In 2022, a mere ten quarterbacks started all seventeen games for their respective NFL franchises–as a record sixty nine different passers got the call under center for at least one regular season contest last year.
With injuries an unfortunate but unavoidable part of America’s beautiful game, having a viable secondary signal caller is of the utmost importance in today’s NFL.
While most of the current media frenzy is intensely focused on running back pay and value, today we take a look at another one of the most overlooked positions in all of football—the backup quarterback.
With training camps now in full swing across the league, let’s dive into seven NFL backup quarterbacks that will likely be called into action at some point during the 2023 campaign…
Taylor Heinicke – Atlanta Falcons
Playing in possibly the worst division in the entire NFL, the Atlanta Falcons are relying on second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder to help the young talented team make a playoff run this season.
Now the full-time starter after spending most of his rookie year as the backup to Marcus Mariota, Ridder will be given every chance to be the new face of the franchise alongside rookie sensation Bijan Robinson in the backfield.
While Ridder certainly offers potential upside, the former third-round pick must prove beyond a doubt he can be the main man under center in Atlanta.
If the second-year quarterback fails to meet early expectations, the Falcons are thankfully equipped with a more-than-solid insurance policy in veteran backup Taylor Heinicke.
Atlanta signed the home-grown passer to a two year deal worth $14 million dollars this offseason and the former Washington Commanders fan favorite represents a solid contingency plan should Ridder not perform up to standards.
Heinicke became a sort of local legend in DC after his memorable performance in the 2020 Wild Card Playoffs against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before starting fifteen games for Washington in 2021 after an injury to starter Ryan Fitzpatrick again thrust the former Old Dominion star back into the spotlight. The veteran journeyman was solid but unspectacular in the lead role, as Washington ended with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs. On the year, Heinicke passed for 3,419 yards with 20 touchdowns to 15 interceptions while completing sixty five percent of his throws.
Last season in 2022, after the Carson Wentz experiment predictably went up in flames, Heinicke was again promoted to the starting job and the battle-tested backup rallied the team to a 5-3-1 record before head coach Ron Rivera mistakenly chose to go back to the obviously inept Wentz with a playoff berth up for grabs.
The undersized and overlooked signal caller was the ultimate pro during his tenure in the nation’s capital and despite his deficiencies was consistently ready when called upon, generally playing well in some exceedingly rough circumstances in the District.
If Ridder can’t get the job done for the Falcons through the early part of the upcoming 2023 schedule, expect Atlanta to turn to Heinicke in hopes their hometown hero backup can ignite a late-season playoff push in a wide open NFC South.
Will Levis – Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans will likely head into Week 1 with veteran Ryan Tannehill as their starter under center, but the quarterback situation in the Music City is definitely one to monitor throughout 2023.
Behind the thirty five year old Tannehill, the Titans are developing second-year pro Malik Willis and rookie Will Levis at quarterback, in hopes one can develop into a starting caliber player.
Willis was a third-round pick out of Liberty in 2022, starting three games last year filling in for an injured Tannehill. The athletic signal caller showed some flashes of his potential in limited reps but also looked remarkably raw as a passer and appears to be even more of a project than originally hoped.
If Willis doesn’t show rapid refinement in his overall accuracy and processing speed in Year 2, his time in Tennessee may be extremely short lived.
Due to Tannehill’s age and injury history, as well as the likely lengthy developmental arc of Willis, the Titans selected Levis in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft, adding another option to their QB room.
Levis is the wildcard of the Titans group, as the former Kentucky Wildcat possesses potentially immense upside but also shows similar flaws to Willis in terms of his questionable ability to read coverages and make sound decisions with the football.
While Willis still has a chance to develop into a competent NFL quarterback, Levis is arguably already much farther along as a passer and would likely be the preferred option should Tannehill suffer another injury or if the Titans stumble with the eleven-year pro at the helm in 2023.
Bailey Zappe – New England Patriots
The New England Patriots are another team boasting a borderline starter at backup QB, with second year pro Bailey Zappe proving more than capable when called upon during his rookie season.
2021 first-round pick Mac Jones is the current starter for New England, making the Pro Bowl as an alternate as a rookie but regressing significantly in the Patriots questionable offensive scheme last season.
After Jones was benched in a Week 4 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Zappe was inserted into the starting lineup and led the Patriots to two straight wins before New England went back to Jones for the remainder of the season.
Zappe appeared in four games overall, starting two contests and accumulating 781 passing yards with 5 touchdowns to 3 interceptions while connecting on nearly seventy one percent of his attempts.
Without question, a major area for improvement is undoubtedly limiting turnovers, as the record setting gunslinger from Western Kentucky lost three fumbles in addition to his interception totals during limited action over an intriguing rookie campaign.
