Quarterbacks may be the driving force of the NFL. But what happens when they go down? We've already seen a handful of teams encounter serious injuries to their starting signal-callers in 2023, which only reinforces the value of a good insurance plan.
Which teams have the best backups under center today? Here's how we'd stack up all 32 about halfway through 2023:
32. Jake Browning (Bengals)
The former undrafted prospect has spent four years on and off practice squads, beating out journeyman Trevor Siemian to back up Joe Burrow. But he's thrown just a single NFL pass. His most notable attribute is knowledge of Zac Taylor's offense.
31. Tim Boyle (Jets)
With former No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson thrust back into a starting role after Aaron Rodgers' Week 1 injury, Boyle is New York's next man up under center. He's seen time in 16 games with the Packers, Lions and Bears, but never had a productive outing.
30. Kyle Trask (Buccaneers)
The former second-rounder technically competed with Baker Mayfield to replace the retired Tom Brady as Tampa Bay's starter, but he's still thrown just nine NFL passes and isn't necessarily built to improvise from the pocket.
29. Brett Rypien (Rams)
The former Broncos reserve has gone 2-1 in emergency starts over four seasons, but he's thrown twice as many picks (8) as touchdowns (4) in those games. If Matthew Stafford is sidelined for long, Sean McVay might struggle to get by.
28. Clayton Tune (Cardinals)
The rookie is a total unknown, profiling as a more mobile version of the departed Colt McCoy. The only reason he's been temporarily elevated to QB1 duties is because Josh Dobbs fetched Arizona a draft-pick upgrade.
27. Sam Ehlinger (Colts)
With Gardner Minshew elevated to indefinite QB1 duties after Anthony Richardson's injury, Ehlinger is back as Indy's No. 2 after an uneven first two seasons with the club. The spirited Texas product knows how to fight until the last second, but he totaled four turnovers in three untimely starts for the Colts in 2022.
26. Kyle Allen (Bills)
He failed to stick as a starter for the ailing Texans in 2022, but the former undrafted reserve fared better than expected despite dire surroundings with Washington and the Panthers. He's probably enjoying Buffalo, resting behind Josh Allen.
25. Blaine Gabbert (Chiefs)
After four years in Tampa Bay, including three as Tom Brady's backup, the ex-Jaguars starter replaced Chad Henne as Patrick Mahomes insurance. He's not seen much action in years and probably has limited upside, but he knows the game.
24. Sean Clifford (Packers)
The fifth-round rookie out of Penn State is the top backup for new starter Jordan Love, even though he's slightly older at 25. His fundamentals drew heavy criticism coming out of school, but he showed legit play-making ability in the preseason.
23. Bailey Zappe (Patriots)
The 2022 fourth-rounder has bounced on and off the active roster behind the embattled Mac Jones, suggesting he's not a real threat to Jones over the long term. He's briefly flashed confidence for a New England offense that's often lacked punch in recent years, but the Patriots need a better front and/or weapons for him to grow as a pocket passer.
22. Easton Stick (Chargers)
Entering Year 5, Stick had thrown just a single NFL pass. But the former NDSU title-winner has always had respected pocket movement and leadership, and he drew positive spring reports taking over for the departed Chase Daniel.
21. Tyson Bagent (Bears)
After a surprisingly splashy preseason in which he showed plenty of moxie, the undrafted Division II product has gotten starting action in place of the injured Justin Fields. Mixed results have followed; he's clearly unafraid of defenses at NFL speed, and he moves naturally in and around the pocket, but downfield decision-making is a question.
20. P.J. Walker (Browns)
He's manned the Browns' offense for weeks as Deshaun Watson tries to shake off a lingering shoulder injury, and while his high-effort dual-threat abilities have kept Cleveland competitive, he's never been a particularly accurate thrower, with a 55.1% completion percentage for his four-year NFL career.
19. Desmond Ridder (Falcons)
Benched for the equally spunky Taylor Heinicke ahead of Week 9, Ridder has gusto especially when he's using his legs in late-game situations, but his awareness is also questionable after he led the NFL with 12 turnovers in just eight starts this year. There was no indication during his run as Arthur Smith's "guy" that Atlanta trusted him to carry an offense through the air.
18. Mike White (Dolphins)
The numbers aren't glowing for the sixth-year reserve: eight TDs and 12 INTs with a 2-5 record as a starter. But he showed lots of toughness and briefly elevated the Jets while replacing Zach Wilson from 2021-2022. Miami is betting on that swagger, considering he's the most experienced insurance for an MVP candidate in Tua Tagovailoa.
17. Cooper Rush (Cowboys)
After four years with hardly any action in Dallas, Rush went a combined 5-1 in place of an injured Dak Prescott from 2021-2022. Though he's a straightforward pocket passer, he proved willing to look downfield and feed his play-makers while on the field.
16. Davis Mills (Texans)
Technically battling rookie C.J. Stroud for the top job this summer, Mills was in an almost-impossible spot during his first two seasons, working with a makeshift offense. Turnovers have bitten him at bad times, but he still stands tall and boasts a solid arm.
