2022 NFL backup quarterback rankings: QB2 situations from worst to best

Nate Davis

Injuries are an inevitability in the NFL – even to the highly paid, highly protected superstars under center. And 2022's first in-season quarterback switch will occur Sunday in Dallas, the Cowboys' pivot to Cooper Rush necessitated by Dak Prescott's surgery for a broken thumb on his throwing hand.

Owner Jerry Jones served up unexpectedly optimistic news Tuesday, announcing the Cowboys won't place Prescott on injured reserve given their belief he won't be out for more than four games. Still, could be sufficient time for a team that lost its opener to let this campaign get away if Rush and Co. can't stop the bleeding.

Where do the Cowboys land as it pertains to teams' ability league-wide to survive without their starting quarterback? Our 2022 QB2 rankings:

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32. Detroit Lions

Tim Boyle and David Blough apparently inspired so little confidence last month that the Lions pivoted to vagabond Nate Sudfeld after he was let go in San Francisco. Starter Jared Goff may not be the long-term answer in the Motor City, but his job isn't in question this year.

31. Las Vegas Raiders

New coach Josh McDaniels brought Jarrett Stidham with him from New England. Familiarity with the offense is a plus, but Stidham rarely played well during his limited opportunities with the Patriots. Undrafted rookie Chase Garbers is on the practice squad.

30. Los Angeles Rams

John Wolford and Bryce Perkins offer limited experience behind Matthew Stafford. However the duo may have already performed its primary duty by taking the brunt of the training camp and preseason snaps to reduce the load on Stafford's creaky elbow.

29. Cincinnati Bengals

Now in his sixth season, Brandon Allen is 2-7 in nine career starts. Cincy also has Jake Browning on the practice squad, but little reason to believe the AFC champs would remain viable for long if Joe Burrow goes down for an extended period. Allen was 1-4 after Burrow ripped up a knee during his 2020 rookie campaign.

28. Denver Broncos

Brett Rypien threw three INTs in his only NFL start in 2020. But his age (26) and physical tools earned him the QB2 post ahead of Josh Johnson, 36, who's played in numerous professional leagues and spent time with nearly half of the NFL's 32 franchises.

27. New England Patriots

Now in his 14th season, half of his career spent in New England, 36-year-old Brian Hoyer offers scads of experience. However, he hasn't inspired much confidence in spot starts in recent years, the most recent a poor showing in place of Cam Newton in 2020. Rookie Bailey Zappe put up record-setting numbers in college but is obviously unproven as an NFL commodity.

26. Los Angeles Chargers

Kudos to Chase Daniel, now in his 13th season despite providing scant evidence he can actually play (5 career starts). Similar story with QB3 Easton Stick, in his fourth season with the Bolts, for whom he's thrown a regular-season pass. Obviously, the best policy for this team would be to protect budding star Justin Herbert better than it did in Thursday night's loss to Kansas City.

25. Chicago Bears

Seventh-year man Trevor Siemian has seasoning (29 NFL starts), but safe to say neither he nor Nathan Peterman are any threat to Justin Fields. Siemian was OK in four starts for New Orleans last year, but he hasn't won a game since 2017.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask and Ryan Griffin have all spent multiple seasons behind Tom Brady, so at least the collective knowledge of the playbook should be fairly extensive. But if any – presumably Gabbert – has to step in for more than a game or two, this team is in trouble.

23. Houston Texans

Journeymen Kyle Allen and Jeff Driskel are a combined 8-18 in their NFL careers. A five-star recruit once upon a time when he entered Texas A&M, Allen was not drafted in 2018 but appeared to harness his potential when he won his first five starts (split between the 2018 and '19 seasons) in place of injured Newton for the Panthers. Allen has been consistently inconsistent since, though played relatively well two years ago in Washington before giving way to Alex Smith.

22. Dallas Cowboys

Rush made his only NFL start last year and played well (325 yards, 2 TDs, INT) in front of a prime time audience during a 20-16 victory at Minnesota. He's in his fifth season with the team but now must prove he can keep a team afloat for a month rather than being just a one-game stopgap. Over the next four weeks, the Cowboys will face both Super Bowl 56 teams (Bengals, Rams) and have ever-important divisional showdowns with the Giants and Commanders – so Rush, who's not nearly the athlete Prescott is, will likely be facing four pretty good defenses. If he falters, Will Grier, who had a pair of dreadful starts as a rookie with Carolina in 2019, is currently slotted as the next man up.

Cowboys backup QB Cooper Rush will make his second NFL start Sunday.

