Aug 31

Backup Barometer: Which 2014 backup QBs are most likely to ascend to the starting job

While it doesn’t warrant the fanfare that a ‘closer’s hot seat’ post would on the dawn of the fantasy football season, the Quarterback battles have now wrapped up for the summer and each team has determined their Week 1 starter. They won’t all be the man under Center in Week 17 though, and owners in deeper leagues would be wise to keep an eye on the players above, perhaps even stashing them in two QB formats.

There are plenty of starters who are locked in to their roles (barring injury) of course, and you won’t see them discussed here but for the ‘file this name away’ pile let’s look at those QBs who start the season on the hot seat and the players likely to replace them.

2014 Backup QB Barometer

Hoyer has been named starter, but we'll always be asking when is it Johnny's time? (Photo:  John Kuntz / The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Hoyer has been named starter, but we’ll always be asking when is it Johnny’s time? (Photo: John Kuntz / The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Brian Hoyer. Seat Heat: Scalding. Backup: Johnny Manziel. Projected Takeover: Week 5.

With Hoyer winning the job by Manziel simply not showing enough to claim it himself, it feels as if the team acknowledges his placeholder status. Sure, if he comes out of the gate hot he may hold the job, but with the Ravens, Saints and Steelers on tap heading into the early bye it makes sense that we’ll see Manziel in Week 5 when the Browns return to the field – the schedule lightens up considerably at that point and this may just be an opportunity to avoid exposing Manziel to tough opponents early in his career. With that said, again, if Hoyer and the Browns are 2-1 at the bye the conversation likely changes.

When Manziel does get his turn, you can expect more of what you saw in the preseason. A Quarterback who looks over matched at times, misses some open throws, and makes things happen by using his legs and extending the play. It likely won’t be a great recipe for winning in his first season, but it should be enough to make him a fantasy player of interest when he is on the field.

Johnny Football’s YPA fell in the five range in his four preseason outings against inferior competition did little to suggest he is ready to compile strong passing lines against professional competition though he did post a solid 96.0 QB rating when not pressured and he added 99 rushing yards and a score on 12 attempts. Those rushing yards should do enough to give him some useful weeks, the challenge will be predicting when he may struggle to score as the QB we saw this preseason will be anything but consistent on the field in year one.

Draft Advice: As the 23rd QB selected in an average draft, I’ll take a shot on Manziel as a bench QB if I’m not excited about my first option. Again, his legs will give him a few useful lines when on the field to be sure.

Matt Schaub. Seat Heat: Scalding. Backup: Derek Carr. Projected Takeover: Week 1.

Derek Carr closed the books on a solid preseason against Seattle on Thursday night, while Matt Schaub sat with an elbow injury. Whether the injury is legitimate or not, we aren’t sure of Schaub’s Week 1 status and it wouldn’t surprise me – again, injury or otherwise – to see Carr starting for Oakland in Week 1. The veteran hasn’t looked like he is ready to recover from 2013’s downward spiral, and the rookie has looked more or less ready to perform. Like the Browns, Oakland has an early bye so if he isn’t under Center to start the season you could see Carr by October… particularly if Oakland starts poorly against the Jets, the Patriots and Schaub’s former team.

That the team is hedging already on naming Schaub the starter is bad news for his long term role as the team’s starting QB. Assuming he is healthy enough, and gets the nod to start Week 1 the Raiders aren’t expected to contend this season so it won’t be long until we see the Derek Carr show anyhow. Carr threw for 326 yards and four scores, while getting intercepted just once on 45 pass attempts this preseason.

Thought of by many to be one of the more pro-ready QBs in the draft, Carr will get a shot to prove it at some point this season. He’s an accurate passer with good footwork and a quick release, but fell in some circles because of a lack of ideal size (6’2″, small hands). With a limited but intriguing receiving corps in Oakland and a couple of backs who, while on the under-productive side of their careers can catch the ball, the situation could be worse. Carr is worth a look in some 2QB formats.

Draft advice: He simply isn’t being selected in any standard format drafts, and there are likely better options ahead of him. That said, if you’re in a deep league looking for QBs Carr could easily deliver the most fantasy relevant line of any of the rookies through the full 16 games. 

Matt Cassel. Seat Heat: Hot. Backup: Teddy Bridgewater. Projected Takeover: Week 14.

Unlike the two previous incumbent starters, Matt Cassel actually put together a strong summer and managed to cement his hold on the job. With that said, Minnesota suffered some significant losses on the defensive side of the ball this year and despite new HC Mike Zimmer’s presence they aren’t expected to be able to overcome those and compete. When the season falls apart – or when Cassel struggles against in-season competition – you’ll see the rookie passer, who had a flawless preseason of his own, throwing passes.