15. Jarrett Stidham (Broncos)
The former fourth-rounder never caught on as a Tom Brady successor in New England, but he came alive in brief work replacing Derek Carr in 2022, showcasing on-the-move confidence. Sean Payton as Russell Wilson's No. 2.
A true gunslinger, for better and worse, the ex-Broncos starter didn't get a chance to suit up for his Seattle debut thanks to Geno Smith's breakout. But if you need someone who can sling it anywhere on the field, he's still got the arm for it.
13. Jimmy Garoppolo (Raiders)
Benched indefinitely after Josh McDaniels' abrupt firing, the former 49ers starter has been off the mark on the rare occasions he's been healthy enough to take the field this year. Still, he's got 63 career starts and might be better coming off the bench. The issue, of course, is that he probably needs a much better setup -- like he enjoyed in San Francisco -- to function as a passable fill-in.
12. Joshua Dobbs (Vikings)
A last-minute addition by the Cardinals prior to 2023, Dobbs fared better than expected as Arizona's temporary QB1, showing off precision passing and play-extending mobility before turnovers finally started adding up. Rookie Jaren Hall is set to replace the injured Kirk Cousins in Minnesota, but Dobbs' experience could soon boost him to another starting gig.
11. Will Levis (Titans)
The big-armed Kentucky rookie finally got a chance to show his stuff while filling in for Ryan Tannehill in Week 8, and boy did he ball out, chucking one bomb after another. Ryan Tannehill is technically still the starter in Tennessee, but if Levis continues to air it out so effortlessly, it won't be long before Tannehill is relegated to an emergency role in Nashville.
10. Mitch Trubisky (Steelers)
The ex-Bears starter is just a bit too off-the-mark in tight spots to maintain a full-time gig, but he's a good athlete who can move a good supporting cast if given the chance, making him a solid emergency plan behind Kenny Pickett in Pittsburgh.
9. Marcus Mariota (Eagles)
Whether in Tennessee, Las Vegas or Atlanta, Mariota has never been truly consistent through the air, requiring strong ground support. Yet his own legs remain a big weapon, and in a Philly lineup that can run the ball, his aerial flaws could be masked. He's also got some playoff experience, which is a bonus for a team with eyes on another title bid.
8. C.J. Beathard (Jaguars)
Trevor Lawrence's No. 2 for the last two and a half years, he endured injury-riddled 49ers lineups at the start of his career, most notably throwing six TDs and zero picks during six appearances in 2020. Kyle Shanahan has always spoken highly of his vision.
7. Jameis Winston (Saints)
Injuries and turnover sprees have temporarily halted his days as a QB1, but Winston still has unteachable size and arm talent. When healthy, as he showed in his first half-year starting under Sean Payton, he can also take care of the ball for a winning team.
6. Tyrod Taylor (Giants)
The former Bills standout hasn't been an efficient multigame starter in more than a half-decade, and he's recently struggled to stay healthy. But he does everything serviceably, and his 53 career starts, plus a playoff run, give him an edge in legit experience.
5. Tyler Huntley (Ravens)
An improbable Pro Bowl pick for his relief of Lamar Jackson in 2022, Huntley has thrown more INTs (7) than TDs (5) in just 15 career games, but at 25, with above-average dual-threat traits, he's already proven capable of guiding a path to the playoffs.
4. Teddy Bridgewater (Lions)
The one-time Vikings starter is too conservative and injury-prone to warrant a full-time gig anymore, but he's flashed as a capable mid-term fill-in for playoff-caliber lineups, most notably going 5-0 for the Saints back in 2019. With Nate Sudfeld and rookie Hendon Hooker both sidelined with injuries of their own, he's locked in as the emergency man behind Jared Goff.
3. Sam Darnold (49ers)
The ex-Jets first-rounder has no doubt been spotty in 55 career starts, albeit for rebuilding organizations. But he beat out former No. 3 pick Trey Lance this summer, proving he's still got a starting-caliber arm -- and underrated pocket mobility -- in a more QB-friendly system. Brock Purdy is clearly Kyle Shanahan's guy in San Francisco, but there's really no better place for Darnold to revive his reputation before a return to the market in 2024.
Sitting behind Sam Howell, Brissett has historically been a bit too conservative and prone to untimely picks to last as a QB1. But he's also been a calm, collected presence in several extended emergency spots, like Indy and Cleveland. Howell's big arm warrants him staying put under center, but Brissett could still be beneficial if Washington's O-line can't keep the youngster upright.
1. Andy Dalton (Panthers)
Long the model for "just-good-enough" starting QBs, Dalton has endured backup stops that were both OK (Dallas), poor (Chicago) and surprisingly strong (New Orleans). At 35, he's still got solid touch, and there isn't a more accomplished veteran No. 2, considering his 162 career starts and five winning seasons as the top guy. Carolina couldn't have done much better finding a respected veteran voice for behind No. 1 pick Bryce Young.