Backup Quarterbacks Turned Into Starters

Before the season started, I wrote about backup quarterbacks who might become relevant this season. Astoundingly, three of those seven are already relevant, starting games in the NFL. These first two weeks have been a tumult of injuries, and quarterbacks have not been above the fray. Additionally, Washington and Houston have benched their starters, and there are rumblings other teams may do the same.

So what does it mean for fantasy? Particularly in two-quarterback and superflex leagues, these new starters are names to know. But which ones should interest you?

Kirk Cousins (WAS)

Kirk Cousins has been uninspiring through two weeks, but he faced strong defenses in Miami and St. Louis. Now, things get a lot easier. Washington plays the Giants, Eagles, and Falcons in their next three.

Coming into the season, Cousins’ splits were massively different against bottom-half pass defenses:


Courtesy of the RotoViz Game Splits App


I would not be surprised to see a Cousins improvement coming right away. More than that, after the Week 8 bye, Cousins faces the Patriots, Saints, Giants, Cowboys, and Bears. Particularly once DeSean Jackson is back to full health, Kirk Cousins has the potential to become a reliable low-end QB2 if everything breaks right. I’d rather stash him than any of the other QBs on this list.

Brandon Weeden (DAL)

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Brandon Weeden has the benefit of prior NFL experience, but he comes into a difficult situation lacking a bellcow running back and missing its elite wide receiver. In his favor, Weeden is nearly guaranteed to keep the starting job for the next eight-to-ten weeks, and a talented offensive line should give Weeden time and protection enough to succeed.

The Cowboys need someone to step up in the passing game to make Weeden a reliable QB2, but they have options. Gavin Escobar, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and Devin Street are all complementary pieces who now have a chance to prove they can be more. If the Cowboys can improve their running game and find a reliable receiver, Weeden can be a matchup play in coming weeks.

Ryan Mallett (HOU)

Ryan Mallett threw an astounding 58 times in Week 2, but he only managed to post 18.36 fantasy points despite that volume. The impending return of Arian Foster can only help the Texans offense, but so far Mallett has been unimpressive. I am also concerned that multiple reports say the coaches and players are not behind Mallett, for a variety of reasons. If the Texans continue to struggle, it remains entirely possible that Brian Hoyer is given back the keys to the offense.

The Texans face the Bucs, Falcons, and Colts in their next three weeks, so Mallett will have some limited fantasy appeal if he continues to start. That said, I would prefer Brandon Weeden to Mallett.

Jimmy Clausen (CHI)

Jimmy Clausen is starting again in Chicago. This time he comes in because of an injury to Jay Cutler, but he started last season after Cutler was benched. There is enough dissatisfaction with Jay Cutler in Chicago that there is a non-zero chance Jimmy Clausen could take over the starting job before this season ends. The odds are very long, particularly that he will win the job in these next two weeks, but it bears noting as a possibility.

Clausen went 14-for-23 with 121 yards and an interception last week in relief, but that shouldn’t be taken as too strong an indicator of his potential. No one predicts an injury, and the team hadn’t prepared Clausen as the week’s starter. Now, knowing they’ll need him for at least a couple weeks, the Bears will prepare him and shape the offense around him. In his only full game last year, Clausen went 23/39, with 181 yards, two TDs, and one INT against Detroit.

Stay far, far away this week against Seattle, but if he looks close to serviceable, he might become interesting against Oakland in Week 4.

Dan Orlovsky (DET)

Dan Orlovsky is a 32-year old veteran who saw extended action in both 2008 and 2011. He was a middling option in both those season, averaging around 60% accuracy and an even split between touchdowns and interceptions. If Orlovsky is called upon to start in place of Matthew Stafford, he has the benefit of throwing to Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, and Ameer Abdullah.

Stafford led the team in its walkthrough on Monday and has played through pain before, so it is entirely possible Orlovsky doesn’t see the field any time soon. But after having X-rays of his chest and having his coach decline to commit to his Week 3 availability, Matthew Stafford should be considered very questionable for at least this week.

Luke McCown/Garrett Grayson (NO)

So far, reports are that Drew Brees avoided a serious injury to his shoulder, but he may be seeking a second opinion. The Saints are starting the week tight-lipped on this one, but there are enough whispers to suggest there might be something here.

Luke McCown is the veteran presence, and Grayson the rookie. Were Brees to miss Week 3, my money would be on McCown to start because of his experience. That experience, however, has been as a backup and recent television star, so there is no guarantee he would perform better than Grayson.

For a take on the rookie, I’ll point you to A. Don Davenport’s offseason piece on Garrett Grayson. Don likes Grayson’s pocket presence, although he noted an average arm strength and struggles with inconsistency.

I’m not buying either in redraft leagues, at least until we hear anything more to suggest Drew Brees has a lasting injury to his shoulder.

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