Realistically, the Vikings could be 2-4 or worse after a tough divisional contest against Detroit on October 12 though I think Cassel survives that initial flurry. After back-to-back division games, and a bout with the Panthers to close November it could be possible that their hopes are dashed and in game experience for Bridgewater becomes the ultimate goal.

In an offense that is enamored with the deep ball, and with an All-Pro Running Back, a solid possession receiver and a dynamic sophomore to throw to, along with red zone menance Kyle Rudolph the offense in Minnesota is better than you’d think. All that has been holding them back is Quarterback play. That said, Cassel actually completed 61 percent of his passes for 7.1 yards per attempt as a starter last year. His 9:7 TD:INT ratio is what go him in trouble though, and what could ultimately be his undoing (he had two multiple pick games in those seven starts, and as the offense takes more chances he’s going to make more mistakes).

Enter Bridgewater, who finished his preseason without a blemish, posting a 5:0 TD:INT ratio and a 112.2 QB rating. He operated a pro-style offense in College and should be able to step in right away without the team’s stars noticing a significant drop in production. Remember though that there were concerns about his ability in cold weather games, and the Vikings will enjoy plenty of those this year which could lead to sporadic production if and when he claims the job.

Draft advice: Bridegwater is a player to monitor at this point. In standard redraft leagues there are more consistent options available as a QB2, even if he was the Week 1 starter. I think Bridgewater will develop into a solid NFL passer but he isn’t as elusive as given credit for behind the line so you’ll be relying upon passing numbers alone to generate fantasy production.

Ryan Fitzpatrick. Seat Heat: Warm. Backup: Case Keenum (Tom Savage). Projected Takeover: Week 15.

Update: with the acquisition of Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum is  out. You won’t see either Mallet or Tom Savage until after the team’s bye, but you’re likely to see a start or two from each of them to close the season with an eye toward 2015. Of the two, Mallett perhaps has the most upside with a cannon arm.

The slate actually starts pretty gently for the Texans, whose defense could conceivably carry them to an above .500 start heading into a Week 7 bye. However, with it seeming unlikely that Fitzpatrick can keep the offense running on all cylinders and keep the team in the AFC South/Wildcard hunt deep into the season, the powers that be will want to see Tom Savage at some point in December, before deciding on the future of the position in next year’s draft.

The Week 15 projection may end up being the week we see Savage take the reigns of the offense with a cameo from Case Keenum in between, as Keenum remains ahead of the rookie on the team’s depth chart. Bill O’Brien and his staff have no loyalty to Keenum, a holdover from a previous era, and Fitzpatrick is an underwhelming passer with 83 career interceptions vs. 106 touchdowns. There are weapons on this offense and most are intrigued about the fantasy numbers that a Bill O’Brien scheme can produce, but you won’t be seeing them from the QB position this year.

Draft Advice: Nothing to see here with all three QBs.

Geno Smith. Seat Heat: Warm. Backup: Michael Vick. Projected Takeover: n/a.

Ever since Michael Vick took us behind the curtain on the act that was their QB competition, this conversation has been moot. It remains so heading into the season, though if the Jets are hanging around playoff contention and Geno starts to struggle the team knows they have a solid backup option that could step in and help them win games.

Geno finished 2013 strong, running a bit, throwing well and protecting the football and has carried that over to an impressive camp. All reports are that he has grown into the job this offseason and the Jets are expecting more consistent strong play from their 2nd year QB. With that said, New York has legitimate wildcard aspirations in the AFC if their thin secondary can hold up on Sundays and should he falter, the calls for Vick may come.

Vick looked sharp enough this preseason in his own right, and he still has a strong arm and impressive speed. Don’t forget, last year he rushed for 300 yards in parts of seven games for the Eagles before giving way to Nick Foles. If he’s on the field, there will be weeks where Vick yields strong fantasy outings. Smith can run too, adding 186 yards on the ground over the season’s final month last year. If he continues his progression as a passer and kicks in 40 rushing yards per game you’ll be thrilled with Smith’s output this year… and you won’t see the veteran.

Draft Advice: There is an argument that Vick is the first backup worth owning, given the fact that he would be the most fantasy relevant if he took the job. That said, the seat isn’t all that hot for Smith. File Vick in the situation to monitor folder in all but the deepest of leagues. Geno meanwhile, is being selected behind some of the backups on this list and most NFL starters. While I can’t promise consistent play, and I have him ranked outside the top-20 myself he is worth a look on draft day if you’re wanting to back up your QB with an upside play.

Chad Henne. Seat Heat: Warm. Backup: Blake Bortles. Projected Takeover: Week 14.