21. Seattle Seahawks

As much as they allegedly like Drew Lock, who came over from the Broncos in the Russell Wilson trade, he's been a turnover machine (league-high 15 INTs in 2020) in the NFL and couldn't dislodge Geno Smith for the top job in training camp. Veteran Sean Mannion recently joined the practice squad.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars

A beloved teammate during four seasons with the 49ers, C.J. Beathard played incrementally better over time when injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo afforded him opportunities. By the time 2020 rolled around, Beathard threw four TDs and posted a 110.5 passer rating in two starts. The Jags also have 2022 scouting combine standout E.J. Perry, who starred at Brown, on the practice squad.

19. Atlanta Falcons

Rookie Desmond Ridder played well enough in preseason that he's officially the only quarterback on the roster aside from starter Marcus Mariota – and it would hardly be a surprise if the team takes a protracted look at the third-rounder if the season goes south quickly ... as many expect will happen. Feleipe Franks is another option, though the team now officially lists him at tight end.

18. Kansas City Chiefs

They've got an old guy (Chad Henne) and two young guns (Shane Buechele and practice squader Chris Oladokun) behind Patrick Mahomes. Henne, 37, has only started once in the past eight years but did come in and get the save during a 2020 divisional playoff game against Cleveland when Mahomes suffered a concussion.

17. Tennessee Titans

Rookie Malik Willis surprisingly tumbled into the third round of this year's draft. But the multi-talented Liberty standout played impressively enough during the preseason to wrest away the backup job from third-year man Logan Woodside, who was relegated to the practice squad.

16. Green Bay Packers

Jordan Love has toiled in suboptimal circumstances, to say the least, behind Aaron Rodgers. But the 2020 first-rounder showed flashes this summer even while being routinely betrayed by the Pack's young receivers in preseason. Love's tools led to the Pack's ill-begotten decision to select him – based on Rodgers' subsequent play – but he might be ready to contribute valuable snaps should an emergency arise.

15. Minnesota Vikings

They overhauled their depth chart behind Kirk Cousins in recent weeks, trading for Nick Mullens and signing David Blough while cutting ties with Mannion and Kellen Mond. Mullens has been a fairly effective fill-in during his first three seasons (26 TD passes, 87.3 QB rating), far more so than Blough (0-5 record, 62.2 passer rating). However unlikely either will be needed considering Cousins has never missed a start due to injury since coming to Minnesota.

14. Arizona Cardinals

Colt McCoy is in his 13th season and won two of three starts in place of Kyler Murray last year. However, McCoy is currently out with a calf strain, so Trace McSorley, a plus athlete who used to back up Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, must hold the fort.

13. Carolina Panthers

Sam Darnold hasn't justified his billing as the No. 3 pick of the 2018 draft, though – in fairness to him – he hasn't had much quality support during four years with the Jets and Panthers. He's still got immense potential and 50 games under his belt, including a solid start in 2021 before RB Christian McCaffrey went down. Darnold is expected back in a few weeks from a high ankle sprain and would move ahead of PJ Walker and Jacob Eason on the depth chart. 

12. New York Giants

Tyrod Taylor, 33, boasts a 26-25-1 career record ... and some truly abysmal luck, injuries costing him starting opportunities with the Browns, Chargers and Texans in recent years. Still, Taylor is mobile, has a great arm and safeguards the ball. A third-round pick in 2017, practice squad QB Davis Webb has never attempted a regular-season throw.

11. Baltimore Ravens

Tyler Huntley looked like one of the league's more promising backups last season, a prospect potentially good enough that the Ravens might get a nice return by trading him to a quarterback-needy organization before he reaches free agency. He did a reasonable impersonation of Jackson last season, rushing for more than 70 yards in two starts. However, though Huntley nearly helped orchestrate wins against the playoff-bound Packers, Rams and Steelers, his efficacy as a passer deteriorated over the course of the season, and Baltimore was 1-4 in games when he played the majority of the snaps.

10. New York Jets

It's rare to have a backup QB with a Super Bowl MVP on his résumé, but that's what Joe Flacco, who's filling in for injured Zach Wilson (knee), brings to the table. Flacco is also 37, has ricocheted around the league since leaving Baltimore after the 2018 season, has a 2-12 record as a starter during that period and didn't play particularly well Sunday. That makes one wonder if the Jets might temporarily go back to Mike White, who enjoyed that unique New York cult hero status for about a week last year when he passed for 405 yards and three TDs in his first NFL start while engineering an upset of Cincinnati. Preseason hero and former CFL player Chris Streveler is on the practice squad but hard to see him being needed before Wilson returns.

9. Indianapolis Colts

Matt Ryan is also backstopped by a Super Bowl MVP: Nick Foles. He knows coach Frank Reich's offense intimately, still seems to have it – playing impressively last year in his only start for the Bears, an upset of the Seahawks at Lumen Field. But don't forget about sophomore Sam Ehlinger, who was surgical this preseason (147.8 passer rating, 4 TDs, 0 INTs).

