There are two kinds of teams in the NFL: Those that have their long-term quarterback and those that are looking for him. Given the scarcity of that Super Bowl-caliber passer, many teams are forced to turn to “Bridge QBs,” passers who arrive without much fanfare and are only expected to hold the starting role until the next great hope arrives.
Although there’s not a good metric to distinguish these QBs, typically the duck test is enough: “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” Bridge passers in 2021 include the Washington Football Team duo of Taylor Heinicke and Ryan Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor, and Andy Dalton. Depending on your level of cynicism, even Jared Goff or Sam Darnold could be included.
Contrary to the beliefs of many fans and media members, bridge quarterbacks who team’s can win with do not grow on trees. Using our comprehensive passing metric season formula, we took a look at the best bridge quarterbacks of the past 15 years:
Ryan Tannehill is the ideal bridge passer, one who played well enough to be reconsidered as the long-term option and now stands in a class of his own. Traded to Tennessee for only a fourth- and seventh-round pick and stuck on the bench behind Marcus Mariota, his production has surpassed the Titans’ wildest dreams. His 2020 season registered a 6.89 CPM, the 23rd-best season since 2006 and the best among bridge guys. Tannehill played so well, he bridged Tennessee to himself.
The Eagles rendition of Michael Vick came back from his suspension and spent a full year behind Donovan McNabb. After McNabb was traded away in the 2010 offseason and Kevin Kolb was named the starter, it took a concussion to Kolb for a 30-year-old Vick to finally regain a starting role. From there, a 5.61 CPM and a Pro Bowl selection bought the QB a few more years as a starter, though he was unable to reach those heights again.
The quintessential bridge quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, arrives here in third-place with a 5.52 CPM for the 2015 New York Jets. Replacing Geno Smith after a broken jaw, Fitzpatrick led the Jets to their first 10-win season since their surprise 2010 AFC Championship appearance with a superb performance on third down as well as the ability to consistently pick up yards with his feet. Despite re-signing with the team after the season, he repeatedly traded the starting role with Geno Smith and Bryce Petty before moving on after 2016.
Derek Anderson was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the 2005 NFL Draft but was waived before the season. Claimed by Cleveland, he spent two seasons on the bench before entering the 2007 offseason in a competition with incumbent Charlie Frye and highly-touted rookie Brady Quinn. Although Frye won the job, Anderson replaced him in the season opener and soundly claimed the role. In leading Cleveland to their first season with double-digit wins in 13 years, Anderson’s 5.08 CPM actually just barely beats out Josh Allen’s 2019 campaign. Although he never regained those heights, missing the 2008 preseason with a concussion and ceding the job to Quinn, Anderson remained the last QB to reach those heights in Cleveland until Baker Mayfield.
2021 Week 7 Review
A week of elite quarterbacks somewhat off their game matched with a slate of powerful teams on bye weeks saw a group of underrated passers take the top spots in this week’s CPM scores. With the 10th-best game of the year so far, Matthew Stafford leads the way this week with a 7.15 CPM. Mac Jones takes second-place with the best game of his young career, coming in at 7.01 and finally surpassing his promising Week 1 display. Jones himself barely beats out third-place Derek Carr, whose ridiculous 91% completion rate was the best all-time for a passer with 30-plus completions. Regardless, here is the full rankings for qualifying QBs in Week 7: