The Best And Worst Of NFL Backup QBs

I was watching the Titans-Ravens preseason game last Thursday night and was struck by something. Logan Woodside is an NFL backup QB … and he is terrible.

Titans quarterback Logan Woodside. (Getty Images)

Set aside his awful two interceptions and that time he couldn’t get the ball in the same zip code as a wide-open Treylon Burks in the Ravens game. The guy doesn’t appear physically capable of making plays in the NFL. He is 6-1, 213 pounds of “eh.”

Contrast the Titans backup with the Ravens Tyler Huntley or Titans (current) 3rd stringer Malik Willis. Huntley was an efficient 16 for 18 through the air with one TD and no interceptions while also adding a 14-yard run. He wasn’t special but he showed once again that he is the perfect backup to step in and run a system designed for starting QB Lamar Jackson.

Titans’ rookie QB Malik Willis looked shaky and uncertain in the pocket in route to a 6 for 11, 107 yard passing performance. On the bright side, he displayed one of the big reasons the Titans drafted him in the 3rd round when he took off on a beautiful 7-yard rushing TD. He started right and broke back to the left to outrace Ravens defenders to the corner of the end zone.

Does anyone believe Logan Woodside is capable of any of those things? All I ever hear about Woodside is that he “knows the offense” and is “great in the QB room.” I’m sure all those things are true but is that truly the bar for being one snap away from starting games at QB in the NFL? Did I miss my calling as a highly paid NFL backup QB considering I, too, can study a playbook and exhibit a helpful and fun personality in a locker room?

So many questions… This got me thinking about the position and which teams have it best and which have it worst. My conclusion is that either NFL teams are doing a terrible job at identifying backup QB talent, or there simply aren’t 64 NFL capable quarterbacks in the world. Here’s my list of the 5 best and 5 worst current NFL backup QBs.

The Best NFL Backup QBs

  1. Nick Foles, Colts
Colts quarterback Nick Foles. (Getty Images)

There’s only one other name on this list that’s won a Super Bowl as a starting QB, but it’s Joe Flacco, and I’m not sure how interested he is in being a backup. Foles’ career has been a roller coaster of extreme highs and extreme lows, but it’s tough to match his experience stepping in for a #1 and his ability to give you a split if your starter was out for a month.

By the way, my standard for a great backup QB is someone that can get a good team to 2-2 if the starting QB is out for 4 games. Foles can do just that. The Colts are in a good spot if something happens to the 37-year-old Matt Ryan.

2. Teddy Bridgewater, Dolphins

Tua Tagovailoa is in a “prove it” year with the Dolphins. The acquisition of Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs and Cedrick Wilson Jr. from the Cowboys leaves the former 5th overall pick with few excuses.

While Teddy Bridgewater’s injury history is concerning, he is coming off a serviceable season as the starting QB in Denver throwing for 18 TDs and 7 INTs. The upside isn’t high for the former 1st Round pick, but the floor IS high, which is a formula for a stable backup situation in this League.

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3. Kenny Pickett, Steelers

There are two kinds of good starting QBs in the NFL. The first prototype is the veteran with prior experience as a starter that can tread water if your starter goes down and help lend a hand with your #1’s preparation and in-game process. The second prototype is the young guy that fans want to see because there is potential to be a top-flight starter in the NFL. 

The perfect example of the second prototype is Kenny Pickett. The Steelers didn’t draft the hometown Pitt Panther gunslinger to be a career backup to Mitch Trubisky. Pickett looked every bit the 1st rounder in Preseason game #1 and was described to us on “OutKick 360” as a “gamer” by former Steeler Ike Taylor. Anyone that watched him throw for 4,319 yards, 42 TDs, and only 7 INTs last year at Pitt would agree.

4. Tyler Huntley, Ravens

Huntley is in the perfect spot for his skillset: Backing up Lamar Jackson. He averaged 8.8 carries and 56 yards on the ground in 5 starts last season, so while he obviously is not the former League MVP, he can adequately run the Ravens QB run friendly offense. Passing was a bit of a mystery for Huntley but he peaked with a 215-yard, 2 TD performance against the Packers followed by a 270-yard game in Cleveland, but both were losses.

