ESPN’s John Clayton has about backup quarterbacks: If you have a good one, then you can go .500 while your starter is out.
By that measure, the Vikings have been in good shape the last two seasons with Shaun Hill, who is 17-18 with a 84.9 quarterback rating for his career. In his only start, Hill was good enough (with a lot of help from the Vikings’ defense) to beat the Tennessee Titans.
While Hill hasn’t announced yet that he’s retiring, it seems pretty likely that the 37-year-old won’t be back in Minnesota next year.
When it comes to replacing a backup QB, there are three approaches that teams take: A veteran, a long-shot or a rookie. Which one of them would make the most sense for the Vikings?
This would be your Shaun Hill. A quarterback who wasn’t all that effective as a starter because of whatever shortcoming in his game (in Hill’s case, that would be arm strength), but they can still get the job done for a few games if need be.
Pros: You know what you’re going to get. You will not have to worry about the wily veteran understanding the offense or being ready to go at a moment’s notice. More likely than not, he will be happy to still have an NFL job and understand he won’t be seeing the field unless someone gets hurt. If you’ve got a good one like Hill, he can work hand-in-hand with the starter on game planning and preparation.
Cons: Any type of extended action assuredly means your season is going in the tank. Two years ago, the Dallas Cowboys traded for Matt Cassel, hoping to save their season. They ended up picking fourth overall. There is also zero upside. No chance whatsoever that this quarterback could eventually be your full-time starter or net you a decent draft pick in a trade.
Ryan Fitzpatrick – The Jets made the same mistake as the Bills believing Fitzpatrick could be a legit starter. As a backup, however, it’s hard to do much better.
Mark Sanchez – When he last acted as a fill-in for the Eagles, Sanchez went 4-4 with an 88.4 rating.
TJ Yates – Stepped in as Houston’s starter for four games in 2015, won three including a playoff game, but has a 72.8 rating in the regular season and 53.8 in his two playoff appearances.
Blaine Gabbert – The 49ers gave Gabbert one more kick at the starter can in ’15 and it wasn’t pretty. With an 80.2 rating in 13 starters as a 49er, Gabbert might go .500 on a decent team.
Case Keenum – Won the Rams job last year and was benched midway through the season. Still, went 7-7 as STL/LA starter with a 79.5 rating.
This is the direction the Vikings probably would most like to go. They need to have a sure thing behind Sam Bradford.
There is some reason to believe that this player could be really, really good if everything goes right, even if the quarterback’s recent play doesn’t suggest that. Whether it’s because of “bust” status, sometimes or “washed up” or relegated to backup status, these players get picked up with hopes of a turnaround.
Pros: When it works, it’s a home run. Everything clicks, the quarterback maximizes his potential and becomes a franchise quarterback. Steve Young was one of these. To some extent, Carson Palmer and Kurt Warner with Arizona. Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon and Jeff George in Minnesota. Jake Delhomme in Carolina.
Cons: It rarely works. And when it doesn’t, it’s often a disaster. Long-Shot QBs usually believe they have something special there, so when they don’t, it can be an ugly. They can end up becoming problematic in the locker room and practice if they feel jilted or distracting because of media coverage or just downright awful to the point where they can’t even fill in effectively.
Available long shots:
Colin Kaepernick – Was good enough to take a team to the Super Bowl, but hasn’t performed well since and brings a lot of media attention
Robert Griffin III – Once appeared to be the league’s next big thing, then suffered a serious knee injury. Hasn’t been the same since
Johnny Manziel – A first-round pick who flashed some talent, but had too many issues to count during his time in Cleveland.
Ryan Nassib – Behind Eli Manning, Nassib never really saw the field. He lacks a strong arm, but might be an intriguing option.
The Vikings aren’t really in a position to be giving out second chances and they certainly don’t need any distractions in a locker room that was on rocky ground at times last year.
Usually rookie backup quarterbacks are drafted in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft with some hope that they can either be a reliable backup or develop into a starter.
Pros: TOM BRADY. RUSSELL WILSON. DAK PRESCOTT.
Cons: The rookie isn’t even close to being an NFL player and it becomes painfully obvious as soon as he’s thrown into the fire at training camp. Then you either have to scramble to find a veteran backup from the bottom of the barrel or hope that he never has to actually play.
(Likely) Available rookies (with CBS Sports scouting reports summarized)
Josh Dobbs, Tennessee – Literally a rocket scientist, but a pretty inconsistent football player
Davis Webb, Cal – Tall guy with an arm and good numbers. Known as a “system quarterback.”
Nate Peterman, Pitt – Has good numbers and an arm, but played in simple offense, struggled with reads.
Jerod Evans, VT – Big, strong armed and fast. Played in a very simple offense.
Brad Kaaya, Miami – Accurate with good mechanics. Not a great decision maker.
Whether The Rookie is slotted for No. 2 or battles for No. 3 spot, the Vikings should absolutely draft a quarterback this year with hopes of finding something special or at least a solid backup.