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Ranking 2021 NFL backup quarterbacks: 49ers' Trey Lance headlines list of 32; Teddy Bridgewater in top five

CBS Sports logo CBS Sports 6/21/2021 Cody Benjamin
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As goes the quarterback, so goes the team. That's not always true in the NFL, but it usually is. That's why it's no coincidence that some of the game's top signal-callers (Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, etc.) just happen to play for some of the game's most likely Super Bowl contenders. And what happens if the QB goes down? At the end of the day, there's no replacing an MVP talent like Rodgers or Mahomes. But a serviceable backup can be the difference between a lost season and long-shot playoff run.

So we decided to review all 32 teams' backup QB situations ahead of the 2021 season. Which clubs have the best insurance under center? Which ones should be praying their starter doesn't suffer so much as a scratch? Here's how we'd rank the No. 2s:

32. Logan Woodside (Titans)

If you're not a Titans fan, you might not have ever heard of him. A 2018 seventh-round pick of the Bengals, his small size and traditional pocket style might be masked in Tennessee's offense, but he's also yet to take a single snap in three years.

31. James Morgan (Jets)

He's got good size, but the resume is barren. The 2020 fourth-rounder came out of FIU as an unpolished gunslinger and has yet to throw an NFL pass. His only pro experience is a year learning under *gulp* Adam Gase. Oh, and he plays for the Jets.

30. Cooper Rush (Cowboys)

He's sat behind Dak Prescott, mostly as a No. 3, since 2017, so he's got that going for him. But at 27 going on 28, he's barely cracked a lineup, entering this year with just three passes to his name -- even after a 2020 season that saw Prescott go down.

29. Tim Boyle (Lions)

Aaron Rodgers' anonymous understudy from 2018-2020, Boyle showed enough to survive the transition to Matt LaFleur's regime, not to mention beat out Jordan Love. But nothing else suggests he's ready to win games if Jared Goff goes down in Detroit.

28. Trace McSorley (Ravens)

He's capable of extending plays and picking up a few yards in the Ravens' run-first offense tailored for Lamar Jackson, but throwing against NFL defenses is another thing entirely. Baltimore would have to double down even more on the ground.

27. AJ McCarron (Falcons)

Good for him carving out a career as a No. 2, but he might still be living off a three-game starting stretch as Andy Dalton's fill-in from 2015. McCarron has been around the block, but he's also never been that accurate and has often been banged up.

26. Geno Smith (Seahawks)

His name has been bigger than his resume for years now. He knows Seattle's system, so that's a plus, but he hasn't started more than one game in a season since 2014, when he was a turnover-happy flame-out with the Jets.

25. P.J. Walker (Panthers)

Like McSorley, he's got the legs to keep plays alive, and his brief XFL stardom suggests he's still got untapped upside. But the 26-year-old former Temple standout lacks power as a passer.

24. Blaine Gabbert (Buccaneers)

He's come a long way since cowering behind shoddy Jaguars O-lines as a starter; his confidence might be through the roof after winning a trophy behind Tom Brady. But he's still very prone to turnovers on the rare occasions he sees the field.

23. Joe Flacco (Eagles)

The Super Bowl MVP days are so far gone they feel like they're from a separate career for Flacco, now 36. He's immobile and conservative, but the arm is still mostly intact and he's got literally 175 games of starting experience. You can do worse.

22. Brandon Allen (Bengals)

After stops with the Jags and Rams, Allen emerged as a gutsy, if uneven, fill-in for Flacco in Denver, then started five games for the injured Joe Burrow in 2020. A standard arm, he's not gonna put a team on his back, but he won't lose you every game on his own.

21. John Wolford (Rams)

Smaller and athletic, Wolford's own strengths -- namely extending plays -- might work against him considering durability has already been an issue in two years with Los Angeles. But Sean McVay likes his gusto, and he fared well as a starter in the AAF.

20. Jacob Eason (Colts)

No career snaps means he's still an unknown, but as a 2020 fourth-rounder with most of the requisite physical tools, he seems fairly well off in Frank Reich's offense, though Indy might prefer a safer bet behind new starter Carson Wentz.

19. Taylor Heinicke (Washington)

He's got fight and athleticism, as displayed in an emergency postseason start for Alex Smith in 2020. He's also only started one other game in his career, so don't get carried away. Flashes in Minnesota and Carolina suggest he's got talent to stick, though.

18. Chase Daniel (Chargers)

The ceiling is quite low with Daniel, who has neither the size nor the skills to take over a ballgame. In that way, he's almost the polar opposite of No. 1 Justin Herbert. But he's smart and experienced as a longtime understudy, ideal for just a start or two per year.

17. Colt McCoy (Cardinals)

He's not too dissimilar to Daniel in terms of size and play style: Smaller, safer and methodical. His early-career starting experience gives him a slight edge in terms of playing No. 1, though. He's capable of keeping you in a game; nothing more, nothing less.