If Jones again struggles out of the gate in 2023, don’t be surprised if the Patriots give the keys to Zappe in a last-ditch effort to make a playoff push in potentially Bill Belichick’s final season in New England.
Kyle Trask – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stepping in to fill the cleats of the greatest quarterback of all time is a rather tall task for any player. But much-maligned veteran Baker Mayfield will attempt to do just that when he presumably starts for the Bucs in Week 1 after signing on with Tampa Bay this offseason.
Behind the former first overall pick is a rather unknown commodity in backup Kyle Trask–a third year passer from the University of Florida who the Buccaneers selected in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Trask sat and learned for two seasons behind the legendary Tom Brady, only attempting 9 career passes over his first two seasons. But, if Mayfield were to fall flat a switch to Trask would more than likely be made.
A former backup in high school as well as at the college level, Trask is no stranger to quarterback competitions or having to wait his turn.
The 6-foot-5 signal caller started for two years for the Gators, breaking out in an incredible senior season in which he threw for 4,283 yards with 43 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions and completed sixty nine percent of his passes.
With Mayfield on his last chance to demonstrate he can be a dependable starting caliber NFL quarterback, the odds are high that Trask will see significant time under center for Tampa Bay in 2023.
Mitch Trubisky – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers return second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett as their full-time starter for 2023. After a middling rookie campaign in which the Steelers missed out on a playoff spot, the first round pick from a year ago must show drastic development in his sophomore season.
Pickett started twelve games in 2022, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns but displaying incremental improvements as the schedule progressed leaving fans of the black and gold optimistic for the future.
Mitch Trubisky began 2022 as the Steelers starter, but after a disastrous 1-3 opening to the season, the switch was made to the homegrown rookie.
Trubisky was under constant duress behind an astoundingly subpar offensive line and struggled to generate much offense for the Steelers in his four week stint under center.
The number two overall pick in the 2017 draft by the Chicago Bears, Trubisky possesses extensive NFL starting experience. And while he may not offer the potential upside of the former Pittsburgh Panther, Trubisky is a safe but unsexy option for the Steelers as a backup and fill-in starter should Pickett stumble or miss time due to injury in 2023.
Gardner Minshew – Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts spent the fourth-overall pick in this year’s draft on quarterback Anthony Richardson and the athletic specimen looks to be the new face of the franchise should he develop as hoped.
Richardson comes to the Colts as an undeniably raw project, with all the physical tools to succeed but severely lacking in-game experience after only starting thirteen total games over three seasons at Florida.
The Colts could choose to bring Richardson along slowly, with veteran backup Gardner Minshew an acceptable alternative until the rookie is ready to take the reins.
The former Washington State star served as a backup and mentor to Jalen Hurts for the last two years in Philadelphia, starting four games as a fill-in before signing with Indianapolis this offseason.
Either as a bridge quarterback or backup for the team’s rookie first round selection, Minshew represents a solid choice as a steady and serviceable veteran who has experience in the Colts new offensive scheme brought over from Philly by first year head coach Shane Steichen.
Indianapolis is hoping Richardson will prove prepared to be the opening day starter, but Minshew is a terrific second option should the rookie fail to live up to his lofty first round hype.
Jacoby Brissett – Washington Commanders
The Washington Commanders enter 2023 with second year pro Sam Howell as the presumed starter at quarterback. Howell appeared in just one game for Washington last season, starting the Commanders Week 18 win against the Dallas Cowboys and completing 11 of 19 pass attempts for 169 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception while rushing for 35 yards and another touchdown.
After spending most of his rookie season behind Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke as the third-string quarterback in DC, Howell’s performance in his lone start, as well as the offseason addition of former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has Washington fans uncommonly hopeful entering the new league year.
But the former fifth round pick from North Carolina won’t just be given the job by Washington head coach Ron Rivera, as the team brought in well-traveled journeyman Jacoby Brissett this summer to push Howell for the starting role and also serve as a veteran mentor for the young passer.
Brissett has been super solid as both a backup and starter over his years with New England, Indianapolis, Miami, and Cleveland–earning a reputation as a team-first player with uncommon high character and football IQ.
The eighth year pro has started forty eight games to date, including eleven starts last season for the Browns, in which the former third-round pick threw for 2,608 yards with twelve touchdowns to 6 interceptions passing and contributed 243 yards and another two scores using his legs.
If Howell can’t get it done as the starter in Washington, head coach Ron Rivera will assuredly hand the starting job over to Brissett in an attempt to impress new ownership and possibly make the playoffs in a loaded NFC East.
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