8. Cleveland Browns

If quantity can bridge the gap until Deshaun Watson's 11-game suspension ends, they should be set. Including Watson, who's on the reserve/suspended list, Cleveland currently has five quarterbacks, Jacoby Brissett, Josh Dobbs and recently claimed Mond all on the active roster with former first-rounder Josh Rosen on the practice squad. If Brissett can go 5-6 in Watson's stead, he should get a medal. He helped scratch out a victory against Baker Mayfield and the Panthers in Week 1 and could improve to 2-0 by beating the underdog Jets on Sunday. No one will confuse Brissett with Watson – or even Mayfield, for that matter – but his preparation, care with the ball and steady demeanor could be exactly what this embattled club needs to survive until Watson takes the baton.

7. Buffalo Bills

No chance at replicating Josh Allen's production if he goes down. But Case Keenum, who led the Vikings to the NFC title game in 2017, is one of the league's most experienced backups (64 starts, 78 career TD passes) and should be able to keep this loaded-to-the-gills team on a Super Bowl course if Allen were absent for a moderate stretch of time. Veteran Matt Barkley has spent four of the past five seasons in Buffalo and currently resides on the practice squad.

6. Washington Commanders

Taylor Heinicke isn't the most gifted guy in the world, but he's tough, adored by teammates and will make plays with his arm and legs ... even if he gets a little too overconfident in his limited skill set on occasion. Still, he went 7-8 as the starter in 2021 and nearly short-circuited the Bucs' Super Bowl drive during the 2020 wild-card round, when he had to fill in for Alex Smith in his only start of the season. A good bet Heinicke will be hanging around this league for a long time. So, too, might fifth-round rookie Sam Howell, who had a stellar career at North Carolina and led the NFL with 547 passing yards in the preseason. Don't be shocked if he gets a crack at the top job if Carson Wentz flames out again.

5. Miami Dolphins

It will forever be a shame that a catastrophic knee injury derailed former first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater's career in 2016, a year after he made the Pro Bowl for the Vikings. Regardless, Teddy B. has recovered to become more than a capable stand-in, winning half of his 14 starts as Denver's starter in 2021. With a 33-30 record and career QB rating of 90.7, Bridgewater may skew too conservative at times, but he's plenty good enough to help a formidable Dolphins team forge on if Tua Tagovailoa is compromised. Rookie Skylar Thompson led qualified passers with a 138.4 passer rating in preseason.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers

If Mitchell Trubisky stalls, they have two compelling options in veteran Mason Rudolph and rookie Kenny Pickett, the only first-round passer selected in 2022. Rudolph is steady, if unspectacular – probably a higher floor but lower ceiling than Trubisky – and has gone 5-4-1 over the years in place of now-retired Ben Roethlisberger. Pickett was lights out in preseason, compiling a 124.7 passer rating – often playing with and against first-stringers. Though he's listed second on the team's depth chart, Fox Sports reported that coach Mike Tomlin intends to keep Pickett on the bench in 2022.

3. Philadelphia Eagles

Gardner Minshew II wasn't going to beat out Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville, but the 2019 sixth-rounder has proven more than serviceable. In 27 career games, Minshew has 41 TD passes (against 12 INTs) and a 93.9 passer rating. He passed for more than 250 yards in 10 of his games with the Jags (half of those exceeding 300), and his improvisational ability earned him something of a cult following in Duval County. He's not big (6-1, 225), nor is his arm elite, but he can play – and potentially quite well for long stretches if necessary. Ian Book was abysmal in his lone game as a rookie in New Orleans last year, but the Eagles thought enough of the Notre Dame product to claim him off the waiver wire last month.

Eagles backup QB Gardner Minshew (10) provides solid insurance behind starter Jalen Hurts.

2. New Orleans Saints

If Jameis Winston was to go down again, this team should be able to carry on better than it did without him last year. Three-time Pro Bowler Andy Dalton has 152 career starts and 227 TD passes, including playoffs, in the bank. He doesn't have Winston's arm, but he can certainly distribute the ball to New Orleans' fleet of playmakers. And even if 34-year-old Dalton stumbles, the Saints could always go back to Taysom Hill. Yes, Hill's skill set limits options in the passing game, but the dual threat has won seven of nine NFL starts.

1. San Francisco 49ers

They gave themselves the league's best insurance policy by retaining Garoppolo, who's started one Super Bowl and two NFC title games over the previous three seasons. Since being hired in 2017, coach Kyle Shanahan is infamously 8-29 in regular-season games not started by Jimmy G., but the Niners had to cast their lot with Trey Lance after taking him third overall in last year's draft. Garoppolo has a sterling reputation as the ultimate ego-less teammate, but it will be an interesting situation to monitor if Lance continues to struggle, as he did in Week 1's upset loss at Chicago. Worth noting that this ranking may flip to the very back of the line if Garoppolo is moved before the trade deadline. The only other passer on the roster is rookie Brock Purdy, the Mr. Irrelevant of the 2022 draft as the event's final selection.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.