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Top 10 backup QB situations ahead of the 2024 season: Chiefs, Eagles and Vikings among the best-prepared teams

Quarterbacks move the needle more than most in the NFL. It’s why guys like Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and even Jared Goff are among the game’s highest-paid players. But what happens if the top signal-caller goes down? Injuries are inevitable in football, and sometimes the teams well equipped for quarterback emergencies are the ones who end up in the ultimate hunt for the Lombardi.

So which teams have the best backup situations with the 2024 season approaching? Below you’ll find our look at 10 of the most promising setups, accounting for not only the talent of the No. 2 quarterback, but, perhaps more so, the setup in which he finds himself.

Honorable mention

  • Atlanta Falcons: They invited controversy by spending a top-10 pick on Michael Penix Jr. just over a month after paying big bucks to Kirk Cousins as the face of the franchise. But Penix’s left arm could prove invaluable if Cousins’ return from a serious injury doesn’t go as smoothly as anticipated.
  • Cincinnati Bengals: Jake Browning went from relative unknown to local hero, making seven solid starts in place of the injured Joe Burrow in 2023. But that’s his only sample of NFL action, and there’s a bit more uncertainty baked into the Bengals’ otherwise talented receiving corps.
  • Indianapolis Colts: They nearly made it to the playoffs with Gardner Minshew replacing the injured Anthony Richardson in 2023. Now they’re banking on Joe Flacco carrying some of his improbable Cleveland Browns magic into his age-39 season under coach Shane Steichen.
  • New England Patriots: Rookie Drake Maye might be the total package physically, making him an intriguing alternative to experienced placeholder Jacoby Brissett, but the Patriots’ supporting cast remains squarely in rebuild mode under new defensive coach Jerod Mayo.

The Washington Commanders wasted no time selling Howell as part of their quarterback reset, even after asking the 2022 fifth-round draft pick to throw an NFL-high 612 passes as a first-time starter. Truth be told, the youngster’s still a high-wire act, flashing a gutsy/risky downfield arm. But in an underrated Seahawks offense featuring weapons like Kenneth Walker III, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, plus a new staff headed by Mike Macdonald, he could prove to be a low-risk, high-reward fallback behind Geno Smith.

Going on 37, Dalton’s days as a regular starter are long gone, and his backup stops have been hit or miss. The Panthers don’t scream contender, either, resetting the staff after an abysmal offensive showing with No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young. But new coach Dave Canales and improved pass catchers should help, and Dalton was actually poised in relief of Young in 2023, one year after nearly helping the New Orleans Saints stay competitive. With 160+ starts under his belt, he’s simply a well-versed emergency arm.

8. BrownsΒ 

Few teams warranted more backup investment after 2023 than Cleveland, which saw the expensive Deshaun Watson play just six games for the second straight year. The bad news: Winston’s availability and reliability have also been spotty. The good: Entering Year 10, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter remains a lively character with a lively arm, making him a promising fit for new coordinator Ken Dorsey’s downfield attack. A solid receiving corps and defense could also aid him, if he’s needed.

Dobbs wore out his welcome after improbable magical starts with both the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings in 2023. But his off-script tools make him a high-upside “relief pitcher,” and there might not be a better home for a quarterback than San Francisco, where Kyle Shanahan has both the designs and personnel to maximize his signal-caller’s strengths. Prolonged action has proven daunting for Dobbs, but if Brock Purdy needs a breather, the 49ers’ balanced and physical attack should be manageable.

Garoppolo’s one post-San Francisco 49ers gig went south in a hurry, with the Las Vegas Raiders quickly washing their hands of the streaky pocket passer. Injuries are a bigger concern; in 10 years, he’s played a full season exactly once. But the Rams have some of the game’s top ascending skill talent with youngsters like Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua, plus a reinforced interior line. If Matthew Stafford’s own injury history rears its head, Sean McVay might still be able to squeeze a playoff push out of the former division rival.

The Jets’ remade offensive line still has durability questions, and Taylor is aging (35 in August) with a checkered medical history of his own, missing time due to injury at basically every spot. But he’s a clear upgrade on Zach Wilson behind Aaron Rodgers, flashing vintage downfield prowess with the banged-up New York Giants in 2023 and boasting close to 60 career starts. If summoned in a pinch, he’s got the wherewithal to feed playoff-caliber play-makers like Breece Hall and Garrett Wilson.

The rest of the NFL apparently agreed with the Chicago Bears that Fields warranted a minimal trade return, with Pittsburgh acquiring the former first-rounder for cheap despite his electric, if inconsistent, run in Windy City. The Steelers also aren’t exactly loaded with the offensive talent or philosophy to further his development. But in terms of sheer upside, you can’t do much better at the QB2 spot. Still just 25, Fields offers a high floor as a dynamic runner and strong-armed thrower behind the savvier Russell Wilson.

Pickett was more scrappy than reliable in two sluggish seasons with the Steelers, and it’s unclear if the 2022 first-round pick has the passing zip to ever command No. 1 duties again. But his surroundings are exceedingly superior in Philadelphia, where he’ll enjoy Pro Bowlers at basically every supporting spot. He also shares one thing in common with starter Jalen Hurts: Durability concerns notwithstanding, he’s shown a knack for gutsy throws in critical spots, making him a potential fan favorite in his home area.

2. VikingsΒ 

Rookies are often highly variable, and Minnesota is reportedly determined to slow-play McCarthy’s unveiling for this reason. But the Michigan product is arguably the best-suited to succeed among this year’s new NFL quarterbacks due to his setup: Coach Kevin O’Connell previously maximized Kirk Cousins, elite weapons like Aaron Jones and Justin Jefferson headline the offense, and McCarthy has the makeup of a potential play-action savant. He may also benefit from the slow integration behind Sam Darnold.

It’s been years since Wentz was a regular difference-maker, let alone a surefire starter. But his big-bodied dual-threat ability has been undersold since he left a dysfunctional Washington Commanders group; he was legitimately solid in limited work as Matthew Stafford’s No. 2 in 2023. Couple that, plus his extensive experience (93 career starts), with Kansas City’s championship-caliber weaponry and coaching staff, and the Chiefs could probably remain scary even if the matchless Patrick Mahomes misses a start or three.

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Author: Cody Benjamin
June 11, 2024 | 9:21 am

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