Backup QBs Who Could Become Relevant

Mark Sanchez

If you play in two-quarterback or superflex fantasy football leagues, you ought to stay abreast of each NFL team’s quarterback situation down even to their backups. While most backup quarterbacks won’t achieve fantasy relevance, a few do. C.D. Carter has pointed out that for three years in a row, FORTY quarterbacks have posted at least one top-twelve week each season. FORTY! That means you can find fantasy value in the most unlikely of circumstances.

In deep two-quarterback leagues, you want to roster players with that potential, which means you need to know who has potential. If your league has twelve or more teams, you know the struggle is real when a starting quarterback gets injured. If you can roster reliable backups before that happens, you put yourself in better position to succeed.

This article presents to you a few of the most interesting backup QBs for 2015. While they may not all be worth rostering or starting this season, several will. These are a few names to know.

Backup QBs to Keep an Eye on in 2015

Mark Sanchez

Although the summer began with Chip Kelly’s promises of a quarterback competition, it is becoming increasingly clear that Sanchez is firmly situated on our list of backup QBs now. If Bradford succumbs to another injury or struggles to command the offense this year, Mark Sanchez is waiting in the wings and would quickly become a very interesting fantasy waiver target.

Sanchez is now going into his second year in the Philadelphia system, and he brings a year of experience to the role. Other quarterbacks going into their second year of an offense — Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, and Ryan Tannehill — are highly drafted because fantasy drafters expect progress, and Sanchez compares reasonably well to each, as shown by the RotoViz Career Graphs app:

ChartMarkSanchezWere Mark Sanchez to become the Eagles’ starting quarterback, I believe he’d immediately break into the top-twenty at his position with upside to do even better. On pure fantasy potential alone, there isn’t a more intriguing name on our list of backup QBs.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Jimmy Garoppolo presents a near-opposite situation, at least at this point in the Tom Brady saga. Garoppolo is currently guaranteed four games of opportunity, but it is less clear how successful he will be with that opportunity.

In his first four games this season, Garoppolo will lead the Patriots against several teams whose defenses were far from frightening last season. In Week 1, New England will be at home against Pittsburgh, who ranked 30th in the league in pass coverage last year, according to Pro Football Focus. You wouldn’t want to risk Garoppolo on the road in Buffalo in Week 2, but he’ll be at home against the Jaguars in Week 3. The Jags finished 22nd last year in that same PFF metric.

For my own sake, I am not too intrigued by Jimmy Garoppolo. I cannot picture any scenario where I want to start an unproven quarterback in Week 1, so ultimately his only value to me would be a possible start in Week 3. Beyond that, it remains entirely possible that Tom Brady’s suspension will disappear into the wind, vacated or postponed by the legal process. Garoppolo is a name to know, but I don’t recommend counting on him this season.

Geno Smith

The Jets organization may be souring on Geno Smith after the recent punch heard round the world, but he was set to be their quarterback in 2015 and could potentially return to that role a few weeks into the season.

Geno Smith disappointed fantasy owners in his first two seasons, but he should be at least partially forgiven for struggling under a bad Rex Ryan offense largely devoid of weapons. Even in the midst of that disaster, Geno put up remarkably good numbers in Jets wins, as Anthony Amico has pointed out:

If you’re keeping score at home, that marks two straight seasons where Geno rates as a legit QB1 in wins. I think it’s time to admit that he may actually be good in wins. Or at least it might be fair to say that when Geno isn’t horrible, he’s kind of good.

At age 32, Ryan Fitzpatrick is unlikely to be the future of the Jets organization, and before Geno Smith’s jaw cracked like an egg the team was ready to turn the keys over to Geno and see what they have in the young quarterback. If Fitzpatrick plays like his usual mediocre self and the Jets fail to impress at the start of the season, I would not be surprised to see Geno Smith take over the starting role when he comes back.

Johnny Manziel

Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Here we go again, right? Just when you thought you were out, Johnny Freaking Football pulls you right back in.

Johnny Manziel has handled this offseason far better than last, and the absence of wild news stories should be taken as a good sign for his developing maturity. What remains to be seen is whether he can become a viable NFL quarterback.

