Top 5 backup QB performances this preseason

Senior Analyst Sam Monson breaks down the top quarterback performances down the depth chart this preseason.

| 10 months ago
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Top 5 backup QB performances this preseason

For starting quarterbacks, the preseason is largely an extended warm up—something to loosen the arm a bit and ease into the year ahead. For those further down the depth chart, though, it’s an opportunity to put something on tape and to make a statement in a game, rather than just on the practice field. Backup quarterbacks are largely unknown quantities until the starter goes down or gets benched and they get an opportunity to hit the field for themselves.

Preseason games may not count, but it’s the closest many of these players will come to the field, and the tape that many of them will be relying upon the next time their contract is in question. Much though the game results in preseason don’t count, individuals can influence their standings within teams, and move up or down the depth chart with their play.

So, let’s take a look at the best preseason performances among the league’s backup QBs:

1. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

The star of preseason this year was Cowboys QB Dak Prescott. In his first game, he was 10 for 12 for 139 yards, threw two passing touchdowns, and earned a passer rating of 154.5—enough to suddenly look like the unexpected answer to the backup QB spot behind Tony Romo. He followed that up with another performance almost as good, actually bettering the previous passer rating and ending with a perfect score of 158.3. By that point, the Cowboys were already sold on him as the primary backup, and another good performance against Seattle didn’t hurt his stock after Tony Romo went down injured. Prescott will now head into Week 1 as one of only two rookie QBs from this class to start, which is some achievement, given that he was selected with the 135th overall pick, while three other QBs were picked in the first round. He ends the preseason having completed 66.7 percent of his passes under pressure and without throwing a single interception (that wasn’t nullified by penalty), amassing seven total touchdowns without a turnover.

2. Joe Callahan, Green Bay Packers

Another example of how preseason play can change your situation entirely; Callahan has won himself a spot on the roster with his play over the past month. An undrafted free agent out of Division-III Wesley, Callahan was camp fodder, likely to be cast aside when roster cuts were made. All that changed with a fantastic performance against San Francisco, where he completed 66.7 percent of his passes, but it was more the skill-set on display with some of the throws that impressed, rather than the raw numbers. His escape from pressure and deep completion to Geronimo Allison was Rodgers-esque in its execution, and even the throws that weren’t caught were impressive.

3. Bryce Petty, New York Jets

When the Jets drafted Christian Hackenberg with their second-round pick, many presumed the writing was on the wall for last year’s third-rounder Bryce Petty. He had endured an ugly rookie preseason, and when Fitzpatrick re-signed with the team, that made it four QBs on the roster, with Petty’s spot seeming the most precarious. This preseason, though, Petty has played well enough that, combined with Christian Hackenberg looking pretty awful, he has convinced the Jets to roll into the season carrying all four QBs on the active roster, when many teams only keep two. Petty completed 32 of 56 pass attempts for 481 yards, and had an impressive 124.0 passer rating when under pressure. He also had one of the throws of preseason, splitting the Washington coverage and rifling the ball into a tight window between three players for a touchdown. Petty’s position has been helped out by Hackenberg clearly not being ready to play, but he has demonstrated a massive leap forward from a year ago, and still has all of the physical traits that the Jets found attractive in the first place.

4. Joe Webb, Carolina Panthers

Some quarterbacks can earn a roster spot they weren’t expected to have with their preseason performance, while others can move up the depth chart: for Joe Webb, the former was true this preseason. Webb is the third QB in Carolina, behind MVP Cam Newton and primary backup Derek Anderson. He has an intriguing skill set and some starting experience, but is an erratic passer and as the third QB, perpetually on the roster bubble. Webb threw for 472 yards and added another 38 on six scrambles to move the chains for the Panthers, and did it without throwing an interception or turning the ball over—a key component for a player that has made major mistakes in the past. When kept clean in the pocket, he completed over 60 percent of his passes and did it at 8.1 yards per attempt, doing enough to suggest to the Carolina front office that he is worth his roster spot for at least another year.

5. Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos

Denver’s QB competition was a strange one in the offseason, featuring a three-headed race between first-round rookie Paxton Lynch, journeyman pariah Mark Sanchez, and Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round rookie from a year ago. Siemian won the starting job overall, but Lynch’s performance was arguably far better in the preseason, and was good enough that the Broncos felt comfortable shipping off Sanchez, feeling no need for a veteran backup. Lynch still showed the rawness that led most to expect him to sit for awhile as the backup, but he also demonstrated enough positive tendencies that it may not be a long wait, especially if Siemian struggles as a starter. Lynch threw for 458 yards this preseason, and was graded particularly well under pressure, throwing no interceptions on those plays. Lynch may have shown in the preseason that he is closer to starting than many expected.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

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