NFL Analysis


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Ranking NFL's Top 10 Backup QBs Who Could Be Future Starters

Browns quarterback Jameis Winston (5) participates in quarterback drills with Tyler Huntley during minicamp, Tuesday, June 11, 2024, in Berea.

Most NFL teams have stable quarterback situations heading into the 2024 season. Only one or two teams have real competitions entering training camp. However, there are a handful of intriguing backups that could make their way onto the field this year or are poised to be starters in the near future.

For the purposes of this list, let’s assume all first-round picks at quarterback win their respective battles (outside of Atlanta, where Kirk Cousins is the clear starter). That means that Drake Maye (Patriots), J.J. McCarthy (Vikings), and Bo Nix (Broncos) all get on the field by Week 1 or soon thereafter.

We are looking at quarterbacks who are widely expected to spend most of September and October on the bench. So, without further ado, here are the 10 backup quarterbacks who could wind up being future starters in the NFL.

Backup QBs Who Could Be Starters

10. Kenny Pickett, Eagles

There is no getting around the fact that Kenny Pickett was bad for the Steelers. His win-loss record was good (14-10), but he didn’t show much to inspire confidence that he could ever be a franchise quarterback.

However, Pickett is a former first-round pick, and we know that high-round choices will continue to get opportunities. Maybe Pickett could benefit from a year or two behind Jalen Hurts. Or maybe he needs to be in a better situation with someone other than Matt Canada calling plays.

Who knows, but someone will take a chance on Pickett again, just like teams did with Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Mitchell Trubisky, etc.

9. Stetson Bennett, Rams

Stetson Bennett is one of the most interesting names on this list after leading Georgia to back-to-back National Champions in 2021 and 2022. The Rams then picked Bennett in the fourth round, but he did not play his entire rookie season after stepping away from the team.

While Bennett’s reason for being away is unknown, the good news is that he is back and ready to participate.

Bennett's path to playing isn’t that difficult. Matthew Stafford is 36, and it’s unclear how much longer he’ll want to play, given all of his previous injuries. Bennett is a talented quarterback but turns 27 during the 2024 season.

He needs to get on the field sooner rather than later, but he does fit Sean McVay’s offense well. Given all of his previous accolades and accomplishments in college, it seems as if it’s only a matter of time before Bennett is given a shot to replicate his success.

8. Jameis Winston, Browns

Given all of the resources and time they’ve spent on him, the Cleveland Browns must make Deshaun Watson work. They are committed to making him a better quarterback and hope he can return to form in 2024.

However, Watson is returning from a serious shoulder injury, and there is no telling what he'll look like this year. The good news is that Cleveland has covered themselves well, signing veteran Jameis Winston this offseason.

Winston has been a league-average starter for most of his career, but he’s been blocked in New Orleans by the likes of Drew Brees and Derek Carr. This might be his best situation to return to the field and resurrect his career.

The Browns have playmakers all over the field and one of the NFL's best offensive-minded coaches. If Winston ever gets a chance to start in Cleveland, don’t be surprised if he has success immediately.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Spencer Rattler (18) runs passing drills during the rookie minicamp at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports.

7. Spencer Rattler, Saints

Spencer Rattler fell to the fifth round of the 2024 NFL Draft but landed in a pretty good spot. Carr is entrenched as the starter in New Orleans, but his job might not be as safe as it was a year ago. If the Saints get off to a slow start and it becomes apparent they can’t contend for the NFC South, look for them to consider starting Rattler.

While he doesn’t have great size or athleticism, Rattler has a cannon for an arm and can make plays outside of the pocket. His accuracy will come and go, but we’ve seen Rattler play well in the SEC and the Big 12.

Rattler will likely see some action during his rookie season, but how early that is will depend on how he looks in camp and during the preseason.

6. Sam Howell, Seahawks

After two up-and-down seasons with the Commanders, the Seattle Seahawks acquired Sam Howell for a late-round pick this offseason to back up Geno Smith. While Smith’s starting job isn’t in jeopardy, it is worth mentioning that Seattle has a new coaching staff, and they made it a priority to target Howell.

Howell is a shorter quarterback, but he’s got good athleticism and can make plays down the field with his arm. Don’t expect Howell to start in 2024 unless an injury happens, but he could be an option in 2025 if the Seahawks move on from Smith.

5. Trey Lance, Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys have yet to extend Dak Prescott, who is entering the final year of his contract. While it’s clear that the Cowboys want Prescott back, the star quarterback might decide to hit unrestricted free agency next year and see what the market offers.

If Dallas loses Prescott, the favorite to replace him would be Trey Lance, the former No. 3 overall pick from the 2021 NFL Draft. Lance is in the final year of his rookie deal, but the Cowboys could extend him at a low price to keep him as an option in 2025 and beyond.

The buzz out of Dallas has been positive surrounding Lance, but we will need to see him in training camp and the preseason before getting too excited about his potential.

4. Drew Lock, Giants

It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, Daniel Jones signed a contract extension with the New York Giants that would pay him $40 million per season. Flash forward to now, and the Giants were heavily interested in trading up for a quarterback in Round 1.

That didn’t happen, as they couldn’t get inside the top three picks to secure Maye or Jayden Daniels. Instead, they're sticking with Jones as their starter and Drew Lock as the primary backup.

Lock was a disaster in Denver earlier in his career but settled down in Seattle. While he isn’t the most dynamic option, he could be a solid option if Jones can’t stay healthy or struggles out of the gate. Lock has a massive arm and enough athleticism to keep drives alive. It wouldn’t be surprising if Brian Daboll decides to make a switch at some point during the 2024 season.

3. Aidan O’Connell, Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders have a good old-fashioned camp battle at quarterback, which doesn’t happen much in today’s NFL. Still, with Gardner Minshew getting some decent coin this offseason, he figures to be the opening-day starter.

The good news is that Aidan O’Connell offers the Raiders an intriguing backup who went 5-5 as a starter last season. He lacks mobility and doesn’t have the biggest arm, but he showed flashes as a rookie. The Raiders would love to have “AOC” be their long-term answer at quarterback but don’t be surprised if he starts the year on the bench.

2. Justin Fields, Steelers

Russell Wilson is in “poll position” to be the Week 1 starter, and it doesn’t appear that Mike Tomlin will make a move all that quickly. However, Wilson is an aging quarterback who was just released by a team that took on $80+ million in dead cap to move off of him.

Justin Fields is (likely) the better fit in Arthur Smith’s offense and is much more dynamic with his legs. He’ll get a shot at starting at some point during the 2024 season, but how early that will be is unknown.

1. Michael Penix Jr, Falcons

It’s pretty rare in this era for a team to spend a top-10 pick on a backup quarterback, but that’s what the Atlanta Falcons did this year with Michael Penix Jr.

Obviously, they don’t view him as a backup quarterback but rather as a franchise passer who will sit on the bench for a while. Because of the investment, it’s only a matter of time before Penix gets on the field. Kirk Cousins will be the starter in 2024, but anything beyond that is up in the air.

Penix will be the long-term starter in Atlanta; that much is known. But when it will happen is anyone’s guess.

>> FORMER PLAYER: Penix Pick Sends Bad Message