As with the Vick/Smith, there hasn’t been a lot of sizzle to the competition this August with Henne anointed as the starter from day one. The plan is to sit Bortles through the season, giving him time to acclimate to the league and it is probably a logical approach. With that said, he has shown us enough during camp to suggest that if he is pressed into action he can do the job competently, and may even run with it if a Henne injury presents a one or two week window to showcase his talents. Failing that, you’ll see him in December.

While many are viewing Bortles’ strong preseason as a reason for the Jaguars to shift gears on their decision to leave him on the bench in year one, there is the possibility that the strong Summer is proof that coach Gus Bradley’s approach is working. Without the pressure of competing, Bortles was able to focus on developing as a passer and he certainly looked the part. He threw for a whopping 10.2 YPA in the warmup lap, with two scores and no interceptions.

Jacksonville is improving on defense, and if free agent acquisition Toby Gerhart pans out on offense while the team gets solid production from their new toys at WR there is reason to believe that they could win as many as they lose this year, maybe more. On that note, the team’s position in the standings will have very much to do with whether or not they change course. If Henne truly struggles, and the team has even faint playoff aspirations Bortles will be considered… if they’re wiped out by late in the year, you’ll see him get a few live reps as well. The biggest issue for Henne, and the one that could push Bortles into the job sooner than later, is turnovers. He has never had a pro season with more touchdowns than interceptions, and if he keeps coughing the ball up the team may have no choice but to roll with the rookie.

Draft advice: the problem here is that even a great rookie year from Bortles probably doesn’t land him on the startable radar in standard leagues. If you want to take an end of draft flyer, there is nothing stopping you, but at most you’ll get a 10 game, 2000 yard, 15 score campaign and there are better options available on the waiver wire in redraft leagues.

Josh McCown: Seat Heat: Warm. Backup: Mike Glennon. Projected Takeover: Week 13.

The job firmly belongs to McCown, but with the team seeming genuine in their intent to take the job from Mike Glennon only to let him develop behind the starter as their Quarterback of the future (?) it makes sense that if the Bucs aren’t competitive he’ll get another turn. The team’s be in Week 7 will be far too early to make that determination, but by mid November the team should know where they stand relative to the rest of the league. They may well be competing for a playoff spot, but if not you can expect Glennon to get a turn.

Don’t forget, Glennon was actually reasonably strong in his rookie season. He completed just under 60 percent of his passes, with 19 scores vs. just 9 picks. An interesting tidbit: 67.3 of his passing yards were gained through the air, getting very few yards after the catch compared to his peers (just two other passers with more than 50% of their team’s dropbacks were over 60%). The point: if he finds his way onto the field this year, with the addition of Mike Evans, there are stats in Glennon’s arm and Jeff Tedford’s offense.

Josh McCown is a 35-year-old journeyman who certainly looked the part of a starting-caliber QB last season but is no lock to excel. On a week-to-week basis each QB has the chance to be useful when they’re taking reps. It should be McCown for the bulk of the season, but given that the offense is built around talented players on the outside, but there might not be a huge drop off when and if Glennon takes the reigns.

Draft Advice: McCown is an ideal QB2 if you’re so inclined, as he seems consistent enough to produce usable weekly lines more often than not. you just have to be prepared for him to be usurped at some point or another. Pay attention to the rhetoric, and as the season progresses keep an eye on Glennon if you end up QB needy.

Jake Locker: Seat Heat: Warm. Backup: Charlie Whitehurst (Zach Mettenberger). Projected Takeover: n/a.

New head coach Ken Whisenhunt has a reputation for getting the most out of Quarterbacks. He has no allegiance to Jake Locker though, as he was drafted under the previous regime. That said, Locker has shown enough of the course of his career to suggest he has the talent to lead the offense if he can stay on the field, and while he will be asked to remain a little more stationary in Whiz’s scheme, he should have the accuracy to work in the new offense and certainly has the arm strength to take advantage of downfield weapons. As long as he’s healthy, he should be good to go despite a strong summer from Zach Mettenberger. There are enough wins early in the schedule to keep the Titans relevant in the playoff conversation through their bye and into December. Nevertheless, if Locker endures sustained struggles that playoff relevancy may also cause the defensively strong team to look elsewhere.

Locker was enjoying his best season as a pro before going down with a season ending foot injury in 2013. That has been par for the course with Locker mind you, and the apparent likelihood that he’ll miss time at one point or another suggests that the backup situation is worth monitoring. At the moment, its Charlie Whitehurst who will step in to any void created by injury or performance issues with Locker, as his familiarity with Whisenhunt’s system gives him the edge.