I’m giving Huntley a spot in the Top 5 because he is the right blend of system replacement fit and future potential (he is only 24). If Jackson misses any time this season, I fully expect Huntley to improve on last year’s performance.

5. Gardner Minshew, Eagles

Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew. (Getty Images)

Tua Tagovailoa isn’t the only former Alabama QB in a prove it season. After the offseason trade for AJ Brown of the Titans to pair with emerging star DeVonta Smith, the Eagles are in “win now” mode. Jalen Hurts will be expected to show that he is the franchise guy moving forward. If he doesn’t, he has a stick of dynamite waiting in the wings to provide a spark for his team.

Describing Gardner Minshew as unconventional is doing a disservice to the word. He is dripping with swagger and wildly unpredictable, which makes him nearly impossible to prepare for on a week- to-week basis and completely impossible to prepare for if he is inserted mid-game. Minshew is the ultimate wild card. Is he the most physically gifted backup in the League? No. Does his track record combined with his ability to change the fortunes of an offense quickly make him a Top 5 backup? Absolutely.

The Worst Backups

  1. Logan Woodside, Titans

The only chance the Titans have at winning a game if Ryan Tannehill is out is if they started Derrick Henry at QB and ran the “veer” for an entire game. That says more about Logan Woodside than Derrick Henry’s QB skills. The former Toledo Rocket is a whopping 1 for 3 for 7 yards in his career and the only thing surprising about that stat line is that he completed the one pass.

He has kept his job up until now on the backs of a strong understanding of the offense and his work ethic. These are great traits… for an offensive analyst. Hopefully the Titans hire him on staff after Malik Willis wins the backup job.

2. Jordan Love, Packers

Packers quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love. (Getty Images)

The man threw 17 INTs in his senior season at Utah State. The Packers not only made one of the worst and most unnecessary draft picks in NFL history when they traded up to draft Love with the 26th pick of the 2020 Draft, but they failed to even find a competent backup with that disaster of a 1st Round pick.

Love ended 3 straight Packers drives with interceptions in their first preseason game. So, the inaccuracy issues he had at Utah State weren’t an aberration. It’s who he is. And the Packers nearly ruined their relationship with one of the all-time greats at the position by trading up to draft for him.

3. Sean Mannion, Vikings

Mannion was drafted in the 3rd Round of the 2015 Draft and has a career stat line of 67 for 110, 573 yards, and 1 TD with 3 INTs. He is currently a 30-year-old backup battling with Kellen Mond for the #2 gig in Minnesota. I could go on, but I fear I’ll put myself to sleep writing more about him.

4. John Wolford, Rams

Rams quarterback John Wolford. (Getty Images)

The little-known Wolford is an amalgamation of every problem with many backup QBs in the NFL. Even his name makes you confuse him with 37 other guys you watched in college. He had a nice career at a school not traditionally known for football (Wake Forest) and fans of his current team would abandon all hope if he had to start for any length of time. I could be describing any number of back-up QBs in the League so I’ll sum them all up by putting Wolford in the 4 spot.

5. Joe Flacco, Jets

Flacco’s resume makes him the best backup QB in the NFL. The problem is that 37-year-old Flacco’s most recent performances, combined with an apparent lack of desire to help other QBs at times in his career, make him a guy willing to take a paycheck from any team that will pay him with no real desire to help deliver wins on Sundays. Maybe I’m being too hard on Flacco but no I’m not actually.

When I think of Flacco, I’m reminded of Shane Falco and the movie “The Replacements.” But he isn’t Falco who was played by Keanu Reeves. He is the aging Eddie Martel played by great character actor Brett Cullen. A once “elite” QB that’s no longer relevant or helpful. But they’ve both made a lot of money.

Chad Withrow is a co-host of “OutKick 360” that can be seen and heard weekdays from 3-6pm ET on the OutKick digital and radio networks. You can email and tell him how wrong he is at Chad.Withrow@outkick.com

Written by Chad Withrow

Chad Withrow hosts OutKick 360 and has covered Nashville sports, statewide, and SEC college issues and headlines since 2004.

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