lights it up.

4. Jacoby Brissett, Washington Commanders

I’m a little biased toward Jacoby Brissett because my older son Skylar played with him at the University of Florida. Brissett is 30, and he’s got an 84.4 passer rating in 48 starts in his seven-year career. He’s one of the more experienced backups.

His 48-23 touchdown-to-interception ratio is pretty good. He still possesses good movement and running ability. Brissett has proven he can come in and win games. He’s one of the top 32 quarterbacks in the NFL and should be starting somewhere.

3. Cooper Rush, Dallas Cowboys

Cooper Rush is 29, but he only has six starts. However, he’s 5-1. Unlike Minshew, who played for a struggling Jaguars team, Rush has been on a pretty good Dallas Cowboys team. When he had the opportunity, he took advantage of it and led the Cowboys to a 4-1 record in 2022.

Here’s the problem: his career passer rating is only 84.9. He has the potential to raise that to near 90 or above. Rush has proven he can win games when called upon.

2. Andy Dalton, Carolina Panthers

Andy Dalton has had a fine career. The Red Rifle, as he’s known, is 35, so age and injury come into play. He’s started 162 games and has a career passer rating of 87.6. Dalton is an experienced quarterback who teams can trust to come and do the right thing.

He’s 83-77-2 and has passed for more than 38,000 yards. He has 244 touchdowns to 144 interceptions. Dalton gives the Carolina Panthers a quality and experienced backup behind rookie Bryce Young

Tyrod Taylor New York Giants

1. Tyrod Taylor, New York Giants

This might be a bit of a surprise. Tyrod Taylor is a savvy 33-year-old veteran with an 88.2 career passer rating. He has 53 starts, and he led the Buffalo Bills to their first playoff appearance in 18 years in 2017.

Taylor still shows the ability to move and groove. He’s got a lot of experience and has thrown more than twice as many touchdowns (60) as interceptions (26). Taylor gives the New York Giants the NFL’s top backup quarterback. 

Marty Mornhinweg is a former head coach of the Detroit Lions and a longtime NFL offensive assistant. He was the quarterbacks coach on the 1996 Green Bay Packers team that won Super Bowl XXXI. Follow him on Twitter at @MartyMornhinweg.

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