Still, as demonstrated this preseason, Mettenberger has a lot of talent. You’d expect rust after he missed time with an ACL injury leading up  to the draft, but none was apparent this Summer. Working almost exclusively against second and third string opponents, Mettenberger was excellent in August, with 9.68 yards per attempt and a completion percentage near 70.

Draft Advice: Locker’s current QB29 ADP is far too low. That said, you won’t necessarily want to pick him… just remember his name if you’re racing to the waiver wire when dealing with a QB injury on your roster. He averaged 16.83 FPPG in six 2013 contests, including a four game stretch averaging 21.32. You’ve seen enough from Whitehurst to know you aren’t interested, and Mettenberger is unlikely to move the needle even if he jumps above the bohemian backup.

E.J. Manuel. Seat Heat: Mild. Backup: Kyle Orton. Projected Takeover: n/a.

E.J. Manuel has not had a pleasant preseason, but the alternative here is not all that appealing either. Remember that Manuel is barely into double digit starts in his pro career and as a result, he’ll be afforded a long leash. Of course, he has a limited number of starts under his belt because he had trouble staying on the field in his rookie season. If injury befalls him this year, Ortonis the man in Buffalo after his signing this week. Otherwise, this should be Manuel’s job to run with this season.

Bear in mind that Orton, while he has shown himself to be a competent enough QB, he just arrived in Buffalo and will have to get up to speed in the offense. He won’t be a threat early in the season, and should be looked upon strictly as an injury replacement.

Again, the preseason was not kind to him, but Manuel put up more than 15 points in six of his 10 contests last season. He’ll lose Steve Johnson, a productive safety blanket for Buffalo QBs through the years but adds one of the draft’s more dynamic players in Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams out of Tampa. Further, the team upgraded at offensive line and he should get an improved season from a healthy C.J. Spiller. There are weapons on offense for whoever is playing pivot for the Bills, and I’d expect that to be Manuel for every game that he’s healthy.

Draft Advice: Ignore Orton. And Manuel for that matter. He’s not even showing up on most ADP charts. He’s an interesting bye week fill in in the right matchup, but that’s it.


Barring catastrophe, you won’t see Kirk Cousins this season (Photo: Steve Helber/Associated Press).

Robert Griffin III. Seat Heat: Cool. Backup: Kirk Cousins. Projected Takeover: n/a.

Guys, RGIII isn’t going anywhere. I know its been a tough summer and hating on Griffin is a popular choice (if you believe him, anyhow), but he is the starter for this football team. Mike Shanahan’s strained relationship with RGIII was a big part of the reason he was removed from his job. The new sheriff in town will give him at least a year. Plus, you’d expect him to look bad in his first handful of outings in a new offense. As the season progresses, I fully expect Griffin to get it right and his returning athleticism to be on display. He may struggle out of the gate, but, as he figures out the offense and his new weapons Griffin should play well enough down the stretch.

For all the talk about how Kirk Cousins outplayed Griffin in the preseason, the incumbent starter actually completed a greater percentage of his passes for more yards per attempt than his backup and spent more time playing against the ones. While there were a few issues with turnovers, Washington actually moved the ball fairly well under Griffin’s guidance and it was his first game action under a new system.

Jay Gruden is well known for his impact on Quarterbacks, and he just spent three years getting the most out of Andy Dalton. As he gains more live reps under Gruden, expect Griffin to turn around. Given the debacle that was his benching in 2013, its going to take a massive implosion or an injury for him to loose his job. Remember, Cousins didn’t look all that impressive in game action to close 2013.

Draft Advice: despite everything above, I’ve recently knocked Griffin down a few pegs on my Quarterback ranks. He is a worthy back-end QB1 with upside and could easily pay a profit on his QB10 ADP. Should Cousins take the role at some point, he has QB2 potential. Whoever is throwing the ball in Washington does so in a pass heavy system, with lots of talent on the outside and at the Tight End position.

Shaun Hill: Seat Heat: . Backup: Austin Davis. Projected Takeover: n/a.

Unless the Rams bring someone else in, this is Hill’s job to lose. The 34-year-old Hill offers the team a wise veteran decision maker who should do a good job of protecting the football and leading a ball control offense, supporting a strong D. Austin Davis looms as his backup, and offers nothing of the sort. You’d have to expect the team to upgrade at the #2 spot, but in either case Hill is likely to be the best 16 game option.

Again, with Hill you aren’t getting the player of interest who last saw action filling in for Matthew Stafford in Detroit four seasons ago. You’re getting a veteran game manager and nothing more. With Davis, you’re getting a player who has never thrown a pass in the NFL.

Perhaps the Rams will upgrade the position, making the conversation relevant but at this point, its moot.

Draft Advice: Don’t.

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