Preseason means very little, but it’s more valuable in the case of players who haven’t spent much time on an NFL field. Preseason is one of our only opportunities to see how well young players are adjusting to the NFL game, even if it’s against backups when every team is running bland, generic scripts on both sides of the ball. Through two preseason games, Manziel is completing 58.6% of his passes, and he’s thrown one touchdown and no interceptions. He’s also added 33 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground.

I am far from ready to proclaim Johnny Manziel the starter in Cleveland, and I am not ready to say he’d be a fantasy starter even if he were named the starter. But there’s potential. History shows us that QBs taken in the first round of the NFL draft inevitably get opportunities to start. At some point it’s likely Manziel gets another shot, and there’s exciting potential there. Even if his passing struggles, Manziel will provide fantasy owners value from his rushing ability.

Drew Stanton

I am very high on Carson Palmer this year, and I recently called him the late-round quarterback likely to be on the most championship teams in 2015. But Palmer is drafted later than his projected stats would suggest largely because of injury fears. Palmer has now torn knee ligaments twice, and who can forget talk of the “dead nerve” in his shoulder last season?

If Palmer misses time, Drew Stanton would be the next man in line. Stanton has been in the league since 2007 without doing much, but Bruce Arians believed he saw something. Arians’ offenses typically take shots downfield and present fantasy value even though their quarterbacks may throw a few more interceptions than you’d expect.

In eight games started last season, Stanton averaged just over 200 yards and just shy of one touchdown. Those are far from world-beating numbers, but it’s also enough to put Stanton into the streaming conversation at QB2 if he were to become the team’s starter again in 2015. Don’t rush out and draft Drew Stanton. He shouldn’t be rostered in anything shy of a 12-team 2QB league, but he is a name to know if Carson Palmer misses games this season.

Jimmy Clausen

Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

Like Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler is discounted because of fears he’ll miss time. For Cutler, however, the fear is that he will get benched again this year. The new coaching staff hasn’t come out praising Cutler, and the team reportedly tried to trade him this offseason in the hopes of drafting Marcus Mariota.

If Cutler does get benched, Jimmy Clausen would be the next man up. Clausen started one game in December last year, and he managed a decent 181 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

Clausen was a second-round draft pick in 2010, and outside of his terrible rookie year, he hasn’t seen many opportunities. If John Fox and the rest of the new staff want to move on from Cutler after 2015 and the team struggles early in the season, there is a chance they turn to Clausen to see whether they’re willing to roll with him next season.

Kirk Cousins/Colt McCoy

This one’s a given, after I wrote that I am not drafting Robert Griffin III this year. Griffin struggled terribly last year, in and out of the trainer’s room all season. Both Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy were more efficient when they had opportunities to start, and Coach Jay Gruden has frequently criticized Griffin’s ability to play quarterback in his system.

Cousins and McCoy are battling this preseason for the role of backup quarterback in Washington, but either one would be interesting if they get a chance to start. Although Colt McCoy was far more accurate, Kirk Cousins put up far better volume numbers, averaging nearly 300 yards and 2 touchdowns in games he started:

Cousins and McCoy 2014

Jay Gruden turned Andy Dalton — yes, that Andy Dalton of infamous primetime debacles — into a top-five quarterback in 2013, and he now leads the Washington Redskins for the second season. Other than where he was drafted, Dalton didn’t look too different coming out of college from Cousins or McCoy:

Dalton Cousins McCoy

Comparing these two to Andy Dalton might seem like faint praise, but as I mentioned — Dalton finished 2013 as a top-five quarterback in Jay Gruden’s system. If Gruden decides to move on from RG3 — and the team’s owner and GM allow him to move on — Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy could immediately become a low-end QB2 option for your team.

Backup QBs Are Hit-and-Miss

As with all backup quarterbacks, there is no guarantee any of these names sniff a starting lineup in fantasy football this year. It would take either an injury or benching for any of them to even start for their NFL teams, much less a fantasy team.

But as I mentioned at the top, if forty quarterbacks are going to put up at least one top-twelve week this season, math tells us no fewer than eight backups are going to be relevant. If you’re in a deep two-quarterback league, these are some names to keep an eye on.

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