16. Mike Glennon (Giants)

There's a trend in this swath of mid-tier backups: Everyone is about on the same page, neither special enough to deserve No. 1 duties nor bad enough to be replaced. Glennon fits right in, with an 83.5 rating in 27 career starts as a safer but predictable fill-in.

15. Mason Rudolph (Steelers)

He's got prototypical size, he improved in Year Three after a bomb of a stretch replacing Ben Roethlisberger in 2019, and he's still just 25. But are you trusting him to win an important game? He's got the stuff to keep you afloat, but not necessarily much else.

14. Chad Henne (Chiefs)

Approaching 36, Henne benefits a bit from playing for Kansas City, which boasts enough talent to assist any serviceable QB. Picks were a steady issue early in his career, but he's now had three years to study under Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes.

13. Kellen Mond (Vikings)

Too high for a rookie? We'd bet Pittsburgh and Kansas City wouldn't mind taking a flyer here. Mond enters the NFL with lots of starting experience from his Texas A&M days, but more importantly, he's got a rocket arm and quick feet to give Minnesota some juice.

12. Mitchell Trubisky (Bills)

The former first-rounder may have flopped as the Bears' starter, too often pairing promising off-script athleticism with an ill-advised throw in crunch time. But he's got the perfect skill set to learn behind and insure Josh Allen, who started his career on a similar note.

11. Taysom Hill (Saints)

It's tough to even consider him a backup considering Sean Payton deploys him almost every series, either under center or elsewhere. But assuming Jameis Winston claims the No. 1 job, he'll be it. As a gadget play-maker, he's good. As a QB, he's ... a gadget player.

10. Gardner Minshew (Jaguars)

He doesn't have the physical skill set to rival other QBs, and you might rather have somebody like Taysom Hill to keep defenses off guard, but Minshew has never lacked poise. Look at the numbers he put up in Jacksonville. He'll stick around for a while.

9. Mac Jones (Patriots)

No one knows how Jones will fare as the latest in a growing list of Alabama products to try to end the school's drought of elite QBs. But he brings too much feel for the pocket and for throwing the football to be written off, even in competition with Cam Newton.

8. Marcus Mariota (Raiders)

You don't want to be counting on him for an extended period, because durability has long been an issue. But his natural ability to move the chains as both a runner and short-area passer give him a relatively high floor as a fill-in.

7. Jordan Love (Packers)

Blasphemous? Try to remember that he went 26th out of 255 picks in the 2020 draft. Failing to take the field as a rookie, even as Aaron Rodgers' No. 2, was disappointing. But this guy still has an electric arm. Unpolished? Sure. But the upside is intact.

6. Tyrod Taylor (Texans)

As a full-time starter, Taylor hasn't been more than mediocre since his days with the Bills. He may well be the No. 1 again, depending on Deshaun Watson's future. As a short-term fill-in, he's much better: Very conservative, but mobile and well-versed.

5. Case Keenum (Browns)

Maybe the most underrated backup in the NFL. His knack for freestyling has gotten him in trouble before, but he's never lacked for moxie, flashing play-making ability in Minnesota and Washington in recent years. At 33, he's also seen his fair share of starts.

4. Jacoby Brissett (Dolphins)

More Tyrod Taylor than Case Keenum, Brissett prefers to play it safe, even though he's never been terribly accurate. Why's he so high, then? He's actually been solid as a full-timer, he's got a bigger arm than he shows, and he can move better than most think.

3. Teddy Bridgewater (Broncos)

Since his best days back in Minnesota, Bridgewater has been more game manager than franchise QB, but that's exactly what you look for in a veteran No. 2. His ceiling isn't particularly high, but his floor gives Denver not only a wild-card-caliber fallback but legitimate competition to push Drew Lock -- hopefully to a big rebound. As a bonus, he's a locker-room gem, quick to accept whatever role he has.

2. Justin Fields (Bears)

Denver quite literally had the option of adding Fields as the No. 2 instead of Bridgewater and chose otherwise. But most teams wouldn't hesitate to gamble on the former's skill set. Will he struggle if/when he takes over for Andy Dalton in Chicago? Probably. But this kid has all the physical tools to be a No. 1. The upside alone, as a potential franchise QB, vaults him up the list.

1. Trey Lance (49ers)

Don't scoff. No, Lance has never set foot on an NFL field. And yes, rookie QBs struggle -- even the good ones. But there's a reason Kyle Shanahan moved up to take him No. 3 overall. This kid looks like the real deal both physically and mentally. At 21, he offers a world of potential as a dual threat with big-game experience. Jimmy Garoppolo may have a firmer handle on San Francisco's playbook and the nature of the NFL, but Lance offers far more upside, not to mention within a pretty nice setup. He could take over sooner rather than later.

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